Interview with Cynthia Chavez of LeaderSpring

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: LeaderSpring's mission is to foster a powerful, equity-driven social sector by strengthening leaders and organizations; developing communities of leaders; and transforming the systems in which they work. Since 1997, LeaderSpring has awarded almost 200 exceptional leaders and their agencies with an intensive program of leadership development, management skills training, customized mentoring, and networking.

WHAT DOES LEADERSPRING PROVIDE?

LeaderSpring believes that the best gift you can give a community is a strong leader, and the best gift you can give a cause is strong leadership. We’re concerned that there is a growing gap in terms of the availability of skilled, experienced, and talented leaders, especially diverse, multicultural leaders that are reflective of the communities they serve in the nonprofit sector. With the California economy in a sustained downturn, our safety net has become tattered. The result is that non-profits are picking up some of the slack and are becoming the last resort for providing essential services. This is good news because we have strong, effective leaders in the nonprofit sector in the Bay Area. The bad news is they’re stretched too thin, they’re burning out, and they’re leaving their jobs and taking with them their skills, their experience, and their passion for their work. That’s the challenge we’re addressing.

Through the LeaderSpring program, we’re providing peer support, coaching, mentoring, cutting-edge tools and resources to help veterans, mid-career professionals and emerging leaders grow to meet the challenges of our day. To do this, we provide a two-year on the job fellowship program for selected non-profit leaders, focused on both personal and organizational capacity-building support.

HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY LEADERS?

Often, our graduates identify them for us by talk to others and referring people back to us. This year we’re recruiting specifically from Oakland and the surrounding communities. We give out only 15 fellowships per year, and we usually receive over 100 applications.

WHAT COMMON TRAITS DO LEADERS POSSESS?

Our fellows are invested in learning. They want to educate themselves and to strengthen their relationships and their network. Our leaders also have a certain humility. We live in a complex, changing world, and we believe that one of the strongest, most important leadership skills in the twenty first century is adaptability. Changing demographics, changing economy; change is the one thing we can count on. Our leaders bring humility in that they have many strengths but realize that there are always areas in which they can learn and grow.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO WORK WITH LEADERSPRING?

I’m drawn to this job and this organization for very personal reasons. I come from a working-class, Mexican-American family. I was born in East LA, and our first home was in public housing. I had the privilege of watching my parents work incredibly hard and achieve a middle-class lifestyle. I was the only one in my family to go on to college, and from a very early age, I knew that I wanted to commit myself to finding solutions to the inequities that I had observed as a young child growing up in Southern California. I grew up having a sister who was mentally ill from birth, and my family dealt with challenges of addiction and family violence—these struggles are ones that many families experience. I’ve been relentlessly driven to look for meaningful, systemic, and lasting change that can serve families like mine and provide access to resources and tools. These are the things that will help them navigate when they’re facing challenges like those that my family experienced. There’s a direct connection to LeaderSpring because all of the organizations that we support provide beneficial services like job training, or health care services or academic enrichment programs—critical, essential services for low-income families.

HOW WILL LEADERSPRING EVOLVE?

We’ll continue to be grounded in community, in leadership, and in social change organizations. We’re building a national presence to give a voice to the social sector and to philanthropy for those leaders who are meeting the needs of communities on the ground. We’d like be a voice in the national decision-making arena about how philanthropic dollars get distributed to low-income communities of color.

HOW HAS TIDES CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR WORK?

LeaderSpring is proud to be associated with Tides as it has been fundamental to our success. They’ve enabled us to focus less on the day-to-day office functions so that we’re freed up to put more attention and energy into the programing and the development that is essential to our work. Tides helps us maintain best practices in the field around governance, HR, and financial accounting in by setting policies that we must follow and by providing good, practical advice in complex situations. We couldn’t afford the quality or the breath and depth of the services that we receive without Tides—as a result we have happier employees and a higher performing organization. Thanks to Tides, we have better access to philanthropic resources across the country.

To learn more about LeaderSpring, please visit: http://www.leaderspring.org/index.htm

  • Yvie

    Great article !