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How It All Works: Introducing the GWI Circles

by Caitlin Dourmashkin, with Terri Hall and Susan Grove

Now that we’ve told you about our circle policy and practice, it is time to introduce our actual circles. We went through a few iterations of this framework, starting way back in early June with a mapping project tying our existing work to our new Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit structure. First, we all immediately agreed that there would be a General Circle to hold us all accountable to the mission and make “executive” level decisions. The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) uses a General Circle and that felt right to us from the beginning.

Second, we identified three “organization” circles. Tasked with non-programmatic work, these “Org” circles operate in an ongoing fashion, managing internal systems and ensuring that the organization is humming along. Our three Org circles are:

  • The Operations Circle, which holds all legal, finance, and HR responsibilities, as well as the ongoing operation of our Fiscal Sponsorship offering.
  • The Development Circle, which works on long-term organizational sustainability by cultivating and galvanizing GWI supporters to ensure a healthy diversity of partnerships, funding sources, and revenue
  • The Communications Circle, which holds our current communications platforms and visual identity. (During the mapping process, we added “Illumination” as part of the Comms Circle’s responsibilities, which means we will be investing in telling the story of GWI, our Network, and the Just Transition more broadly in the coming months, so stay tuned!) 

After we identified the Org circles, we then moved on to the Learning Circle, an idea inspired by SELC’s “Councils” which they define as “groups that explore and build internal expertise.” There was initially a long conversation about whether “learning” should be the responsibility of a program circle. The idea was that if we embed learning in a program circle, our internal learning could align with external offerings. Not bad, and there certainly is an efficiency there, but program circles are intended to be held by a specific set of Workers, without much turn over. The intention behind the Learning Circle, however, was that it should represent a commitment made by all Workers. The goal is to build our shared understanding and skill sets so that we are all better equipped to facilitate, personally embody, and collectively model the Just Transition. So, after much reflection and back and forth, we decided to create a sort of organization/program hybrid circle that would be collectively held, with two Workers stewarding the circle at any given time and all Workers serving regular rotations on the circle.

Lastly, we created four new program circles to carry out the GWI strategy of “Cultivate, Connect, Support, and Illuminate.” Each circle takes on a different piece of this work, and focuses on a slightly different audience, but all are connected by our commitment to the Just Transition. To introduce each Circle, we asked the circle members to create short introductions to their work. The Four program circles are (in their own words):

  • The Network Circle

Our focus is strengthening, connecting, and growing the Good Work Network, a community of people who are working towards a Just Transition in the Hudson Valley. We will do this through offerings such as potlucks, book clubs, discussions, films, case studies, communities of practice, and intentional weaving of relationships within the Network. This Circle creates opportunities for the people within our Network to enjoy each other’s company while strengthening their relationships with one another. Through the Hudson Valley Just Transition landscape analysis and our Mentor/People Library, this Circle will provide resources to connect the people of this community and support their Good Work. We also make ourselves available to the Good Work Network in order to provide specific support and to explore potential collaborative efforts.

  • The Academy Circle

The Academy Circle creates learning experiences that allow us to collectively deepen our understanding of what a shift from an extractive economy means; co-create visions for what it could look like; and practice using tools and honing skills that enable us to create movement toward a regenerative economy. We coordinate and facilitate two types of learning experiences : shorter foundational workshops focused on learning concepts and tools, as well as longer, experiential offerings that combine cohort-based learning and practice through team-supported projects. We tie all the learning experiences we offer to the Just Transition framework. 

  • The Alliance Circle 

Our soon to debut Good Work Alliance program creates cohorts of initiatives that are working towards a Just Transition. We establish a supportive space for these initiatives to explore ideas and share wisdom, so that they can grow into healthy sustainable organizations that deeply impact their communities and the Hudson Valley. We offer facilitated, Just Transition aligned learning, focused on community organizing, collaboration, and organizational management , as well as a shared work space within the Greenhouse. We also offer fiscal sponsorship for cohort initiatives that need it. Throughout the process cohorts move gradually into self-facilitation and become their own communities of practice. 

  • The Greenhouse Circle 

The Greenhouse is the physical space that supports programming, events, shared wisdom, collaborative work, and initiatives all aimed towards creating a Just Transition in the Hudson Valley. A home base for the revolution. It is the space where network members will gather to work, read a book, borrow equipment, and learn from each other about the Just Transition. It is a home to (some but not all!) programming of the Academy, Alliance, and Network Circles as well as a space resource for partner organizations that are committed to doing good work. The Greenhouse circle is tasked with managing the Greenhouse as a venue and resource dedicated to the Just Transition. 

If you have ever participated in GWI programming in the past, some of this will sound familiar and some of it will sound completely new. GWI is going through a period of realignment, and we believe these new circles represent the best opportunity to foster the Just Transition in the Hudson Valley. This is an iteration, based on all that we have learned from you and from ourselves over the past four years, and we look forward to sharing this work and engaging you in this new framework.

We launched this series of articles and reflections in September 2019 to share our journey of moving from a traditional hierarchical nonprofit to a worker self-directed nonprofit. We hope by opening up this transition it might help others take the first steps towards sharing power in their workplaces.

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These times call for collective action. Your gift is the solid ground that allows us to support and cultivate Good Work: that is, people and initiatives that are rejecting systems of oppression and extraction, and building regenerative economies and thriving communities.