On November 15th, 2015 we held a beautiful ½ day retreat at the Hidden Villa Organic Farm in the Los Altos Hills.
15 people came together to explore the possibilities of how youth can define the “new story,” and how we can create an organization that will do that. Tino Tugwete, a 2015 Soulforce Leadership Fellow, started us off by framing why we are here, leading us in a meditation, & having us introduce ourselves by connecting to our core values. The main purpose of the retreat was to think about the future of Soulforce Leadership as an organization. Attendees included students, parents, and community members, our coaches, and community leaders. We grounded ourselves in the new story, which enables us to reflect on our emotions, connect to our deepest values, and align ourselves to the synchronicity of life that is fundamentally interconnected. We want to shift from a competitive, dominant, control-driven model that ultimately keeps us separated from each other. We did some meditation and took a walk around the farm to enjoy the beautiful fall weather in the mountains, and engaged in whole group and small group discussions.
As the founder and director of the program, I am mindful that I’m at the center of planting this seed as this program begins, and wants to move into a circle that establishes more of a garden that begins to flourish on it’s own, with the youth and guiding values at the center. I shared these thoughts with the group, and it was a good space for me to articulate this concern I have and ask for help. Margaret Wheatley's leadership model from"hero to host" has been a helpful framework to think about the leadership model that inspires me. So one of the most important strategic questions we have right now is: How can Soulforce transform from a single idea with a primary owner to a larger ecosystem owned by many? Working with a small committed team will be critical in 2016.
We reflected on evaluation findings from the first year of the pilot and helped imagine what could come this coming year. (We will be publishing those soon so stay tuned.) There were several important findings from the evaluation, based on surveys and interviews we conducted with each fellow, mentor, coach, and community members. Poonam asked the retreat group to act as a “community board,” and help define the possibilities of the future by taking a look at these evaluation findings.
One member advised us to consider whether we want to grow our founder board into a large, traditional non-profit board or consider another structure. A few people really wanted us to consider what a generosity-driven organization could look like. What would it look like to ask people to donate what they feel moved to give? Perhaps we evolve to something all together different that puts the constituents at the center of the work and hold the most amount of power.
Many trusted mentors were not in the room with us but had gotten us to this point and it is important to acknowledge them, including Julien Phillips, Eric Barela, Nancy Guituriez, Chand Nirankari, Prasad Kaipa, Kritika Kailash, Nipun Mehta, Pancho Ramos-Stierle, and Audrey Lin. All of these guiding lights were with us in spirit, and my conversations with them were informing our discussion at the retreat.
A touching moment was when one member asked the group to really think about whether we are listening to the youth. After she spoke with vulenrablity and emotion, one fellow followed and spoke to the feeling of truly finding happiness after Soulforce because she feels she found purpose to the bigger purpose of why she is here and serving her community. Another fellow talked about having to be on a never-ending treadmill of life that asks you to just follow a path, instead of being conscious of why you are doing things and that Soulforce asks you to reconnect and center with what you are, and really consider the choices you are making in your life. This is a sort of LIBERATING education, and it is liberating in different ways from students from different backgrounds.
My belief is that it is only youth who can create new rules for how we will work as a society, and we need to follow them. If our world has a shot of surviving, we need to equip them with the space and context to do the work they need to do. The United Nations recently issued a historical statement that working with youth is the most important way to respond to terrorism.
Another theme of the retreat was fundraising. Sustainability is imperative as we think about the future. There was energy around looking into corporate sponsors, possibly looking into the folks who care about mindfulness within those companies. We would like to ask specific corporate partners to help sponsor launch, help us pay for a location, help sponsor individual students, etc. Given the innovation in Silicon Valley, it would be ideal to engage business leaders in our work as a means of building partnerships with local companies. Would local companies like to get their employees involved as mentors, support local change efforts led by youth, or provide general support as a means of strengthening the local communities they are apart of? How does what Soulforce do really align with what companies care about? How can the program be financially sustainable using local support?
On the marketing front, we are considering how to evolve, as well. We had a hard time reaching Asian, male, and white students this past year, so we are looking into how we may want to re-brand our work, while maintaining our authenticity. We are imagining that we will need to emphasize some important aspects, such as how this will help students become leaders, enter college, build important connections, and be smart about how we use the language that will appeal to the authentic interests of these groups.
We plan to move Soulforce into a yearlong program, with a once a month meeting that follows during the year. The once a month session will be an evening rejuvenating session for Soulforce fellows to reconnect with the core values that are embodied in the program. The fellows have spoken that creating a space like this is very important in a school structure that is so dominant and quite oppressive in many ways. We imagine the program remaining small in it's second year with another small cohort of students.
After that we'll see....but our plans may involve launching a teacher-training institute with a subsequent plan to roll out Soulforce Leadership youth leadership training in communities in other communities around the world. We are working with Leadership and Global Peacemaking Network based out of the Harvard Kennedy School, as they will be providing us with some incubation support to further expand this idea.
Another area we are exploring is whether we want to provide some further resources for the fellows so they have mini-grants to help them implement and advance their ideas.
Next year, our program will be rooted in nature, and we got a taste of that while at our retreat at Hidden Villa. Receiving the support of the land was very powerful and it is important we establish this connection with the earth.
We will also significantly integrate the use of technology. Technology will be a critical part of the learning experience next year. We will also set up the infrastructure so we another site to expand into another site.
We are excited for the possibilities of the future, and to have the opportunity to learn and improve after our first year.