By Leslie Dozono
Pathwaves Washington began as a concept paper in 2018, then a planning grant in 2019, a building grant in 2020, a registered, fiscally-sponsored nonprofit with a working Founding Board and staff leadership in 2021 and now, in 2022, as a renamed organization with an adopted mission that is on the cusp of selecting and launching our first cohort of early childhood policy fellows. As we’ve gone from concept to reality, we’ve constantly asked questions and evolved how we think about and experience leadership as people of color and the important work of cultivating BIPOC leaders and networks. Along the way, we’ve held onto a value of transparency around our learning.
While my personal story of working in early childhood policy in Washington state was the catalyst for this work, this is a collective effort. Our planning grant started with three busy working moms having regular coffee meetings to build upon my concept paper and sketch out our ideas. We later recognized that adopting a leadership title was important for credibility; people want to be reassured that there’s an existing structure, that someone is in charge. I adopted the title of Interim Executive Director. I struggled with the tension of the power and credibility that the title gave me which I needed to own but also share, expand, and transfer to others. We included “Interim” very intentionally to signal that I was holding space for someone else.
We recruited Nubia López as a consultant in late 2020 for her experience and skill in program and organizational development. It was an opportunity for both the organization and for Nubia’s leadership to expand. Nubia became the organization’s first full-time staff person in July 2021. Working in close partnership, we continued to build the organization as our other founding consultant Makeba Greene made a planned transition away.
Evolving Ideas of Leadership Structure
One of the main objectives for our Founding Board has been the hire of a new Executive Director. The Board and staff recognized that we didn’t want a traditional Executive Director structure. The Executive Director Job is Impossible by Ananda Valenzuela was a valuable piece for discussion and we decided to move forward with an ED + Senior Leader structure. Nubia accepted the title of Managing Director. We moved forward with announcing an Executive Director search. You may have seen it! We went through a full search process. We even went so far as to make an offer. But by then we had evolved our thinking and talked with our final candidate about exploring a Co-ED structure. As has happened with many searches in this market, our hire fell through. But when we stopped to reflect after, we recognized an opportunity.
This process created an opportunity to further deepen our thinking about the leadership for the organization and to develop a leadership structure that reflected our values. We had the opportunity to ask ourselves: What if we thought of leadership as less of a hierarchy and more of a collective with specific responsibilities? What if we looked to the examples of other organizations who are exploring similar questions about leadership, collective power, and centering well-being? Could we look at what both Nubia and I were holding and recognize and value the executive leadership in both sets of functions? Could we shed our traditional notions of what an Executive Director looks like and holds in their body of work?
Decision to Adopt Co-Executive Director Model
In April 2022, I made my planned transition away from formal leadership and Nubia became our Interim Executive Director with the understanding that we are officially moving to a Co-Executive Director structure. The Board didn’t make this decision lightly. They thought about our values and mission, about how we’ve been operating, about what Nubia and I recommended, and how to best move our organization forward. We’ve interrogated and evolved in our thinking about governance, program, and internal operations in ways that are for the better. Constant has been the vision that the organization opens pathways for a new wave of BIPOC leaders in early childhood policy.
Co-Executive Director Job Announcement
We are excited and proud that Pathwaves WA is releasing a new job announcement for a Co-Executive Director. The organization will continue to learn and evolve with continued intention around building shared power and decision-making. It’s an amazing opportunity for someone to build a leadership partnership with our amazing anchor Co-ED based on trust, common mission and values, and a belief in what is possible with collective power of BIPOC leaders and communities. To learn more about this opportunity click here.