News & Views

Inspiration, information, and perspectives from the LeadersTrust team and our partners

Theo Rigby

Recapping My First Year at the LeadersTrust 

Sep 30, 2022 | Capacity, Liberatory Practice, Reflections

Sidney R. Hargro
Executive Director

For just over a year, I have had the privilege and the honor of serving as the inaugural Executive Director of the LeadersTrust. My journey, however, began in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a worldwide shutdown and the unraveling of what we deemed to be normal. For those of us who are not essential workers, particularly those who make up half of all workers in low-paid occupations, we were either out of a job, at home on furlough, or captive to days filled with virtual meetings on Zoom or some other platform.  

By June of 2020, we had spent three months witnessing the exponential spread of the coronavirus leading to more than 100,000 lives lost. We were also a captive to the devastation brought on by the pandemic of white supremacy and its centuries of deadly consequences. Sparked by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, and other instances of racial injustice caught on video, mass protests ignited across the globe. For the first time in my lifetime, I witnessed a motley constellation of foundations, corporations, universities, and other institutions appear to acknowledge the existence and historical presence of systemic racial injustice.  

Witnessing all of this as a Black man and a social sector and philanthropic leader produced a seismic shift in my focus, courage, and determination to speak truth and seek transformative change. As I have said to friends and colleagues, witnessing these events broke me and helped me realize that I had been wearing a mask that filtered my voice. I was determined to begin a new journey to heal, remove that mask and commit to live, lead, and work with authenticity. I wanted to be more proximate to the imaginative, transformative work of leaders committed to justice, creating a new world, and exploring what it means to pursue liberation personally, through their organizations, and in the world around us. I had no idea that the LeadersTrust would emerge and offer the opportunity and the space to begin this journey. 

Growth and Experimentation 

When I was appointed as Executive Director of the LeadersTrust, a spinoff with over 15 years history as a program of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund Leadership Initiative, I joined a talented team of experts in the field of leadership and organizational development.  My initial focus was to gain greater clarity about the history and effectiveness of the core elements of the work, while creating space for our team and partners to reimagine our role in strengthening and supporting leaders, organizations, and the movement and social change ecosystem. 

During this first year in 2022, we grew from five team members on the west coast, to ten team members in five states and three time zones. This expansion was driven by the need to build capacity to engage new partners and explore new projects.  

This year we are supporting 144 nonprofit partners with accompaniment that includes a capacity grant of $50,000-$75,000 per year for two or more years along with: 

          • Support and thought partnership from one of our 45 capacity coaches to plan for the capacity grants. 
          • “Just in time” peer learning that is continuously adapted to address the changing learning needs of leaders.  
          • Access to a resource navigator and hub of over 220 consultants and trainers who are vetted to assure alignment with our core values.

The resource hub and peer learning support are delivered in close collaborative partnership with the Resilience Initiative and a host of trainers and facilitators. 

We have also experimented with new programming and investments that will not only inform our work but offer lessons learned to philanthropy and the leadership and organizational development sector. For example, we have begun serving as a grantmaking intermediary, offering over $9 million in flexible grants to worker rights affiliates in partnership with the James Irvine Foundation. 

Also, we launched the Fund for Liberatory Practice in partnership with the Resilience Initiative.  The Fund for Liberatory Practice seeks to advance our collective understanding about innovative, equity-infused leadership and organizational practices which responsibly address the needs, interests, challenges and opportunities of today’s social change leaders and teams. The Fund provides grants and modest communications support to organizational development practitioners who are in active, productive partnership with social change leaders and organizations, and who are eager to expand, evolve, and amplify their own liberatory practice. Through the Fund, we will invest $300,000 to support organizational development practitioners across several disciplines, practice areas, geographies and generations who are exploring and liberatory practices. The results of their projects will be amplified and shared widely. 

Over rapid growth and experimentation activity is possible through trust-based partnerships with the Haas Jr. Fund, Irvine Foundation, Packard Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, Grove Foundation, the Collaborative for Gender and Reproductive Equity, Panta Rhea Foundation, Ford Foundation and Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. 

Radically Re-imagining the Future and the LeadersTrust   

Many of us are facing a hybrid if not return to the office, no longer captive audience, we are still witnessing increasingly blatant examples of systemic racial inequity, injustice, and oppression that challenge democracy and the pursuit of and authentic life. However, we cannot allow the conditions and injustices of the present to prevent us from boldly envisioning and working toward the future we need.  

The social impact sector, inclusive of philanthropy, must choose to answer the call to commit to and pursue a liberatory future or choose to return to pre-pandemic practices as usual. To choose a liberatory future must include deep and flexible investments in leaders on the frontlines of change and their organizational capacity. It also requires all of us to answer the question,

“How might we need to be radically transformed to pursue a liberatory future?” 

 At the LeadersTrust, we are entering a period of reflection to invite our own transformation to emerge. During our Strategic Thinking Project, which launched this month, we will engage the radical imagination of partners and peers in leadership development and capacity strengthening, nonprofit leaders, coaches, thought leaders, and funders to imagine a path forward with us.  

Although we expect change as we continue to the journey from foundation program to standalone social enterprise, our core focus will remain unchanged. We will continue to work across all social impact issues as we identify new and innovative ways to ensure deep, flexible, long-term resourcing and support for leaders and organizations in the social change and movement ecosystem. We will continue to prioritize leaders historically impacted by systemic racism and oppression, while naming Black and Indigenous leaders, leaders of color. This will be a challenging and exciting project that will position the LeadersTrust for a relevant and impactful future.