The Power of Coaching: From a Dead End Idea to a New Perspective

Part One: An Idea at a Dead End 

Janai joined the CPA Incubator 4 weeks ago full of hope that this would be her chance to dedicate time and effort to think through an idea that she’d been carrying with her for months. More specifically, she’d been carrying this idea around ever since she read this inspiring editorial in Riverwise Magazine.

Could she build an energy company to model good practice in the energy industry? More broadly, could she build an energy company to demonstrate an alternative, values-driven model for running a business at scale?

Because she knew that business as usual meant creating businesses that do not prioritize the things that she and many other progressive-minded folks think they should:  using business as a tool to invest in communities and generate wealth for the many, at the same time minimizing the impact on the environment so that it can continue to sustain life.

As she started working through prompts and talking to folks about her idea, she was  inspired by the positive feedback she received about her “why”. She was also unsettled by some of the insightful, challenging, and important questions that she received about her “how”.

She had no choice but to reasonably conclude that she was not the right person to build an energy company – be it a company that generates power, manufactures parts in a larger supply chain for clean energy infrastructure, or something else. After all, without the technical know-how, she’d be best positioned to support the driver but not be the driver of that effort.

The idea that Janai started with was clearly at a dead end.

At this point, she was already behind on her homework. She had enough stuff in her life to do and she had no “what” to do for the Incubator. Finally, the entire dilemma had triggered long-held insecurities to resurface, prompting her to get all existential and stuff in her thinking.

Part Two: The Decision

The question was clear: Should she drop out of the Incubator? If she wasn’t going to do the business plan because she knew she couldn’t build the business, and if she wasn’t going to build the business because she hadn’t created a business plan for it, wouldn’t it be better to redirect her time and effort away from the Incubator towards something else?

Part Three: New Avenues Opened through Coaching

Janai opened up to her group about what she was grappling with during the week 4 call when they had their PIES check in. The group decided to use her decision as a case study for the decision making methodology from the prompt.

Whether they knew it or not, they followed these instructions from the prompt to a “t”:

“Take turns asking questions and invest in the powerful work of helping each other grow through coaching. Help one another dig deep into your decisions with impact, strategy, meaning and possibility. Use questions that open doors, uncover and create new avenues. Hold up a mirror to one another, to make sure that your solutions and decisions are solving the right problems or designing the future that you truly seek.” 

Janai’s major takeaways from the group coaching all relate to reframing her perspective:

  • There are more than two options on the table. When Janai framed the issue to the group, she stated that she saw her options as 1) Starting over with finding a new, yet-to-be determined idea for her Incubator project or 2) Leave the Incubator and focus on other things. As Juan Fransisco observed, there’s a third option, though: Continue to participate in the Incubator, deferring the outcome/implementation until later. In other words, Janai could continue to use the Incubator as a space to learn, share, and explore ideas. The ultimate end product of completing a business plan for a “what” could come later, if at all.
  • What’s the commitment? Carrie’s questions helped Janai understand that she was conflating multiple issues. Through conversation, it became clear that Janai had been equating her project, creating a business plan for starting an energy company, with a commitment to starting an energy company. However, as Carrie noted, completing the Incubator is not a commitment to start a business; Janai could choose to see it as a learning opportunity, which may or may not result in building a “what”.
  • Break apart the big, scary thing. Through conversation with the group, it also became clear that Janai’s questions about whether she belonged in the Incubator were the way she was framing leadership. Wasn’t the Incubator for leaders, people who were going to be out in front, building stuff? Was she a leader? As Michelle wisely noted, it’s ok to just put one foot in front of the other, deciding that I don’t have to decide in one go whether I’m a leader or not. Also, as Juan Fransisco noted, being a leader isn’t a static thing; people show up in different roles in different spaces. This is not a yes/no question. (*There were also insightful observations made about challenging dominant notions of leadership and individualism :)).
  • FOMO is real. While Janai stated that sunk costs were not a factor in her decision-making process, she expressed that FOMO was an important factor holding her back from leaving. The time that she’d already spent in the Incubator with #TeamMonday had been priceless. She anticipated that she would miss journeying with them, if she left the Incubator.

Part Four: Decision Reached

Janai  decided to remain in the Incubator. The questions and observations of her group members caused her to shift her perspective. And, as noted above, FOMO is real.

In the absence of her original “what”, Janai has decided to focus on the CPA model and what that could look like in Detroit. For better or for worse, this means she has lots of readings to catch up on. Thankfully, she’s part of a cohort of others to whom she can turn with questions along the way.


Finding the right question – serving church needs and serving the community.

Is this the right time to develop CO CPA? Is CO ripe for this opportunity?

My co-Colorado-collaboration cohort comrades (5C team) threw this one out and I initially decided to take it on despite my hesitation.  After all, I ‘m a team player.  But as I began to play with it, this doesn’t feel like the core goal or question.  The options are really either yes or no, do it now, do it later, or don’t do it at all.  But why is the bigger question and I can’t answer that for everyone.

And so, I realize this is not the question I would have initially opted for.  And perhaps this is why I am late in posting, in addition to simply being in meetings solid all-day Wednesday and Thursday even with the snow storm!  I think in going through the exercise for myself it will guide me in helping others answer the same question for themselves.

So, the re-framed goal is:

How does the Episcopal Church in Colorado serve the purchasing and hiring needs of our parishes and fulfill its mission of serving the poor and marginalized and live out our current four baptismal covenant areas of: Creation Care, Racial Inequality, LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, and Suicide Prevention.

Option 1:  Develop a CPA in collaboration with our current partners and others


  • Finish current cohort process.
  • Develop business plan.
  • Get commitments from current partnership team.
  • Expand partners.
  • Complete needs survey of parishes
  • Identify tie ins to four baptismal covenant areas.
  • Identify or build vendor network.


Option 2:  Focus on current ABCD work and work from an asset map within current parishes.


  • Complete training of ABCD to majority of diocese.
  • Complete extensive asset maps of each congregation, diocesan institutions, and jubilee ministries.
  • Identify key assets that will fulfill both goals.
  • Develop internal connections between churches.

Option 3: Don’t do anything – let current work take its course


Not sure there are any real dependencies.  This is the way churches have been working for a thousand years so why change.  Primary dependence is getting out of the way so God can do the work!

Option 4:  Partner with other entities that are already doing this work

  • Complete needs survey of parishes
  • Identify tie ins to four baptismal covenant areas.
  • Identify potential partners (Colorado Nonprofits, Kate’s Parish Resource Center, Private businesses etc.)
  • Develop partnership commitment and/or MOUs with other groups.

To (M)B(A) or not to (M)B(A)

Image result for difficult decisions

Alright, Post #4! We’re doing this thing! So yeah, despite the fact that I’m late on this post (fell asleep reading work stuff last night…), I’ve been thinking about, playing with the idea of, and dreading this exercise all week. This post is also going to be my most -stream-of-consciousness style to date.

The reason why has a lot to do with the particular decision I’m going to analyze and how I’ve been trying to avoid analyzing this decision as of late.

Because I resent unsolicited suspense-building, the decision is:

To accept an offer to start an MBA on September 2020, moving away from Miami for 2+ years


To stay and see my current social impact work to the end (CPA very much included, by the way).

The vision for CPA Miami has actually been a pivotal factor towards actually making this a decision I’m struggling with.

So, more context – Since January of this year, I’ve been preparing myself to apply and begin to work on an MBA degree. This involved over 10 months of work with varying intensities, involving:

  • Doing a surprising amount of research
  • Paying for and studying 3 months for the GMAT exam (traumatizing experience, by the way, especially when you’re not satisfied with your score like me)
  • Apply for an MBA prep service for minorities (and get rejected…)
  • Wrestling with whether to retake the GMAT or not (and eventually deciding not to).
  • Pestering my universities in both Chile and Australia for my official transcripts (again…ugh).
  • Applying to 6 schools, which means:
    • Including researching schools
    • Paying and using a web-service to help me prepare my pitch to the schools
    • Adapting my story for each school
    • Writing multiple essays for each
    • Harass my recommenders for letters
    • Record videos
    • Pay application fees (6 schools add up)
    • Travelling to the campuses for interviews (4 schools so far, could be 5)

I’d only heard from people how exhaustive and stressful this process could be, but I admittedly shrugged it off by thinking “oh please, how bad can it be? write a couple of essays, prepare an interview and get over it”. Nope. Lesson Learned.

So far, I can’t complain with the support I’ve gotten along the way and my results so far:

  • My boss has been incredibly supportive, both in being my recommender, advising me on how to shape my story and my vision for the degree. Hats off to him, especially considering that he’s helping me make a decision that involves me not working for him anymore.
  • My other recommender and network have also been super supportive, allowing me to bounce ideas off them and refine my stories.
  • So far, I’ve secured 4 interviews with schools comfortably within the top 10 in the world and an offer letter from 1 of them (the interviews for the other 3 have yet to happen at the time of writing this post). I’m waiting to hear back from the last school.

Further considerations on this include the fact that I’m evaluating whether to apply for a public policy dual degree as well. However, since the timelines for both applications do not overlap, I’ll probably only apply to the public policy program of the school that I actually end up going to for my MBA (if I go…more on this later). Still, its very painful to write yet another application and especially one focused on something so different to my background.

Given the results so far, I have the very real option to go back to school, starting August/September of 2020 (the lag time is pretty wild, right?).

Al throughout writing this recount of everything I’ve done, I can’t help but feel very victim-y for all the work as if it justifies a potential decision, but then have that wrestle with the notion of sunk cost. In other words, all that work and money is done and paid for, so all I really have to evaluate is whether to go or not (as opposed to having to decide between applying or not, which is wildly different because of the extra work and uncertain outcome).

Nevertheless, there are still very real costs for doing the degree even after having gotten the acceptance letter(s):

  • Tuition, ranging from $0-160k, depending on school, fellowships and merit scholarships. Expected value as of right now is about $120k
  • Living costs for 2-3 years in a new city which will probably be around $50-60k per year
  • The opportunity cost of NOT working for 2-3 years (and at 30 years young, that’s a big thing)

Anyways, let’s get down to applying the decision making process in the prompt and see where that goes.

  1. Write down your goals, the outcomes this decision is supposed to produce. What is this for? You’re putting time and effort into this choice, why? What outcome do you seek?

Alright. Even though the whole process of preparing for and doing an MBA requires that we develop a vision for ourselves in the future and eloquently articulate the reasons for undergoing such an investment, I’m going to shy away from regurgitating that version of the pitch and I’m just going to stay higher level simply because, for the purpose of analyzing outcomes, the why is more important than the how. Also, I’m not going to go into detail analyzing which school I’d go to. The outcomes I’m looking for are:

  • More opportunities to develop and grow into my leadership potential.
  • Ability to command a higher pay, so that raising a family becomes financially feasible in the medium term.
  • A process of intense intellectual and experiential growth and renewal.
  • The opportunity to participate in an experience and environment of constant growth and reflection, outside of my traditional comfort zone, geography and people, regarding my path moving forward.
  • A solid network that includes an inner circle of like-minded professionals who have similar passions, lived experiences and ambition.
  • “Insurance” as I call it. Having a big brand educational institution in my resume also protects me, in part, from professional upheaval and opens doors.
  • Peace and fulfillment with my professional life.
  • Another idea I’ve been playing with is potentially transition out of consulting in general. Maybe I’m just ready to be part of a “thing” and not just an adviser/hired hands to other “things”. This goal is the opposite of why most people do an MBA. Many want to transition into consulting through an MBA as a stepping stone. Honestly, I’m a over the big brand consulting and ready to go deep.

I realize that some of these outcomes are kind of like matryoshka dolls in the sense that they are intermediate outcomes that could lead to the final outcomes.

Distilling only to final outcomes, then I end up with 3:

  • Money to raise family and stay independent
    • as a single father, since I am not looking to have to depend on anyone else, financially, to do it. If someone comes along who wants to do it with me and we get to that place, that’s a different conversation.
  • Peace and fulfillment
  • Constant growth
    • this might not sound like a final outcome, but for me it is important to cultivate a lifelong habit/ mindset of growth.

2. Aggressively and promiscuously list every possible choice that’s available to you. Not just the few that fit your current frame. By writing down something like, “quit and go home,” it opens up options you were ignoring. Force yourself to unframe the problem before framing it.

  1. Do the MBA and transition to something else entirely (probably govt, NGO or something along those lines) in Miami or not (2 choices)
  2. Do the MBA and work on social impact but not CPA (in Miami or not).
  3. Do the MBA and work on CPA somehow (Felipe has expressed openness to this possibility, so that’s something that could be explored) and after graduation continue in social impact (in Miami or not).
  4. Stay and continue to work at Future Partners and CPA.
  5. Stay and quit Future Partners and just do CPA.
  6. Defer the MBA and do option 4 or 5 for a year and then do the MBA*
  7. Quit and do something else entirely, probably in Miami.
  8. Quit and go live a simple life working at a hostel at a beach in South-Eastern Australia called Byron Bay (if you’ve been, you’d know it’s totally THAT kind of place).
  • * This one is very tricky. Many schools will not even consider this unless there are exceptional circumstances. Also, I am not even open to the possibility of not doing it now and having to reapply all over again some other time. NO.WAY.AM.I.GOING.THROUGH.THIS.AGAIN. It’s now or not in the foreseeable future (executive MBAs don’t count right now).

3. For each option available to you, list the dependencies, the things the outcome is contingent on, the events that have to happen for that option to be a good one.

Alright, 8-ish options, some will have overlapping dependencies. Let’s see:

For my desired outcomes to be realized under option 1 and 2, I’d need to:

  • Choose an MBA that is a good fit for me and make good use of it (likely)
  • Land a good internship and job coming out of the degree (this becomes less likely if I narrow my choices down to only Miami in the field I’m interested in, I’m not considering the possibility of working for the multinationals in Miami or the cruise lines).
  • Do well at this and subsequent roles (completely unpredictable, but I want to be optimistic).

For the variant that any CPA related option provides, the dependency is that CPA is successful here in Miami (which I attribute increased probabilities if my current boss is involved) and that it and my job in general provides me the financial resources for my other life goals.

4. [Optional and advanced, but worth a glance] The Decision Tree:

Alright, for the first version of this one then I’m going to stick to my 3 final outcomes as variables that will determine which options are better. I’m assuming the first two outcomes ($ and happiness) are equally weighted and then the 3rd one of life-long learning is weighed at 50%, because having the other 2 at the expense of the third might not be that bad of a trade-off, at least for now. I’m also just going to consider the % chance of things going my way and some ranges. I’m also not going to branch out the possibility of everything blowing up and ending up a hippie pariah somewhere…oh wait, Australia….that’s plan Z.

In the spirit of Halloween, I will now summon a power point slide (boo! I’m sure Jonathan is cringing! ha ha):

Legend: $ is money, heart is happiness, brain is growth, calculator is probability and the = is the final score. To reach the final score, I kept the number values of the scores but without being percentages. I then added the midpoint of all 3 indicators (but the second weighed by 50%) and then multiply the summation by the probability of success.

For example: For the first row we’d do 135 (midpoint between 120 and 150) + 70 (midpoint between 60 and 80) + 35 (half of the midpoint between 70 and 80) * 0.75 = 180.

Obviously, and as is evident by this process, we humans are (I am) awful at calculating expected values from any potential decision because:

  • We can’t reasonably assess the probability of practically anything meaningful happening or not
  • We can’t reasonably size the impact of anything even remotely complex. Especially a decision like this whose results can be measured through many variables, many unmeasurable (happiness, fulfillment etc.)

The value I did find from going through is that there is a scenario in which I could “have it all”, but it would require that I double down on CPA for these next 10 months. However, and I’ll risk saying this publicly, but we’re undergoing turbulent times at my job right now (a coworker just quit, certain recurring frictions with a certain someone, general stress and nervousness at all levels etc.). In this scenario, the MBA also serves as my insurance should things take a turn for the worse there as well.

Also, this makes me realize I don’t have a clear idea on what the potential upside for people working in/on CPA is. Probably need to find out/think how negotiation could work for the scenarios (PS: my boss tried to convince me to not go to the MBA today…again…but he’s been my #1 support to get this far. Hats off to him on this, right?)

Also, a critical thing I’ve realized while going through this exercise is how important the timing of this decision is. I don’t strictly have to make this decision until like, July of next year. I could, in theory, pay all the deposits and make all the arrangements to go and decide last minute that I don’t want to go.

Also, the fact that class starts in July/August of next year means I still have another 9-10 months to set up CPA here in Miami and leave it in a place where it can continue without me (and maybe that’s enough for the universe right now). I could also continue part-time either supporting Felipe with something else or supporting CPA Miami remotely (I can imagine training or other kind of remote consultant-like support).

It also seems that writing this post has inadvertently trapped me in a travelling gravitational anomaly that seems to have moved me 8 hours into the future… what did I get done today? ugh…

Hmm…Looks like maybe the running decision is that I should take the plunge and get my degree while trying to support CPA Miami from behind the scenes while I’m away….

What do you all think?

RS: alright, so it was really fun and heart warming to read all the comments from my cohort (also now friends 😍).

If I go to the root of their comments, it was all about ditching the numbers and thinking about what I’m feeling and what I want truly.

what will make me happy and why? I honestly think an MBA is one of the biggest gifts I can give myself and I am fortunate (privileged) enough to be able to consider it, apply, get in and then actually go through with it. I also think I deserve it (I say this completely without arrogance).

I deserve the opportunity to undergo a new process of intense intellectual and emotional renewal, a new adventure. An adventure where I will make deep friendships, discover new interests, contribute in new ways.

Even if I consider some of the absolute worst case scenarios (like being stuck with debt for a loooong time or failing at work or not enjoying the experience that much), I’ll at least won’t be stuck with the “what if”.

I’ve heard a lot of things about people reaching the end of their lives and regretting more the things they didn’t do than things they actually did. I don’t want to be one of those people.

I think that, no matter what, I’ll be happy I did it. I’ll be happy I took the risk and saw the possibility and decided to play big. There is no reason to engineer smallness in my life.

I’ve often considered that much of my professional life is marked by a series of repeated “failures”. That I’ve come up short over and over again. That I try and constantly punch above my weight class and pay great prices because of it. But one thing no one can say about me is that I’ve been risk averse or a coward. If anything, it’s because I’ve been brave and willing to put myself out there that I’ve failed spectacularly, but I’ve picked myself up and found other successes that o couldn’t have imagined. Today, I’m undoubtfully better because of it, even though it has hurt like HELL.

This is how I’ve grown and this is what feels right. Even if I never make it, I will never be among those who didn’t think they could try. Maybe one day I’ll realize what my place actually is and that feels right, but until I get there I want to follow my heart. And my heart says I’m ready for a new adventure and level up this way.

And by the end of it, who knows? Maybe find a special someone. 😬

Trying to Decide…

I am one of the most decisive people I know. I know immediately how I feel about almost any question. It’s a weird quality and it comes from a mix of gut reaction and a quick but careful weighing of the odds. But there are few decisions I regret, even if the outcome isn’t what I hoped for because I know that I considered the odds as well as I could. And because I make many decisions at work, I am pretty easy going about decisions in my personal life. I don’t care what restaurant I meet friends at or what movie my family watches.

What was most interesting to me about this exercise was thinking through my own decision making process. Here’s a recent decision I made that followed a process similar to what is outlined in the prompt:

Goal: To start an annual poetry day beginning with Naomi Shihab Nye, the Palestinian-American poet. Include a mix of poetry writing with elementary kids as well as a contemplative event focused on reclaiming language.

Possible choices: This opportunity came up in July and we were working to include Franklin and Marshall, a local college that we often partner with, as well as a local prep. school. October worked as a date for all of us, but it was there enough time for us to properly plan and market a series of events?

  1. We could wing it and hope for the best. While this sounds unwise, we have a mailing list of more than 17,000 people, an eblast list of more than 4,000, and a pretty good publicity machine. With F&M and the prep school on board, our potential audience grew significantly. But there was real cost to bringing her and we needed to do a lot of planning in a short amount of time.

2. We could keep it simple and just do an evening event. We do these events regularly and have hosted Anne Lamott, Krista Tippet, Father Boyle, Rachel Held Evans to name a few, here at the PRC. We typically have them speak at a big evening event and then take lots of time for questions and answers. Calibrating their speaking fee with the number of tickets I think we can sell is a pretty careful formula.

3. We could wait until October 2020 to do a two-day event that incorporates all of the elements we want to include and give us multiple events which allows to spread the cost/risk. It would also give us more time to promote the event and include additional partners like local public school districts. It would mean that staff and I were less stressed as well.

My normal instinct is to charge ahead with a project like this. Waiting, when we have partners lined up, when we have exciting ideas, can frustrate me. But we decided to wait. This is one of the few decisions I’ve made recently that I question. But I’m also relieved that we didn’t try to cram this into an already packed fall. We will bring Naomi next year, I hope.

RS: Thanks, everyone, for your comments! It’s always so helpful to hear from everyone and reconsider my assumptions in the first post. While October was the original date, April, which is national poetry month, could also work. It might be a little tricky with school ending but doable.

I should have said that while I’m very decisive, I think team work is really important and whenever I can, I work to make decisions as a team. I always assume that my co-workers have a different and often better solution than I do. But sometimes someone has to decide and if that’s me, I know that I can quickly. I see a lot of bookkeeping clients agonize over a decision that often only gets harder the longer they wait.

Did I get it right?

I hate it when my students ask me that. “Did I get it right?” Did you follow the directions? Every step? Then why are you worried? But here I am, wondering, did I do it right? I did the decision-making process but I’m not sure it makes sense because I am not sure I feel any greater sense of clarity about the decision…

Best decision I made last year: To move out of my Miami Beach apartment into a more affordable place closer to my job where the windows work and that has parking and laundry.

Change Agent: I learned that we do not get annual cost of living adjustments at Barry (how did I miss this???? I have no recollection of this being disclosed during the salary negotiation in 2017!) AND I will not be eligible for a promotion (which is the only way to get a pay raise) until 2023 because I will not be allowed to “count” my previous teaching experience and will not have the option to go for my first long-term contract with the university until I have taught there full-time for six years. Welcome to Florida!

Sunk Costs: It took me six years to complete my PhD and it was expensive and emotionally taxing to move to Miami, so I am reluctant to leave an academic job and reluctant to leave Miami after this major move in 2017. Perhaps part of this process of decision-making is unframing? Letting go of these sunk costs and the expectation among my colleagues of institutional loyalty?

What problem(s) am I trying to solve? / What are my priorities?: These have been a work in progress as my professional landscape has shifted…

Research: establishing a research agenda that focuses on restorative practices and programs (e.g. how they work; why they work; best practices; needs of marginalized communities and how restorative justice can help…) to increase communication, connection, community and to reduce violence (especially sexual violence).

Practice: partnering with RJ practitioners to build economic prosperity for youth of color who are leaders in RJ practice in Florida; this also translates to broader commitments to building economic prosperity for my students at Barry and the youth I am encountering in the RJ world here. Co-op models, CPA and others, seem to be the most promising approach to foster wealth-building in these communities that combines economic, racial, and environmental justice…

Personal: establishing greater economic stability and freedom without having to work my full-time job + teach online for Rutgers + lead RJ trainings.

Goal: Finding an (academic) job that pays me fairly.
-Financial freedom
-Ability to buy a home
-Ability to save for retirementAbility to provide enriching experiences to my 4 nieces (such as travel, help with costs associated with schooling, etc.)
-Ability to offer support for my aging parents (such as being able to live part of the year here in FL)
-Being able to have only one job (instead of multiple side gigs to make ends meet)
-Letting go of resentment toward my employer as a result of the mission/practice gap
Options: Dependencies:
Go back on the academic job market Availability of academic jobs in MiamiAvailability of academic jobs in any geographically appealing locationHow competitive I am based on publications and likelihood of securing external funding (not easy to do at Barry)Generally, these jobs are only posted in the fall, so I need to apply NOW for next year or wait another full cycle
Go back into higher ed administration Willingness to give up job flexibility for higher payAvailability of jobs in MiamiWillingness to move to another geographic location for the job
Leave higher ed and seek full employment in another sector Would need to sync departure with my current contract, which is active until May 2020Would need to determine which sector to focus on (gov’t; independent contracting; think tank; building coops, etc.)Assumption that I could earn a living from only one jobAvailability of jobs in MiamiWillingness to move to another geographic location
Quit and go home to NH and sit on my parents’ couch (waiting for winter to end and writing?) Ability to withstand winter coldWillingness to live with almost no income
Look for seasonal work (something I could do in the summer that is well-paying) Availability of jobs in MiamiWillingness to temporarily relocate to a different geographic location
Join/open a clinical social work/therapy practice Still a part-time option!Requires a client baseCould be time-consuming if emergency coverage is requiredPay could be unstable/limited depending on number of clients and practice agreements about cost sharing

Reflection Script:

Has anyone seen “Modern Love”, the miniseries on Amazon based on the New York Times column of the same name? I don’t often watch TV, but I stumbled on this the other night and enjoyed it. More to the point, in one of the episodes, there is a woman who is pregnant and homeless who decides to give her baby up for adoption. What ensues is a culture clash between her and the gay couple (financially successful Manhattanites) who adopt the baby. At one point, she is debriefing after an argument with one of the men in the couple and says to him how she couldn’t stand seeing so much suffering around her and so she gave up a “normal” life and has been an unhoused nomad ever since.

Now, I’m not saying I want to be homeless, which is indeed a volatile and wearying life. I don’t even like to sleep outdoors (glamping, anyone?!). However, I do deeply resonate with what Alessandra called a “multi-vocation life”, Juan Francisco’s urging to be more creative, and Felipe’s mention of intentional communities.

Carrie, thank you for asking about decision-making. In the past, when I’ve made decisions, it has often been on intuition/an internal sense of knowing, like what Jonathan described about going to HKS. When I came to Barry, it was because I had several academic interviews (day-long events where you have to present your research and get grilled by faculty, many with very poor social skills and hidden political agendas. It’s quite unpleasant…) for a job that I wouldn’t be able to start until the following fall, because we like to take our time in higher ed. Anyway, the faculty at Barry shared a story about how welcoming Barry was to LGBTQ folks because of their Dominican Catholic heritage, not in spite of it. (I consider myself an ally and part of how I left the Catholic Church of my childhood was hearing my church spew homophobic slurs from the pulpit while my great-uncle, gay and closeted, was simultaneously being shunned by many of our “devoted” Catholic family members because he was dying of AIDS-related complications.) So, I was moved by their spirit of inclusion. And now I’m here, and it feels unsustainable, mostly because of the high demands and very poor compensation. While I do not regret the decision to move here, I wonder what the purpose is?

And, as I write this, it occurs to me that it probably doesn’t matter. I’m here (and yes, I do LOVE the salsa dancing! J )

When I think of Location (Miami has sunshine and it’s only a 3-hour plane ride home); Job sector (higher education???); and job role (social worker/ teacher/ writer/ administrator/ minister, etc.), it feels incomplete. Brene Brown’s words rise in my mind: “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” If I tell all of my heart, I have to say that my deepest longing is for a more integrated life. I do want to live in community; share collective benefits of shelter, food (a garden?!), environmental sustainability, and even support for childrearing. I literally cannot do this alone, and it occurs to me, thanks to the comments from each of you, that maybe I don’t have to do so.

I think I have sold myself short on possibilities and perhaps this surprises me most (Yessica and Juan Francisco, thank you for asking about this!). For example, I had spoken to a friend of our former intentional community in Brookline, Massachusetts, Grey Lee, and he was leading/living in a cooperative housing project in nearby Cambridge. Based on our conversation, it seemed that the model was suitable mostly for folks with a lot of disposable income and/or those who weren’t concerned about building equity for retirement. He seemed to find it difficult to make it all work, and that was with the backing of his wealthy family. So, I gave up on the idea. But here it is again! Is it possible that some sort of affordable housing co-op model is possible here? Can I make the leap to not just thinking about but actually building a co-op for affordable housing? Or maybe I should join Jessica’s community (although I’m not sure another “1” on the Enneagram is in her housing plan?! Hehehe…)

I did have a conference call with Ron from tilde ( on Friday (thank you, Felipe!) to learn more about the model for this worker-owned language justice cooperative. If I understand it correctly, I believe it is a possible mode for RJ/NVC practitioners throughout Florida, and could provide the necessary support for youth, particularly youth of color from low-income communities who are trained in RJ/NVC to be paid for their work as circle keepers. I emailed the chair of FRJA, the statewide RJ organization in Florida, who agreed that we could find a time during the upcoming conference to do a circle where people could discuss the possible benefits of building a co-op. So, Carrie, maybe I can tell you more about restorative justice in the form of a pitch and you can tell me if it makes any sense at all?

Much gratitude and love to you all! Thank you!!!

The post where I tell you my actual life dream while exploring decision-making

I knew when reading this prompt that the most logical “goal” to pick would be starting CPA in LA, but I already did a blog about my goal related to CPA, and I’ve shared extensively about how I’m approaching this from a fairly detached, curious, open posture. So naming it as a core goal that I have multiple routes to would feel at best a bit boring and at worst slightly disingenuouse.

Our #teamtuesday did a good job using this prompt to spur collective dialogue about how we might go about achieving a collective goal of “Formalizing the relationship between CPA-affiliated organizations which enables shared learning, equitable development, transparency and collaboration.” (Your contributions to this question are welcome!)

So I will give you all a break from CPA for this week and try to practice this decision-making methodology by examining the various paths to a core goal (which encompasses a small ecosystem of goals) I have for my life which I have yet to achieve. The prompt encouraged us to go big, so just so you understand, this goal has since college held a greater appeal to me than marriage or any particular career goal, which is just to say: I’m not messing around.

Name the goals:

  1.  Live in community, within a shared house, neighborhood, or series of apartments with 4-8 friends who are themselves committed to the community and sharing resources and time together.
    1. This community should be multi-generational, multi-racial, ideally international, socio-economically diverse and unified around values of mutual care, hospitality, and justice.
    1. This community should be collectively owned, include regular practices of gathering and sharing, as well as freedom to pursue individual passions and work.
    1. This community should be porous and be a blessing not only for itself but for those that live around it, and who come to visit it.
    1. This community should be rich in plants, music, art, organizing meetings, and potlucks.

Possible choices to get there:

I have been working on the “plan a” version of this goal since college. Plan A includes attempting to save money for an initial capital investment in property and encouraging my closest friends from college who have a similar vision to do so as well. One way to achieve the goal would be to eventually return to the east coast and buy property where there are enough of us (likely 3-4, including partners) to purchase a house in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisonburg, Durham, or Charlottesville and begin to form the community. This option requires remaining flexible to where my friends, who are currently finishing masters’ degrees, scattered, or overly burdened by student debt to be thinking about investments yet, land.

  • Stay in LA for several years and then move to the east coast.
  • Convince everyone to join me on the West Coast.

Another option is continuing to tell everyone I meet my vision and keeping my ears and heart open to joining a community-living project already underway. For example, here in Los Angeles I have already met three women who have shared with me their desire to live in a similar kind of community, and I have found a life-partner who shares a similar vision as well. None of these women were at the stage of genuinely being on the brink of investment and needing a final individual to catch the vision, but it was a reminder that such an opportunity might arise and the limiting factor to achieving my goal would be my (and really in this case, our, since my partner would need to be onboard) ability and willingness to embrace this iteration of the dream and place both my money and my commitment in it.

  • Don’t make professional or relocation decisions based on this goal at all, instead save aggressively and discuss with your partner the minimum conditions under which you would agree to join an existing community and plant yourself wherever you find it. Practice holding the place where you currently are close, as if it is the forever place, and keep speaking your goal and intention to those you build relationships with. Seek and ye shall find.
  • Set a specific time-line by which if this method hasn’t worked I switch to another one.

I could start this community in a modular way. That is to say, I could start with my partner and build out pieces of the vision – the practices of hospitality, of sharing meals, of sharing music, of investing in the local community and add individuals who share this vision one at a time. They might not live in the same house but they could be neighbors, and if they are neighbors with whom we share meals and work and time long enough we can build up to co-ownership down the road and keep looking for those who will join the vision.

  • Think of my current 3-bedroom apartment and the two roommates I will have as the beginning of this community. Start building the practices now.
  • The next time my partner and I need to move (likely by next December) we could consider whether purchasing a small property somewhere the “modular” version of this community could arise makes sense.

I could make enough money to buy a large property on my own, start with regular renters, and gradually shift from tenants to community members (sometimes with the same individuals, sometimes by having friends or people who catch the vision move in and/or become part owners) over time.

  • This option requires maximizing my potential income for at least a period of time (2-4 years) in order to be able to afford the initial investment in a community space. Given my professional background this might ironically entail some kind of international civil service or UN posting, or theoretically (though not actually, since it’s entirely unpalatable to me, with all the respect in the world for Jonathan and Juan <3) the consulting route domestically.
  • Alternatively, instead of increasing my income, I can increase my purchasing power if I start this community outside of the United States (particularly in a French or Spanish speaking place where I have history and/or connections) where property values are lower. This option appeals to my sense of self in that until I was 23 or 24 my assumption was always that I would live long-term outside of the United States, since my experience growing up was that the United States was the place we decided to live only when duty to family required it. Some possible places to consider would be Senegal, Colombia, or Guatemala.
  • I could meet the individuals who are interested in this kind of living situation and able to commit to it through exploring a potential CPA LA expansion and diving into the world of cooperatives.

As I write these various options out I’m struck by the idea that while my goal is crystal clear, it is the very fact that I’m aware of these various paths to my goal that becomes its own choice. What do I prioritize? The people or the place? When do I absolutely need this to happen? What am I willing to sacrifice in order to get it? Is this community-vision my version of the “sacred-object” which Peter Rollins warns us about? I’m not sure. But I think at the very least it’s helpful to keep track of where I am in the world of choices I have generated for achieving this goal. Being aware of the stage I’m at, the choices that I’m making (including the choice not to chose between approaches for a set time) are all important information to track.

Finally, please let me know if you’re interested in founding this community with me. In your application please list your financial and geographic limitations and preferences as well as any dietary restrictions or unsavory political views. 😉


Reflection Script

It’s exciting and fun and humbling to have you all read this. Felipe, I’ll certainly give you a heads up if Durham is in the plans.

I want to try to answer Carrie’s initial question of why this goal/vision/desire is so important to me.

Basically, this vision synthesizes most of my deepest-held beliefs (spiritual, political, social and otherwise) about who we are as humans, how we ought to treat each other, what is necessary for human thriving, and the shape and texture of what the “Kin-dom of God” looks like. I truly believe that *so* many of our deepest societal problems (from mental health issues to climate change related issues) stem from isolation, loneliness, and people of different groups not being in genuine, sharing relationship with each other. I also think the meritocracy is a farce and the reason one person makes 30K and another makes 200K is so often unrelated to the true value of what they produce and unrelated entirely to what they “deserve”. I also believe from a virtue-ethics perspective that if we want to be improving as people we need to do better than just learn how to be decent and loving to people it’s most comfortable and easy to relate to daily. And I think being intentional all the time is hard and unrealistic and exhausting, so we have to build our private lives in ways that facilitate rather than resist the world we want to see existing. Which ironically requires a ton of intentionality on the front end, but with the goal of having less resistance continually. (For example, the first time you have to figure out the bus route and it takes longer to get to work than just hopping in your car is work, but the benefits of not having to sit through traffic and pollute and being free to take public transit because you now know how it works are longstanding.) I know that I tend to be selfish, and lazy, and that behavioral economics confirms that if I want to make it more likely I have practices of generosity, mutual care, justice, and sharing in my life I need to make injustice, isolation, greed and selfishness things I have to actively opt into rather than forcing myself into a life where every decision has to be one to opt-out. If that makes sense.

I’ve been building this theory/idea for a while but it was viscerally illustrated to me when I was 23 and living in Colombia as part of a program with Mennonite Central Committee. I had my first serious adult relationship with a brilliant, funny, theologically and politically inquisitive and knowledgeable Afro-Colombian man 11 years my senior who also happened to be the father to a 16 year old, victim of the armed conflict, and impoverished. It wasn’t the right relationship for me for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here, but the experience of being in love and in relationship with someone whose life circumstances were so different from my own gave me an entirely different perspective on social change and economic justice issues. As I work in the world of social services now with its legacy of institutionalized racism, its language of “clients”, its broad categories and implicit assumptions I’m struck so often with how social segregation at the personal level leads to bad policy at the macro level.

There’s a lot of “why”s. I’m also an extrovert who grew up in Europe, West Africa, the Middle East and around Mennonites so more communitarian set ups may also just appeal to me personally more naturally. But I think the truest whys are linked to what my freshman college seminar called “Ruling Ideas”. I just think it’s a normatively and existentially better way to live than most. 😛

I’ll also briefly touch on Carrie , Alessandra and Felipe’s questions of the common thread, what holds the vision together in all the various iterations of it I’ve described.

There have been several moments I’ve looked around my life, seen that this vision was not yet within my reach and felt a deep sense of mourning, and anxiety about it. In the wake of such moments I’ve had to reframe and name the fact that every time I chose my living situation, every time I chose a partner, a job, a next step, this vision is weighing in and influencing how I make those choices. I could afford to live in a studio or maybe even a 1 bedroom in Los Angeles and instead I’ve chosen to consistently live with roommates, and consistently attempt to share life with them in increasingly meaningful ways. I chose to move to Los Angeles because I wanted to be near my sister and not become a near-stranger to her. I chose my current partner in part because his vision of church (he’s going to be a pastor) is one that holds within it so many of the aspects of this community vision I have. I feel that I am orienting myself towards this intention and that I’m trying to inhabit a “not yet but already” mentality about it.

I hope and pray and save money and will likely make a discreet serious choice someday that will make the co-ownership a concrete reality. I will only do that if the people I’m co-investing with share a vision for our community (whether it’s apartments, micro-neighborhood, large shared house, or other) to be a space for hospitality, shared life and care, art and organizing. I’m not going to artificially impose racial and socio-economic diversity, but I believe that if I continue to stay involved in the issues I’m passionate about, and if I hold to the intention of that diversity, I won’t have to impose it. Similarly being multi-generational will come when people have babies, or when parents need housing, or when someone from our local church finds themselves precariously housed, or when the lgbtq community has yet another member kicked out from a conservative family. The important thing is to have the space and intention and practice of hospitality, or letting go of a purely wealth-maximizing mentality, or of accidentally creating a community that isn’t porous enough for people to enter or to feel free to leave.

Anyways this is far too long. And late once more. But there it is. If you made it this far, thank you.

To incubate or not – that is the question

Decision: Is incubating CPA-Denver the right next move for the Center for Community Wealth Building (CCWB)?

Yessica and I decided that we would both address this decision in response to this prompt, as we want to be deliberate, realistic, and strategic as to how we spend our energy and resources over the next year. We are working towards building a fertile ecosystem to advance community wealth building in Denver. There isn’t one right sequencing for our work, but we want this decision to reflect our priorities and beliefs about what will lead us to the promised land most effectively and in a fashion that honors a sustainable workload.

Possible choices/decisions open to us:

  1. It is the next best move for CCWB. We go after it.
  2. Prioritize other efforts right now and put CPA off into the future, and re-evaluate this decision in six months and again in twelve months.
  3. Abandon the dream of a CPA-Denver for the time being.
  4. Recruit a new partner that is ready to serve as the entrepreneur and organizing backbone for CPA-Denver.
  5. Implement the minimal viable product that puts us on a path to creating a full-blown CPA-Denver, but doesn’t require as much resources.

Choices 1-3 can be boiled down to Yes – we’re going for it; we’re putting off making a decision; or No – we’re abandoning this dream. Each requires that we closely examine our theory of change to determine whether the path we are on is the optimal path for building community wealth with communities of color and decreasing the threat of involuntary displacement that residents and small businesses are facing.

CCWB’s major priorities for 2020:
Democratize ownership
Engage anchor institutions
Strengthen local POC entrepreneurship
Within each of these areas, lies a robust body of work that is underway — truly enough for 1-3 FTEs in each area. It is also true that on the face of it, each of these areas is embodied in CPA.

In addition to these three focus areas, we are also creating infrastructure to become an independent 501(c)(3), which includes orienting a founding board of directors, completing the IRS application, and putting procedures in place that our fiscal sponsor has been performing. We are also advertising for a new program director level position and recruiting interns and a VISTA volunteer. We need to build a new website, an individual donor program, and a communications strategy. We also must maintain our grant writing to be able to finance our current and growing body of work. In addition, we must continue our policy efforts and collaborating on the local scene to foster an atmosphere of support and progress.

If we were closer to attaining our goals with our 3 major priorities, it would be a no-brainer to jump into raising funds to support launching CPA-Denver or to reassign staff who are able to back-off of their original work because things are in motion and require less intense attention. However, that’s not our reality — yet.

In light of my current level of fatigue, I’m going to take some short-cuts with this exercise. I can definitely see the value of having gone even this far with this exercise and my apologies to my team for not going all out with this prompt … but here’s the recommendation I have for CCWB:

Spend some time with Option 4: Attempt to recruit an individual or organization to take on developing CPA-Denver. The synergy between CPA and CCWB goals are very clear. It would be fantastic to build and grow together. In the event we don’t find someone to take this on, I think CCWB needs to stay on its current course and re-evaluate whether we are in a better position in six-months to take this on ourselves. If we are successful in filling our current positions with incredibly talented people, and have a good flow going (I am optimistic that this will be our culture), in a year we may feel ready to birth CPA-Denver.

Another alternative is that if CPA-D.C. is able to fund a PT position to focus on launching CPA-Denver, it would fit well within our current framework for building community wealth and give CCWB the capacity to serve as the backbone.

Option 5 doesn’t feel realistic at the moment. I’m a proponent of MVP and still think that is the approach I would recommend anyone use in building a CPA. However, that level of effort is still too much for the organization to take on without additional resources.

Again, I kind of feel like I flunked this assignment, because I haven’t been able to devote the time it deserves. But, it has been a great learning lesson anyway.

To CPA or Not To CPA: That IS The Decision

Decision: Should Center for Community Wealth Building (CCWB) co-develop CO CPA?  Do we have the capacity to do it well?

The goal that the decision is supposed to produce is to identify if CCWB is the organization best positioned to take on the development of CO CPA.  I want to find out if we have the capacity to convene stakeholders to co-create CPA. If so, I want to identify what additional resources are needed to make CPA happen in CO.

I am currently investing a lot of time and effort into the CPA model because it is aligned with CCWB.  CCWB’s vision is a people-owned, inclusive, and sustainable metro Denver economy that catalyzes prosperous and resilient communities free from racism and injustice.  The CPA model can be a strategy for CCWB to achieve a more just economy that catalyzes prosperous and resilient communities.  

I want to explore and define if CCWB is the best organization to convene stakeholders to develop CO CPA.  Some of the possible choices include:

Take on the CPA development and drop other projects


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Continue relationship-building period
  • Identify other organizations that are interested in co-designing and co-creating CPA
  • Assess which CCWB projects to drop
  • Evaluate the potential negative impact resulting from dropped projects
  • Connect with impacted stakeholders
  • Draft and communicate the message effectively

Take on the CPA development and add 10 hours of work a week


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Continue relationship-building period
  • Identify other organizations that are interested in co-designing and co-creating CPA
  • Personally, assess current activities outside of work to identify where the additional 10 hours will come from (community time, family time, giving circle time, volunteer time, sleep, etc.) 
  • Identify which dropped activity will have the least negative impact
  • Create an exit plan to transition out with minimal impact 

Seek another organization to develop CPA


  • Research potential organizations
  • Build relationships with organizations, if needed
  • Introduce potential organization to the CPA model and leadership
  • Create a plan to transition CPA
  • Share all information gathered
  • Confirm commitment to developing CPA
  • Define CCWB’s role moving forward

Seek additional resources and human capacity to develop CPA


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Continue relationship-building period
  • Allocate time to fundraise
  • Identify potential funders without cannibalizing CCWB
  • Apply for funding
  • Build relationships with other potential funders
  • Hire a staff member to develop and lead CPA

Merge CPA with The BackOffice (TBO) Project and add 5 extra hours of work a week


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Continue CPA relationship-building period
  • Coordinate with other TBO committee members to assess the idea of a merger
  • Develop a business plan that includes CPA and TBO
  • Create an operations plan that makes sense for CPA and TBO
  • Allocate time to fundraise

Don’t take on CPA

No dependencies identified with this option 

Wait until CCWB has the internal capacity to devote the time to develop CPA


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Include CPA in 2021 CCWB budget
  • Identify the types of resources needed to make CPA happen
  • Build relationships with potential resource providers

While these are all possible choices, they all come with their own pros and cons.  Also, while doing nothing is definitely an option. I am not convinced that this is the way to go either. Oftentimes, the easiest option is not the best option. What other choices am I not thinking about? 

Reflection Script

As I sit here trying to digest all the wonderful questions you posed, I can’t help but think that I need to spend more time processing all of this information.  I also realize just how disappointed I would be if we chose to not develop CPA in Colorado. I know that emotion is not supposed to be part of the decision, but it is definitely something that is coming to the forefront for me.  

I also realize that I am hesitant to partner with other local organizations at the moment.  Perhaps this uneasiness comes from not having specific criteria to determine the best partner organization.  I know exactly what I do not want, but I have not spent any time thinking through what I want.   

Felipe, I appreciate your questions.  Yes, I do believe that with additional resources or support, this decision would be slightly different.  I believe in the model and I know that CPA will help advance CCWB’s mission; that was the reason I wanted to do this incubator.  I also believe that the potential for sustainability is significant and can provide even more opportunities in the future. It really is this promise that makes me want to think deeper/longer to make this decision.   

As soon as I’m done with the reflection script, I will go over to my aunt’s house to celebrate my partner’s birthday.  I am incredibly grateful that my family will ensure that he has a (well-deserved) celebration during a time that is incredibly busy for both of us.  There is no way that I could have done this by myself. They planned the party, cooked his favorite meal, purchased his favorite cake, invited people, and helped me purchase, and wrap a gift, and will most likely help with the cleanup responsibilities.  This celebration is the perfect example of how it will take a village to birth CPA. Perhaps, I should also think about which aspects of my current professional responsibilities could be outsourced so we can make it happen.

Thank you all for your thoughtful questions!

Bust up the traditional nonprofit for distributed leadership

I think Cleveland Owns should adopt a distributed-leadership governance structure. Let’s explore 🙂

To truly fulfill Cleveland Owns’ mission to build wealth and power through collective ownership, I think our year-old organization must transition away from today’s leadership structure, where lots of resources and power are concentrated in one person (me) and in a small group of leaders on the Board, to a leadership structure that’s much broader, that involves many more people with more skills and experiences.


Strengthen Cleveland Owns

  • Have a clear base of support for Cleveland Owns that will sustain its mission beyond the tenure of any one person
  • Build a more resilient organization that’s not dependent on one person or just a small group of people
  • Address the skepticism I have and others may have about the intentions of Cleveland Owns and about the intentions I have (e.g., is he doing this because of a white savior complex)
  • Bring more resources to the table to support the org (e.g., connections, ideas, money)
  • Make more connections between people who care about coops in the city


Unlock new ways to reach our mission

  • Model the cooperative governance we encourage the groups we incubate to adopt
  • Raise up leadership from people who are not white men
  • Resist the white savior complex central to many nonprofits in Cleveland
  • Learn new skills about how to run democratic organizations
  • Demonstrate there’s an alternative way to run an org


Options Dependencies
Create board seats for representatives from willing coops Cleveland Owns has incubated Board agrees to take on members from cooperative we’ve incubated
Establish a clear standard for how developed a coop must be to qualify for a board seat
Members of cooperatives are even interested in joining the board of Cleveland Owns
Coops will need to have fair process to select a representative for the Cleveland Owns board
Coop members on the CO board will need to be actively engaged, and communicate back to their coop what’s going on
Create a non-voting advisory board that’s open to the community Enough people (of diverse backgrounds) want to join CO advisory board
We effectively communicate the opportunity
Create structure and enough stakes in the game for people to want to stay involved (aka don’t waste people’s time)
Have a clear standard for what information is fair to share with advisory board and what is not
Listen to the group of creating meaningful opportunities for them to get involved
Design programming that meet people where they’re at, at various levels of knowledge about coops
Cocreate programming that is engaging, meaningful, and create reciprocal exchange of info and ideas
Create a non-voting advisory board made up of people who are members in the coops Cleveland Owns has incubated Same as above, just more refined, plus since people on the advisory board will all have a knowledge of coops
Keep our current board structure and operating structure For this option to produce some of the goals above, we’ll need to develop a strategy that builds a much broader base of leadership and support
Close the organization Consent from the board
Commit to hiring coop members as Cleveland Owns staff (when applicable) Approval from board
Qualified, interested candidates
Replace our ED with a group of people working part-time We’d need to have enough money to pay a full salary, split between a few people
Find, hire qualified candidates
Cut work in a way that creates clear delineations between new part-time staff

I think there are many more way to do this I don’t know. At our upcoming board meeting, I’m going to ask the board to brainstorm ways we can expand this list, so we can consider more options.


It’s also a chance for the board to reflect on this idea and to see if they’re on fire for it as I am.


Of these options my favorite is to create board seats for members of the coops. I like that it’s concrete governance power that turns Cleveland Owns into more of a membership organization, rather than a board-led, non-membership org. It builds connections between the incubator and the incubatee, and between coops, who may otherwise not have structured opportunities to get connected.



Reflection script


Thanks everyone for the comments. These are especially helpful because this is a live decision. In fact, we’re going to discuss this at our Board meeting Sunday. I’m bringing some of what I wrote in this post to the group directly.


Here’s a good lesson on the need to be precise in describing what we’re talking about. I imagined this is about distributed governance, rather than distributed management. The question of management is tricky, since I’m the only paid staff. I think we can wait on tackling that.


Our board members are unpaid. The time it takes to be a board member is substantial barrier. We don’t have a plan to pay board members – I think we’d need to change our bylaws to do so. We could. And we could also find lots of other perks for folks involved that could eliminate barriers and allow more people to seriously consider joining the board.


We’ve enshrined a commitment to a diverse board in our bylaws. I’m not sure what accountability mechanisms we have if we miss that target. It’s also a fuzzy target – we’ve never defined quotas, for example.


The effort to address skepticism goal is an important one. It’s not the only benefit this decision could bring to the org. But I certainly think being able to say something like “our board is made up of membership orgs we’ve helped found’ conveys a real sense of democratic control, and diminishes doubt this is a vanity project. I’m thinking of places like Coop Power and Cooperative Energy Futures, two member-driven orgs with management that, from afar at least, seems accountable to their membership.


Interestingly I’m also grappling with worker-directed nonprofits, a model put forward by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), designed to bring the principles of democratic management from the worker-coop world into the nonprofits space. That’s another spin on what democractic leadership looks like that winds up in a different direction: A board with much less power, and very decentralized leadership in the workplace. I can imagine us heading in that direction when/if we have staff of 2+.


Overall, this exercise has been quite helpful. It offered just enough structure for me to think about this more than I would have otherwise. Writing helped turn that thinking into something I will share with my board.


On our call Carrie raised doubts about this method. suggesting that it strips away emotion. That hasn’t been my experience. I much better having gone through this because I’ve turned over this issue enough. I haven’t made a decision. That will still involve more convos with the board and trusted friends and reflection on my own feeling about this. But it was a good start.

I Might Already Know The Answer

This week, I struggled deciding on a decision (go figure). There are a few sensitive business decisions we must make at PizzaPlex, and those are great candidate questions – but I decided I would not publicly outline my decision-making process for those decisions. I do commit to trialing this method for those decisions, to see where the method leads me.

For this exercise, I followed the hint to write this narrative as if I were a consultant, making a decision for someone else. As soon as I assume that consultant character, I am convinced I already know the answer. However, perhaps going through this process of making impartial recommendations will actually encourage Alessandra (this consultant’s client) to take action on the outcome.

Making Alessandra’s Decision


  • Goals: Alessandra’s goals are to free up time in her schedule to allow her to focus on a few key engagements: her income-earning employment, her small business, and her passion for increasing access to capital for women- and POC-owned businesses. She is seeking an outcome that does not pre-commit her to new engagements once certain engagements are eliminated (or placed on hold). Ultimately, the real end goal is to make space for deeper connections and more significant transformation in her work.
  • Possible Choices: Below follow options available to Alessandra to meet her goal of freeing up time to focus.


      1. Rethink her key engagements and potentially eliminate one or more of them — her job, her commitment to her small business, her desire to establish an investing network
      2. Reduce her commitment to one of her key engagements rather than eliminate entirely; be satisfied with diluting her time (similar to status quo). She could change her work week schedule and compromise income to reduce the number of hours worked, announce a shift in her involvement at PizzaPlex, or chip away at an investing network with minimal resolve
      3. Resign from her role as president of a local community development corporation (non-profit CDC)
      4. Resign from her role as vice chair of a local sustainability and climate action non-profit
      5. Resign from her role as infrastructure committee member of the local CDC
      6. Resign from her role as a neighborhood volunteer for sustainability initiatives
      7. Resign from her advisory role with the local Global Shapers Hub
      8. Resign from some combination of her volunteer roles
      9. Confine all her work on volunteer engagements to a single day and time and be satisfied with whatever performance she is able to deliver within the new constraints


  • Dependencies: We can broadly characterize Alessandra’s options and related dependencies as follows:


    1. Adjust or eliminate her work or PizzaPlex commitments
      1. If reducing or eliminating job:
        1. Evaluate and adjust personal financial situation; evaluate and adjust professional growth plan [low preference]
        2. Necessarily apply freed time to PizzaPlex [moderate preference]
      2. If reducing or eliminating PizzaPlex commitments:
        1. Communicate plan to team and evaluate the most effective method of increasing day-to-day involvement [low preference]
        2. Assess impacts to staff and payroll [low preference, assuming the business has fewer human resources to succeed]
        3. Assess impacts to other business partners [low preference]
      3. If increasing PizzaPlex commitments: Reduce or eliminate job commitments (and follow i) [low preference]
    2. Adjust or eliminate her commitment to developing an investing network
      1. No practical/operational change beyond ceasing any future related plans or activities [neutral]
      2. Re-assess personal goals and dreams [low preference]
    3. Adjust or eliminate her involvement in volunteer activities
      1. Communicate with relevant stakeholder(s) [neutral]
      2. Establish succession plan(s) [neutral]
      3. Complete adjustments by year end to enable organizational planning [neutral]
      4. Be satisfied with fewer ongoing external connections and continuous relationship building, or ability to apply her resources to influence local sustainable development [low preference]
      5. Project extra time to commit to other projects [high preference]

The consultant didn’t make a final recommendation. Her draft is now up for public comment. But I might already know the answer.

RS – I am grateful for the space the RS imposes between the Ale who outlined the set of decisions to make earlier this week and the Ale who is prepared to make a decision today. Over the past few days and in considering comments on the post, I learned a few things:

  • The insights from writing the post were that I never openly displayed (most of) the “extra” stuff I do for me to read/review/process. I inventory them in my head all the time to make sure I don’t let anything slip through the cracks. As a result – as asked in one comment – it’s incredibly difficult for me to estimate the amount of time I apply to my commitments because I blend my work so much. Working on infrastructure topics through the CDC links to my own neighborhood, which in turn, might lead me to an opportunity to make a connection for PizzaPlex. The network of people and resources I turn to for all my work (professional, personal, community, etc.) is so intertwined.
  • I have established relationships that I can continue to nurture; my role in various organizations does not determine the outcome of my relationships. I need to detach the evaluation of the outcome from the validity/value of the decision I make.
  • I am really tired of continuously asking myself if all the engagements I commit to connect/make sense. To see and reflect on the words “tangentially aligned” in one of the comments affirmed that while I can make the connections abstractly, they are likely diluting the effect of my activities. I’m not really optimizing my time and resources – I haven’t been strategic. I’ve only been saying “yes.”

I decided that I will have a heart-to-heart with the people behind the organizations I support or lead and figure out appropriate succession plans. This is for my own sustainability and out of consideration for these organizations – I’m not giving them everything I would like to and it’s not fair to them.