Ellen Friedman

Softening a skeptic

I entered the Future Forward process with a skeptical mind – while I am usually a process friendly person, I was worried about whether the focus on process would distract from Forward Together’s inquiry into new strategies to support and scale its work. There were the concerns about getting funders too mucked up in a grantee’s inner workings; then there was the basic concern about time – would there be enough given all that was on my plate?

While I still have some remaining questions about the long term implications for Forward Together, the value of participation, especially the Muscles and Mindsets work, has reminded me of how useful it is to stop for a moment and learn. My top takeways at this point in the process:

  • Slowing down allows us to see problems in new ways, create stronger connections, and appreciate the complexity of many issues we deal with. There IS enough time!
  • Having colleagues with whom one has regular contact about the substance of our work expands the way we can lean into the work. Trust is essential for this aspect of the work to happen expansively.
  • Humility as grantmakers is underrated as a practice: we talk about it a lot but it is hard to actually practice it.

The Future Forward process forces a level of authenticity that is often lacking on my side of the table – and it reinforces that we – grantees and funders – are in a deeply interconnected web of relationship and work. We are all part of an ecosystem of change – and working together, weekly striving to share our work and our challenges, changes the nature of our relationship – opening up new possibilities for thinking about the future together. The skeptic in me is softening….

2 comments for “Softening a skeptic

  1. Avatar
    Eugene Eric Kim
    May 7, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Ellen, thank you for this! I really appreciate hearing what’s worked well for you, and I also think it says a lot about how important it is for you as a foundation to put the needs of your grantees first. I love how you’ve been both skeptical and also open.

    I also get the feeling that you and the rest of the group are being way too nice. I’d love to hear what’s not going well for you, what’s been reinforcing your skepticism. When you’re back from your travels, hope you’ll be willing to share!

  2. Renee
    May 12, 2015 at 10:40 am

    First to Ellen – I love what you said about humility. That we talk a lot about it, but we don’t find ways to practice it as grantmakers. I’d be curious to look at this process as an exercise in humility, and certainly I see my participation in the Innovation Challenge to be this- I hope I know less about how to do what we want to do than most everyone in the room! What a gift to be in that context and able to learn.

    Second to Eugene – I can’t speak for Ellen, but you know I’m always happy to offer constructive criticism : ) and here I would say that I feel torn about the deeply personal skill building of this process so far without direct connection to the challenge at hand. When Rebecca and I worked together on the SIFT project, we always divided every group meeting or buddy conversation into half process/skill-building and half content, where we were digging into the meat of the challenge we collectively see in our field.

    I know that you see the connection between the skills we’re building and those we’ll need to ultimately dig into the challenge, but I would have preferred having a process that helped me wrap my head around the challenge at hand as we moved along. Provocative readings, hearing from Forward Together or other movement leaders about the challenge, even 15 minutes of conversation about this on every call would have deepened my commitment to this process and helped me gain insight into the content of my work as a grantmaker, not just the process of how I should approach it.

    As I read through the blog posts of other participants this morning, finally having a chance to catch up, they are ALL about process. No one has shared insights into why we’re doing this challenge and how we need to change in philanthropy. This is indicative for me.

    In counterpoint, I know that this baseline will serve us well as the content begins to filter back in next week, so I withhold judgment until the outcome is complete. But so far, this is my area of frustration. I know you’re super surprised : ) And I say all of it with great appreciation for the professional development I have received from this fun and different approach. My skeptic may yet be softened too!!

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