In environments of material scarcity, where people operate on the margins of power structures, social change leaders see abundant possibility. They work with resourceful and purposeful action, propelled to enact a vision of a more just world.
A major contribution of RCLA's research to the leadership field has been illuminating the specific leadership practices that community-based nonprofits employ to build leadership capital and create social change. While often overlooked in leadership studies, social change nonprofits represent a rich and essential resource for US civil society; serve as bellwethers for the field; and enact profound reforms to broken systems and structures. This work toward the common good reflects the human spirit at its best, and this leadership is essential to guarantee, sustain and invigorate democracy.
RCLA's findings are based on eight years of research through the Leadership for a Changing World (LCW) program, a partnership between the Ford Foundation, the Institute for Sustainable Communities* and NYU Wagner. LCW recognized approximately 150 exemplary community leaders who worked in 90 organizations around the country.
The goals of the program were to recognize and better understand social change leadership in American communities in order to contribute to changing the national conversation about leadership to one that recognizes the importance of community leadership and appreciates that leadership comes in many forms and from many different communities.
The Research and Documentation Component, housed at RCLA, was anchored in the belief that creating a new conversation about leadership depends on the ability to describe community leadership clearly and with an authentic voice. RCLA is committed to doing research about leadership with leaders, rather than on leaders.
Therefore, the program worked to generate new knowledge about community leadership through a collaborative approach. Award recipients were invited to become co-researchers and to explore collectively how leadership happens in their communities. Co-researchers were able to observe, analyze their own experience, and share reflections about what makes their practice successful, and what leadership challenges they confront.
Through these activities, we have developed new understandings about the ways in which communities trying to make social change engage in the work of leadership.
*The Institute for Sustainable Communities assumed management of LCW in October 2006 when the Advocacy Institute, which had administered the program since 2000, transferred its operations to ISC.
Viewing leadership as a collective achievement moves beyond focusing on the relationship between leaders and followers. It recognizes the process by which people come together to pursue change, and in doing so, together develop a shared vision of what the world should look like, make sense of their experience and shape their decisions and actions. Learn more about leadership as a collective achievement.
Leadership practices are strategic interventions that help build collective power to make change possible. Learn more about RCLA's findings on these practices essential to the work of leadership.
Co-Producing Knowledge: Practitioners and Scholars Working Together to Understand Leadership
By Sonia Ospina, Ellen Schall, Bethany Godsoe and Jennifer Dodge. Building Leadership Bridges 2002. (2002) 59-67.
Taking the Action Turn: Lessons from Bringing Participation to Qualitative Research, By Sonia Ospina, Jennifer Dodge, Erica G. Foldy, and Amparo Hofmann-Pinilla, Handbook of Action Research 2nd Ed., Sage Publications, 2008
The Tapestry of Leadership: Lessons from Six Cooperative Inquiry Groups of Social Justice Leaders, By Lyle Yorks, Arnold Aprill, LaDon James, Anita M. Rees, Amparo Hofmann-Pinilla, and Sonia Ospina, Handbook of Action Research, November 2007
From Consent to Mutual Inquiry: Balancing Democracy and Authority in Action Research,
By Sonia Ospina, Jennifer Dodge, Bethany Godsoe, Joan Minieri, Salvador Reza and Ellen Schall, Action Research 2:1 (2004) 47-69
Social change organizations are local sites for democracy in action as they open spaces for every member of their communities to participate in making change happen. Social change leadership offers insight for other how other public service and private organizations can become more adaptive, inclusive and effective. Learn more about what this leadership can teach us for the future of public service.