On July 20-22, 2016, Rutgers University’s Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) convened 20 senior leaders from key labor, economic justice and community organizing networks to build a community of practice and learning as part of CIWO’s “Building the Bench” leadership initiative. The three day convening in Silver Spring, Maryland at the Tommy Douglas Center was the first cohort retreat of senior staff between the Executive Director and other staff – sometimes called Managing Directors – whose main responsibilities are carrying out the visions of their organizations through more effective structures and strategies. A few executive directors of smaller economic justice networks participated as well.
Organizations represented at the conference included the Center for Popular Democracy, Jobs with Justice, Interfaith Worker Justice, Gamaliel, Right to the City, OUR Walmart, Working Partnerships USA, People's Action, Food Chain Workers, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Grass Roots Collaborative, Partnership for Working Families, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Guest Worker Alliance, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, National Black Worker Center Project, Institute for Policy Studies, and National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
This highly participatory, energetic convening drew senior leaders from across a diverse range of worker centers, grassroots and community organizing networks. The leaders were able to share complex problems within and among their organizations and networks and identify urgent, common challenges as individual leaders and as leaders of organizations and networks.
Deep discussion among the cohort generated a number of themes for the group to explore together including alignment across networks, building a culture of purpose and accountability within organizations, and developing staff members. The cohort also learned about and experimented with tools that create more effective and efficient systems and support collaborative, innovative problem solving.
Rutgers’ CIWO Director Marilyn Sneiderman led the event in collaboration with a planning committee that included Lauren Jacobs, Director of Capacity Building and Special Projects of the Partnership for Working Families; Raquel Laviña, Deputy Director, Organizational & Leadership Development of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Joann Lo, Co-Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance; Amy Smoucha, Managing Director of Jobs with Justice; Mariana Virturro, Deputy Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; and Tiffany Williams, Associate Director of the Institute for Policy Studies.
This was the Center’s second convening as part of its Building the Bench initiative which it launched in October 2015 to address the new challenges and complexities that have emerged in recent years for leaders within economic justice networks. The Building the Bench initiative seeks to sharpen individual and organizational effectiveness while deepening cross-organizational networks to advance shared economic justice goals.