By Tracey Greene-Washington for WNC Woman Magazine published September 2018.
What if giving circles could offer an intriguing possibility for creating a new paradigm of resilience and thriving for African American and Latinx communities facing staggering economic, housing, health and poverty statistics in a part of the state where communities of color account for a relatively small portion of the total population?
CoThinkk embodies what I call the stretch, which is the really hard work to build healthy, positive and equitable relationships. Only through trusting relationships can we work to have hard conversations about challenging issues and navigate complex conversations while challenging each other to show up as our best selves. This work to build equitable collective impact is difficult and will always challenge us in significant ways. However, if we all embrace the necessity of this work to scale and sustain our efforts, we will all make the intentional decision to lean into it and invite others to do the same.
CoThinkk was birthed September 2014 from a desire to support innovative and community-driven strategies through shifting negative narratives concerning communities of color through addressing a set of “How can” and “What if” questions. The aim was to generate enough synergy to spark important conversations across cultural, sector, and community lines to impact systems, facilitate equity, create visibility for communities of color, and build a robust social change agenda for thriving communities. We fundamentally believe that our ability to shape new narratives and mental models – habits of thought, deeply held beliefs and assumptions, and taken-for-granted ways of operating that influence how we think, what we do, and how we talk – is an impactful approach to systems change that can result in long-term transformative change (Kania, Kramer, and Senge, The Water of Systems Change, 2018).
CoThinkk is led by African-American and Latinx leaders specifically designed to create supportive networks, accelerate systemic change and seed new initiatives through a shared leadership model. CoThinkk creates access to resources, supports cross cultural healing, and works to shift the narrative and mental models regarding communities of color in Western North Carolina. Collaborations with grassroots leaders, local and regional allies support robust social change that build traction and sustained momentum to generate equitable outcomes and impact in education, economic mobility/opportunity, health and leadership development.
Our giving circle’s core belief is that Co-Thinkking is a critical and necessary component in the facilitation of this work. Co-Thinkking embraces process as a strategy and understands that healthy, positive, and equitable relationships enable individuals, organizations, and communities the opportunity to cultivate diverse opinions to accelerate change, support creative innovation, and build valuable konnections and knowledge. Creating this intentional space allows for valuable discourse, cross cultural and sector collaborations to:
- Create long-term sustainable change through diverse perspectives and experiences within a process that addresses our challenges and creates space for innovation and opportunity;
- Create multiple entry points for individuals, organizations and sectors to be engaged;
- Promote intentional dialogue and discussion;
- Acknowledge that we all have gifts and assets to contribute, which allows for a process that is solution- focused and encourages members to show up as their best selves; and
- Cultivate collective thinking from diverse partners to deepen analysis, build investment, strengthen collaboration and deliver the best results.
While also acknowledging that this is long-term work that requires a posture of urgency and grounding in the following values and principles:
- Collective action and shared power that bridges silos and taps into underutilized human, social, political and institutional capital;
- Trust building that creates non-judgmental spaces that are inclusive and equitable and lead to active and long-term engagement for greater impact;
- Connecting people of color to resources that accelerate equitable outcomes;
- Promote civic education, and seek to create strategies to change the patterns of local/regional institutional practices that impede equitable outcomes; and
- Cultivating the energy, passion, and talents of the next generation to create an essential pipeline of leaders that will support local economic mobility for communities for color.
These values serve as the basis for our strategies that promote healing, access to resources, capacity-building, and systems change as the blueprint towards our collective vision and long-term goals.
“Nothing is as fast as the speed of trust. Nothing is as fulfilling as a relationship of trust. Nothing is as inspiring as an offering of trust. Nothing is as profitable as the economics of trust. Nothing has more influence than a reputation of trust.”-Stephen R. Covey
We have learned that the most effective giving circles are grounded in trust, consequently our model centers all our efforts in healing as a fundamental strategy to seed authentic and trusting collaborations. This work requires
intentional space which is created through our monthly meetings, yearly retreats, fellowship, and covenant between/among membership. The mining of these relationships is the most critical part of CoThinkk’s impact and sustainability. These close-knit relationships and networks are how we define “scale.” The deeper, more connected, authentic, aligned, and coordinated, the better the impact.
ACCESS TO RESOURCES
“While it may seem small. The ripple effects of small things are extraordinary.”-Matt Bevin
CoThinkk, has prioritized connecting leaders of color to resources through simple entry points and opportunities. Consequently, we raise a pool of resources on a yearly basis through our annual membership drive, where existing and new members contribute $250.00 a year and sign a covenant to volunteer a minimum of 40 hours over a 12- month period. This approach enables our giving circle to remove barriers to accessing and deploying resources by using our innovative video process allowing applicants to apply for a grant using their smartphone, and support members to align their gifts and contribute their time, talent, and treasure to support long term change, an important premise for the giving circle model overall. These efforts have allowed us to give away a total of $28,000 over the last two years and $36,000 this year at our annual event, Standing in We: Rooted in Collaboration, on October 20 th – our annual celebratory event. We also developed a model called the “CoThinkk Breakdown” where we
identify local/regional funding opportunities and streamline their application process into simple steps. This processhas influenced local funders in the region and created additional funding opportunities for innovation. In 2016-2017, this process resulted in over $60,000 deployed back into the community for innovative projects, elevation of new ideas and strategies, and new relationships in Buncombe County.
“Be the Change you wish to see in this world.”-Mahatma Gandhi
CoThinkk also works to build the capacity of leaders through a team-based model that is strengthening alliances and collaborations. We completed a pilot leadership series this year, titled the CoThinkk Blue Print. A total of 15
African-American and Latinx leaders graduated from the program and formed collaborative partnerships between/among each other. Lastly, we’ve worked over the past six months to document the impact of collective efforts through the CoThinkk Ripple Effect Mapping Project, which uses participatory and adaptive evaluation methods to highlight the type of impact that is occurring throughout our community.
“When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.” -Creighton W. Abrams Jr.
Lastly, shifting resources and power dynamics is an important strategy in our work. We deploy multiple tactics including our annual leadership awards, where we highlight leaders of color and allies each year. The leadership awards are designed to shift the narrative regarding the lack of leaders of color, and provide a visible platform to acknowledge leaders in our community. Over the past two years we have honored 14 leaders and highlighted over 29 leaders. In addition, we have supported community mapping and facilitated relationship building between traditional institutions and color-led organizations through the Tipping Point and Isaac Coleman Learning Collaborative using an equity lens and new collaboration tool.
Tracey Greene-Washington is the founder of CoThinkk, board member of Education NC, NC Early Childhood Foundation, NC Center for Public Policy Research and former board chair of The Center for Leadership Innovation. She has over 18 years of experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector and is a native of Asheville. @MsCoThinkk