Reflecting on a Grand Aspirations Leadership Gathering

x-posted to It’s Getting Hot In Here

Over the past ten days, 19 youth activists involved in the Summer of Solutions converged in chilly St. Paul, MN to build a strategy for reshaping our economy from the ground up. We learned how to run an effective summer program dedicated to finding tangible, local solutions to the problems of climate change, the economic downturn, and environmental injustice.

The program began in the summer of 2008 with one program of 20 participants, and over the course of last year grew into 9 programs across the United States. Collectively, there were 150 youth activists involved around the nation.

That was this last summer. Now, we’re looking forward to next summer and the growth it has in store for us.

I have had the amazing experience of working with folks from around the nation over the past 10 days at the Grand Aspirations Winter Leadership Gathering. Grand Aspirations is the organization that facilitates Summer of Solutions programs around the nation. The purpose of the gathering was to bring local Summer of Solutions program planners together to strategize at the national level on how to make our programs effective, how to connect with the communities we live in and train participants.

Participants in Grand Aspirations’ Summer of Solutions program have created businesses around cooperative energy, held community forums called “barn raisings” to raise awareness about energy issues, and have enhanced the power of their own organizations, such as the Northwest Institute for Community Energy. Last summer also saw a huge growth in community gardening and local food projects, listening projects to bring communities together around development issues, and general education and awareness raising.

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What’s up? Winter Leadership Gathering is Up!

The day is finally here!

Well, it was here Monday. But still. Excitement is here, because a whole bunch of organizers who are involved with Grand Aspirations are in St. Paul. People that I’ve only met on conference calls have bodies, who would have thought?

This blog post is going to be a little raggedy, but that’s all right at this point.

A huge theme of the gathering thus far has been communication. How we communicate, what we are doing to change the framing in our own work, and getting to know one another are integral to the process of building community. As a growing organization, we have a lot of practical decisions that we need to make, but we also need to really get to know one another, and to reach some sort of group consensus about what we value and how to take what we value and turn it into some sort of action.

I am really excited to translate this passion for changing the way that we frame and speak to one another into a broader communication system for Grand Aspirations, and I’m excited to tell more of the story of this gathering. Sarah Murphy, a brilliant woman from New Hampshire, has joined us mainly to film the gathering. Video is one of the ways that we will be able to tell this story in a dynamic new way, and I can’t wait to help her go through the footage and choose the good bits and put them together in (many) different videos.

What I’m hoping to get out of the gathering is fairly personal, but what has really been exciting me so far is the potential to really build this organization. We’ve had some amazing people apply to lead programs, and I’m excited to see what comes out of those programs this summer. We’ve also got the awesome opportunity to really iron out some things about the way the organization is working now and into the future.

Building the non-profit – or whatever we are to become – must be done in a way that is reflective of the society that we want to create. That is why organizational development is so important. We want to get things accomplished, but we want to do them in a new way. By initially making changes in the way that we do things as an organization to better fit the world we’ve dreamed as the future, we are providing a model to others who want to do the same kind of transformative work that it will take to create the new energy economy.

I know that I’ve just opened a HUGE can of worms, and I can’t really close it up yet (just because the gathering is still going). I will continue to blog throughout the week, so keep checking back for exciting news related to Grand Aspirations!