Many funders implicitly value strong leaders for their capacity to lead with grace, wisdom, and vision. Rarely though do funders directly support the very practices and trainings that enable individuals and organizations to lead effectively or to develop the self awareness necessary to communicate clearly, collaborate boldly, and create allies out of adversaries. In fact, many foundations and donors have been skeptical about supporting what they might call “personal growth work” for non-profit staff. In the past few years though, many activists and funders alike have been waking up to the profound value of leaders who bring astute personal awareness to their work for justice and ecological balance. In fact, a handful of funders now recognize that transformative practices — for individuals, organizations, and movements — are critical to transforming the way progressive social change happens in this country.
These funders are now encouraging their grantees to make use of the transformative practices that are available for non-profits. These funders want to see their grantees attending retreats and trainings to practice what Hidden Leaf calls “the inward gaze” — the capacity for internal reflection and analysis. They want to see contemplative practices (as simple as moments of silence) integrated into staff meetings. They want to see new personnel policies that include a commitment to truth telling and direct conflict resolution. They want to see campaign strategies that include work that aligns values and actions. These funders recognize that when organizations commit to transformative practices, they are more capable of successfully pursing their social change mission.
To get clarity into any system that is creating inherent suffering and oppression, you have to be able to step out of that system to see it clearly. When you’re in the midst of the system, you cannot really see how the system supports oppression. To do that, you have to find some way to step out of it. That’s what the contemplative life is all about.
— Fleet Maul, Prison Dharma Network