Growth and Learning Necessitate Vulnerability
June 7th, 2018
For an organization to reflect upon and convey its impact effectively, its leaders must be willing to accept and admit its imperfections. Inherently, these leaders put themselves in a vulnerable position when they take seriously the need to reflect, to assess their impact, and to share their findings.
I learned this firsthand when I partnered with Keshet to obtain stories of impact from Keshet’s Leadership Project. To do this, I interviewed eight leaders who had engaged in the leadership program and drafted summaries of their experiences. While I knew it would be difficult to work around issues of confidentiality, I did not initially realize the high level of vulnerability I was asking not just of Keshet, but of the leaders of these participating organizations. Grantee-partners of the Foundation often are interviewed and asked to present their authentic selves. But now I was requesting this vulnerability of others, outside of the Foundation’s direct grantees-partners.
I feel it only fair to share in this vulnerability, not only with Keshet, but with the field, so we may all grow and learn together. Through this process—and level of openness—I experienced my own learning and growth, in addition to gaining valuable information for Keshet. What became apparent to me were my own limitations and knowledge in the space in which Keshet operates.
To be clear, I always considered myself an inclusive person and an ally of the LGBTQ community. Through friends, family, LGBTQ trainings, and my background in psychology, I thought I was aware of the issues facing the LGBTQ community in the United States and Israel (where I completed my master’s degree). With that said—and similar to the individuals of the organizations I interviewed—I realized how much more I had to learn.
This realization first occurred to me as I began to send the summaries I had drafted to the interviewees for approval. While I know that gender identity is fluid, and an individual’s pronouns cannot be assumed, I found myself questioning if I had done just that. Prior to each interview, I conducted a brief preliminary search of my interviewee, reading at least their biography and scanning their organization’s website to grasp a bit of the background. Once I had drafted and sent the summaries, doubts began to fill my mind regarding my own word choice. I used a feminine pronoun in one of the summaries. Had I assumed this person’s pronouns based on their name or did I understand their pronouns from their biography or our conversation? Here I was working with an organization to spread awareness and fight for LGBTQ inclusion and I, myself, had to admit I felt some uncertainty in my proficiency to navigate these situations.
Regardless if I had made an error or not, this in-depth exposure to Keshet’s work adjusted my approach and thinking. Prior to this project, I would not have asked myself the kinds of questions that began to consume my mind like how to properly reference or address someone. This experience serves as a reminder, not only of the importance of inclusion and continued learning, but also of the value in giving oneself fully to an experience. As a part of the funder community, I have spent much time reading reports and learning from grantee-partners. What I gained from immersing myself in this evaluation process, however, was invaluable. It is not enough for funders to expect vulnerability from grantees. They also need to reciprocate that vulnerability for shared experiences and learning, which can have significant benefits for the grantee, the funding organization, and the specific individuals involved in this work.
I am proud of the leaders of the organizations I interviewed, who not only took action in their own communities, but were willing to share this vulnerability in order to inspire others. I am grateful to Keshet for welcoming me to engage in this process with them. While there is much work to be done, I feel encouraged to know organizations like Keshet are making small (and larger) progress every day.
Rachel Halevi is a Program Assistant at the Jim Joseph Foundation. This is the third in a series of pieces from Foundation professionals sharing their experiences engaging with grantee-partners. Here is the first piece and second piece in the series.