EPIP Conference Reflections
Reflections from local steering committee member Martin Furey
Back in mid-September, I had the honor of attending the EPIP National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, with fellow steering committee member Bridget Strickland. As members know, EPIP is engaged in a strategic planning process – which is revisiting key issues, including even the organization’s mission and theory of change. The Chapter Leader Workshop that occurred before the main conference featured a series of facilitated discussions designed to tease-out themes and concerns shared across our various chapters that could inform this process, as we think about what EPIP can be—in 2017 and beyond. Tamir’s update from late October includes an executive summary that was created by the workshop facilitators. That document is available here.
This executive summary was created through a process involving a “gallery walk,” in which issues identified during the chapter leader convening were ranked by all conference attendees according to urgency. As a first-time conference participant, it struck me that EPIP is fulfilling two thirds of its “work areas” pretty well (i.e., the areas of networking, leadership development, and advocacy). EPIP’s efficacy as a forum for networking and idea-sharing is excellent. The enthusiasm of participant conversations during the opening session revealed that we’re a communicative, loud, and sharing group of professionals. I’ll be interested to see whether our members are able to continue conversations that began in Baltimore through the members’ blog. It strikes me that cross-chapter sharing could be one of EPIP’s greatest strengths, if we can find ways to “keep the conversation going.”
Moreover, I learned that the approach that local chapters are taking to addressing the leadership training challenges for their constituents is often thoughtful, responsive, and multifaceted. Approaches include luncheons with topic experts, after work seminars, the use of online content, the creation of new curricula, and cross-training of employees between partnering philanthropies and social entrepreneurs. Our chapters are getting some very good work done, with very little money. We need to be sharing this work between chapters, whenever possible.
Our third work area, “advocacy,” stood out as our most immediate and provocative challenge—in a variety of senses. First, it is a professional hot button for many of our members, given the visible disconnect between EPIP’s composition (65% women, 45% people of color, 8% LGBT), and that of our foundations’ boards and executive leadership. Second, it became evident that many of our members are serving (or feel that they need to serve) an internal advocacy role within their workplace. Yet many of the colleagues I met expressed great frustration regarding the ways in which conversations about inclusion are received by their organization’s leadership.
In his October 25 blog post, Tamir included a picture from the conference’s membership gallery walk—which is worth our attention. Note that the question, which came out of the Chapter Leader Workshop, was completely open-ended: “If there were no repercussions, I would_________ in my organization.” One might respond to this with any sort of action—e.g., “form an ad hoc committee for examining sources of potential bias in our organization’s program evaluation,” or “cook brownies every Friday to improve office morale.” But looking at the Post-it note responses (gathered during the chapter leadership session) and “urgency votes,” obtained during the gallery walk (indicated by stars and dots), we discover that our colleagues are overwhelmingly preoccupied with “talking, telling, challenging, calling-out, and speaking up.” A few responses spoke to effecting structural change, and few suggested “replacing senior leadership.” But above all else, this exercise underscored a “failure in communication” among practitioners within our sector, a hesitancy to speak-up, and a shared sense that doing so could have negative consequences. Given the unexpected way in which responses from EPIP members across the entire country converged on issues about “being heard,” it strikes me that our advocacy agenda needs to start here—and that many foundations need to think about how “inclusion” might begin closer to home.
So, San Diego Chapter members—let me pose the question—what strategies have you found most effective for bridging internal and external challenges around advocacy and inclusion?