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2 years of building LCN as an organizing organization – lessons learned

LCN’s outgoing Executive Director Ana Babovic shares the organizing approach used to relaunch LCN

As I step down as Executive Director of the Leading Change Network to support the building of democracy in Serbia, I wanted to share with you how we approached the building of our community.

This summer marks two years since we started to lay the foundations for the relaunch of the Leading Change Network.

As we were doing it, we were spending time reflecting on what we do, how we do it, and understanding what has worked and what didn’t

Let’s go back to 2017: Donald Trump was the newly elected US President. Democracy was under threat everywhere, and authoritarianism was on the rise.

All over the world, people from our global community were standing up and taking leadership.

Many were reaching out to each other asking for tools, support, coaching and training to make their work more impactful. But as the challenges before us intensified, organisers everywhere were seeking more support, learning and community.

Some of our most active community leaders, including Marshall Ganz, came together and concluded that with greater leadership, structure and resources LCN could play a role.

The stage was set for the relaunch of the Leading Change Network.

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Like any good organiser, we began by identifying the leadership to do this work.

Our Board identified a leadership team of Nisreen Haj Ahmad and myself to develop a strategy and identify the resources from across our community to relaunch.

We did a listening drive with our community, created a vision and strategy for relaunch and went on to build an Advisory Committee of organizers who became our listening board and source of support in the difficult work of practicing leadership. We also got Kanoko Kamata to step up and do amazing work in creating a library of LCN resources.

It took some time, challenge and effort to bring together the minimum resources we needed for relaunch. In the process, Nisreen decided to focus on her work in the Middle East, and I continued to work with our community on the relaunch. By August 2018, we had successfully gathered the minimum resources we needed, allowing us to recruit two new members of the team.

From our listening campaign, organisers told us they were looking for a space to come together, learn together and work together. With limited resources we decided to focus on building LCN’s Community of Practice first.

In December 2018 we relaunched with an inspiring global gathering with 350 people from 24 countries registered, including 12 people involved in the leadership, with one plenary, four breakout sessions, and 1:1 meetings across the event. This showed us there was an appetite for community.Image for post

This was just the beginning.

In the first few months of our relaunch we focused on three things:

  1. Building our membership base. For the first time ever membership in LCN was defined. We wanted to bound it, and ensure that there is a strong core of practitioners of our pedagogy before we expand further. In the beginning, we needed to make sure people knew we relaunched after all. We recruited the majority of our members (both individual and organizational) through personal relationships. Two years on, we see new members join each day;
  2. Identifying & recruiting leadership. We did this through relational work with our community, where we invited them to join us in this mission. Over several months our leadership team held over 80 1:1 meetings;
  3. Creating learning spaces for our community. Our capacity for learning and solidarity was enhanced by our diversity: from the Stand up for Teachers campaign coached by Nisreen and her team in Jordan, to the Nicaragua campaign for democratic human rights coached by Jake and Daiana, to We the People-MI building multi-racial, working-class community organizing infrastructure in Michigan led by Art and many others.

It is the creative organizing of the people on the ground that brings life to LCN. It was critical for us that we built a community led by these leaders on the ground. Through our 1:1s we were identifying leaders, needs and resources.

We supported those who had made the commitment to join us in this mission from our 1:1s, to start contributing by:

  • Providing written contributions about their work to share with the wider community;
  • Supporting them to share their knowledge and skills in learning events;
  • Organizing Meetups locally, including in Boston and Europe;
  • Supporting leaders to launch interest based groups, like our Workers Movement or geographic based groups like the Latin America Group.

Like any campaign, we were constantly listening to our people to figure out how we could shape LCN, taking an approach of always identifying opportunities to enable new leaders, getting feedback from the community and trying new things.

Six months in, we designed a new Community of Practice program, that included our new How To series and Innovation Hub, as well as a new podcast Faces of Change, to tell the stories of leaders on the ground.

We launched a zero budget coaching and support program, and are working on a new curriculum to teach online organizing and train the trainer courses that are widely accessible to everyone.

In two years, with only three part time staff members (1.25 full time equivalent) and less than $400k, the following was achieved (see below for visual infographic!):

  • 350 members in 45 countries
  • 23 member organizations (including Color of Change USA, Move On, Friends of the Earth Netherlands and many others.);
  • 6,000 subscribers;
  • Seven permanent member groups (including Data Learning, Europe, Latin America, Australia, Strategy, Africa and Workers Movement groups;
  • A coaching team of 6, with 50 coaching session held;
  • 50 learning events, with over 2,900 people attending! Including our recent COVID series that engaged 600 people in 69 countries;
  • 6 on the ground trainings implemented directly by LCN team in Lithuania, Armenia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Hong Kong and USA with over 400 new people being introduced to organizing, and 5 new coaches in Russian language developed;
  • Curriculum for 6 weeks online training in organizing developed;
  • Curriculum for 6 weeks online training for trainers developed;

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And that is only what is visible — of course building an organization isn’t possible without working on governance, strong legal and compliance support, and impactful fundraising.

In the last month we have been expanding the leadership snowflake with the launch of three volunteer teams that will support learning development, communications and data management.

As leadership development is at the center of our work, we’ve also spent time identifying new ways to move our people up the leadership ladder, and support their further growth.

Together, as a community we have built a beautiful leadership snowflake

We have come so far, and learned so much. Some of our key learnings from this time include:

  1. Start with “who are your people?”: this might have been the most difficult question we needed to answer, and the decision we needed to make early on. We needed to decide where do we start, who is our constituency, and how do we bound it in a way that we can create a strong foundation, without being exclusive. We decided to focus on the people who have already been familiar with LCN pedagogy, and have been practicing and/or teaching it;
  2. Stay focused and keep the work in the center: after defining who our people are, we looked into what their problems were, and we shaped our programs and activities to engage our people in addressing those needs. This has also been challenging. So many times we were challenged to move our focus to work that was very important too, but that would derail us from focusing on our people. We managed to resist this tension believing that staying focused on a defined scope of work will build a strong foundation that will allow further scaling up and engaging in different projects at a later point;
  3. Experiment, learn and adapt: building an organization from scratch requires vision, creativity, courage, and readiness to fail. We approached it as a playground, we wanted to create an organization that we would like to be part of, events that we would like to attend, and a community that we would care about. We adopted an approach that allowed us to imagine, test, evaluate, and learn from. What I honestly believe was critical is that we were able to “kill our darlings” and eliminate what didn’t work well, after which we would experiment with new ideas again, and again.Image for post

Now, this has been a team effort. I want to particularly acknowledge James Sleep, Rawan Zeine, Sachiko Osawa and Kai Mateo who were pulling this work together, and helped create space for engagement of leaders in our network, without whom this work would not be possible.

I also want to acknowledge the many leaders across our community who helped make this possible, including Art Reyes III, Jake Waxman, Predrag Stojicic, Lara Ayoub, Kathryn Perera, Elizabeth McKenna, Benjamin Naimark Rowse, Joy Cushman, Nisreen Haj Ahmad, Kanoko Kamata, Abel Cano, Benedict Huggoson, Sarah El Raheb, Jeff Rouset, Mais Irqsusi, Roohi Rustum, Kate O’Gorman, Dan Grandone, Anita Krishnan, Dusan Stojicic, Vanessa Rule, Cindy Hall Koure, Sue Zackman, Alyssa Constant, Julia Johansen, Rebecca Henderson, Ian Simmons, Jennifer McCrea, Marshall Ganz, and many, many others.

Now in 2020 we find our world facing more critical challenges than 2017, like a global pandemic and communities rising up to demand racial justice everywhere.

Our mission and work has never been so important, but our work in the last two years has built a foundation that should support our global community as it fights for a better and fairer world.

I encourage you to join the Leading Change Network as our community embarks on this journey together.

Now I feel that LCN has a solid foundation, and with new leadership it will achieve the impact and scale it is set for.

I am excited to be taking my work back to Serbia, where I’ll be working with 100 grassroots organizations to develop their capacity to organize for change. I’ll also continue to support activists and movements around the world, including as a Freedom Fellows mentor.

It has been an honour and privilege to work with you to relaunch and build this community to where it is today.

Ana Babovic, June 2020

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