Pivoting to Build a Stronger Collaborative


We welcome back members of the Healthy Food Community of Practice to hear what they learned from their multi-year collaboration and how the way they worked together changed over time.

Launched in 2020, the Healthy Food Community of Practice is a network of more than 50 organizations working toward a shared goal—that communities of color across the country can access and consume nutritious food. Through their collaboration, they came to understand that to be successful, the community of practice had to shift *how* they worked together in four key ways:

  • Move from scarcity to abundance
  • Move from consensus to consent
  • Move from breadth to depth
  • Move from “I” to “we”

These pivots were necessary for the Healthy Food Community of Practice to strengthen their network and their ability to collaborate with each other, but it wasn’t easy.

In this new podcast conversation, we talk with community of practice members Minerva Delgado (Alliance to End Hunger) and Stacey McDaniel (YMCA of the USA), and Community of Practice Facilitator Carolina Ramirez (Community Wealth Partners) about their experiences and what they learned as they made these shifts in how they worked together. They share what was most challenging and most necessary for their work to be successful.

Ways to listen: You can listen below or on your preferred podcast streaming service, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

Please find a transcript of this talk further down this page.

Resources and Footnotes

More on Collective Impact


The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.

The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.

Listen to Past Episodes: You can listen and subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.

The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

In this episode, we welcome back members of the Healthy Food Community of Practice to hear what they learned from their multi-year collaboration and how the way they worked together changed over time.

Launched in 2020, the Healthy Food Community of Practice is a network of more than 50 organizations working toward a shared goal—that communities of color across the United States can access and consume nutritious food. Through their collaboration, they came to understand that to be successful, the community of practice had to shift *how* they worked together in a few ways.

To learn more, we talk with community of practice members Minerva Delgado from the Alliance to End Hunger and Stacey McDaniel from YMCA of the USA, and Community of Practice Facilitator Carolina Ramirez from Community Wealth Partners. They share about what they learned as they made these shifts in how they worked together, as well as what was most challenging and most necessary for their work to be successful.

Moderating this discussion is Collective Impact Forum director of programs and partnerships Courtney W. Robertson. Let’s tune in.

Courtney W. Robertson: Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast. My name is Courtney W. Robertson, director of programs and partnerships with the Collective Impact Forum, and I am your host.

Equity is the foundation of collaborative work, and although there are many technical approaches for centering equity, we sometimes neglect the adaptive and relational elements to achieving it. How do you effectively align a multitude of stakeholders within a collaborative in the pursuit of equity?

Joining us for this discussion are Stacey McDaniel, director of strategy and quality practices at YMCA of the USA, based in Chicago, Minerva Delgado, director of coalitions and advocacy at the Alliance to End Hunger based in Washington, DC, and Carolina Ramirez, senior consultant at Community Wealth Partners, also based in Washington, DC.

Thank you all for joining today, and Carolina, it’s great to be in conversation with you again, almost a year later from the first time that we were able to chat. I would love to start with just each of you briefly introducing yourselves, your organization, and your role.

Carolina Ramirez: Thank you, Courtney. It’s so nice to be all with you all again, and I’m so excited to have Stacey and Minerva on this call with us today. I’m Carolina or Caro, which is what most people call me. I’m Caro and I’m a native New Yorker. I have a cat named Bustelo, but most importantly, I’m a senior consultant at Community Wealth Partners and I help support and facilitate our community of practice, which is focused on healthy food access. Community Wealth Partners is a consulting firm that has worked with the community of practice for about two and a half years now, since 2020. I’ll pass it over to Minerva.

Minerva Delgado: Sure, thanks, Caro. It’s so nice to be with all of you. I’m Minerva Delgado. I am the director of coalitions and advocacy at Alliance to End Hunger. I’m also a native New Yorker from the Bronx, so a shout-out to New York, although for the last decade I’ve been really working and living in the DC area and Alliance to End Hunger is located in DC. We are a national nonprofit that is an alliance. We are a coalition of over 105 organizations that are national nonprofits, international NGOs, corporations, universities, foundations, and faith networks of all kinds, coming together to address this issue of hunger, malnutrition in the U.S. and around the world. In my role as director of coalitions and advocacy I bring our partners together to really decide what our policy priorities will be and make sure that we’re getting that message up to Capitol Hill, and in terms of the coalition work that we do, we have a partnership with state and local organizations called the Hunger Free Communities Network, and so as part of my role I oversee our capacity-building work with them, our convening work with them including an annual conference called the Hunger Free Communities Summit. I’m happy to be here and I will pass it over to Stacey.

Stacey McDaniel: Hi. I’m Stacey McDaniel with the YMCA International office and I’m pretty sure this accent gave it away, right away, that I am not from New York. This is a South Georgia accent, and our office is based out of Chicago. I have been with the YMCA almost 15 years now. I really found my passion for creating pathways of access to good nutritious foods for families throughout my career here. I spent about four years with a local YMCA in my hometown community and really had my eyes opened to the needs of children and families.

When school is out that access to food becomes really unimaginable for so many children across the country, and YMCAs are able to lean into that space and help fill that gap, making sure that kids in over 10,000 communities across the country through YMCAs can have access to that healthy food. I’ve been with the national office now about 11 years. We serve about 60 million meals a year to children and families to really just help with that space, help families stretch their food budgets, help kids have the nutrition that we know they need to reach their full potential. So when you think of the Y you may think of the swim and the gym. That is definitely part of who we are, but we are also a place to support families, to strengthen our community, and you cannot strengthen a community without meeting that most basic need and we know that that is access to good healthy food for families.

I’ve been part of the coalition really helping work with partners across the country to talk about this issue and help improve those access points and making sure that we are putting families first in meeting the needs that they have.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you all so much. Stacey, it’s good to have another Southerner on the line. I’m a Memphian so I’m sure folks already picked up on that accent as well. I just want to, before we dive in, thank you both for the work you’re doing around food access. A couple of organizations ago, I did a lot of work—I worked for a youth development organization, and we actually had one acre of an urban farm that we were using for both education but also access for the community. So I understand the challenges that exist in a lot of communities across this country both rural and urban around access to your point, high quality nutritious food, so just thank you both for that incredible work at scale that you’re doing.

Let’s talk about the thing that sort of connects all of you all, the community of practice. Caro, would love to start with you just sort of one, for folks who may not be familiar, describing what a community of practice is and then would love to just hear everybody’s role in that community of practice work.

Carolina Ramirez: Awesome. Thank you, Courtney.

Defining the community of practice or what a community of practice is, I would say in its simplest form, a community of practice traditionally and usually tends to be a group of entities or people that are coming together to build relationships with one another in their field or problem of practice area. They’re coming together to learn and try new things together and, in some cases, they’re taking collective action together.

That’s what I would define a community of practice as you have likeminded individuals in terms of the problems that they’re trying to address, the issue area that they’re working on or a problem of practice. They’re looking to learn and deepen their own practices, test and try new things in a space that feels safe and with folks that are able to help them thought-partner around those different areas, and then the goal would be that we’re taking collective action to address some of the bigger issues that are facing some of the work that those organizations or entities or communities or people are looking to address. Our community of practice focuses on address the inequities in the food space by, again, connecting folks. There’s a commitment that this community of practice has made around learning and deepening their own skillsets as organizations, and we are also working in small, medium, and big ways to drive collective action with a big goal of ensuring that all BIPOC communities have the access to food and nutritious consumption of food that they deserve while also acknowledging that that will support other marginalized communities.

So that has been our big goal this year and that’s sort of what our community of practice is about. We come together, we get to know each other, we get to know each other’s work, we get to learn from experts in the field, from our community members, from going out to different locations. We’ve had a few convenings across the country that’s allowed us to deepen our understanding of issue areas across different contexts, but also similarities that might exist across our particular issue areas. And then we have different ways of organizing within the community of practice that allows folks to identify their areas of interest, identify ways that they can move work forward.

We have something called innovation pods, which allows folks to come in discrete topic areas and address certain key issues that they want to move the needle on. So we’ve had a pod that worked on indigenous communities, a pod that worked on how do you support indigenous communities, and they produced a toolkit on how you can work with indigenous communities. We had a summer meals pod that produced some resources as well.

So I think the most exciting and the most—I would say the most exciting and most thrilling part about a community of practice is how you get folks who maybe never knew each other break down those siloes, build trust amongst each other, have a support system, and then say let’s shake some things up and work together to do that.

That’s how I would describe our community of practice. Hopefully that was clear both from what is a COP, which is the acronym that we tend to use for our community of practice and then what is the healthy food community of practice and what are we doing as a collective.

Courtney W. Robertson: Lovely. And Caro, before we shift to Stacey and Minerva, what is CWP’s role within the COP?

Carolina Ramirez: Great question. Community Wealth Partners is a facilitator and a supporter of the community of practice. We are also a sort of player in terms of we work with the Walmart Foundation who is funding the community of practice, so we are sort of a through-line from the community of practice to the funder, which is the Walmart Foundation.

And full transparency, we are a subsidiary of Share Our Strength, which is another nonprofit that is in the community of practice, and we work with them as well to facilitate and support the work that we’re doing.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome. Thank you so much. Stacey and Minerva, would love to hear about your roles within the community of practice as well.

Stacey McDaniel: I am a member of the group. I’ve been with them since the start. Actually, since the ideation of forming. One of these groups came out of the meeting with Walmart Foundation and all of the grantees with this deep desire to be able to work together and collaborate more often. One of the starting folks in this group but really a member I’ve learned so much. I’ve been a participant. I’ve facilitated one of the learning pods and then along with Minerva we have served on the advisory council as well. Just really enjoy. Caro gave such a great description of what this group is about by connecting with others from across the nation who also have this passion and this mission to create access to nutritious foods. There is just so much room at the table to make that happen and it’s been a really amazing table to sit at and invite others to be part of.

Minerva Delgado: Yes, I agree. This is Minerva and I’ve been with the community of practice since the very beginning myself as well, and it’s been a great experience and really want to give Community Wealth Partners their props around excellent facilitation, bringing us together, really moving the process forward and they also created an advisory council of the various groups to help with the facilitation and moving the vision forward. I know Stacey and I have both been part of that. I did two stints of the advisory council, but I’ve been thrilled to be part of it from the beginning and really see it grow and develop.

Courtney W. Robertson: Caro, so you all are the OGs of the COP, lots of acronyms.

Minerva Delgado: And it is great to see all the new folks too, right? Stacey and I have been there since the beginning, but it is wonderful how the group seems to keep growing and we keep bringing in new folks. That’s really wonderful as well.

Courtney W. Robertson: It’s beautiful and I’m sure a testament to the work and the impact of what’s happening in that space.

All right. I want to thank you all for that context. Community Wealth Partners recently authored a blog that you can find on the Collective Impact Forum website that was about aligning coalitions or collaboratives or communities of practices, whatever, you know, that sort of collaborative thing is for your group. How you align those coalitions to achieve equity, and within that blog you all highlight what you call four pivots or these mindset shifts or ways of thinking that can be taken to align around equity. Would love to hear what those four pivots and then how did they sort of come about.

Carolina Ramirez: Thank you, Courtney. So I think I want to share just some context around those pivots and how we got to identifying those four pivots. We at Community Wealth Partners took a step back and we facilitate a few communities of practice, so we wanted to understand what are we learning about one of our oldest communities of practice? What are we seeing as things that are helping the community or practice work with synchronization that’s helping folks feel supported, that’s making folks feel like they belong in this space, that they feel seen in this space, and that we’re making progress towards some objectives or goals that’s bringing us together? When we took that time to do a step back and to think about those different pivots, we looked at data that we received from the community of practice, whether that’s feedback from folks directly to us in one-on-ones, whether that’s through surveys, whether that’s through our in-person convenings and how those things are landing for folks and how those things are feeling for folks.

So we took a very both quantitative, qualitative, full sort of step back of what are we seeing and what are we hearing. As you can imagine, trying to coordinate and work with 50-plus organizations who are all plugged in in different degrees, at different levels, can be challenging especially if you’re trying to make progress toward some key equity goals and knowing that organizations are—folks are also—this is sort of an additional space or network or community of practice that folks are a part of. It’s not necessarily their main role or responsibility in the work or passion or career that they’re doing. So you have to be really intentional about how you organize these spaces. So as we thought about these four pivots we really thought about the genesis, of the beginning of the community of practice and then the things that we’ve been able to achieve together.

The four pivots that were illuminated for us or that mushroomed to the top for us especially as we think about collaboratives and all the different interests that exist in a collaborative was a moving from scarcity to abundance. That was the first pivot that we began to identify. That really came about from us looking at our participatory grantmaking processes and trying to understand how were we successful, how were we able to do this with these 50-plus organizations, getting folks to show up to our Zoom meetings, getting folks to engage in the entire process of participatory grantmaking. That was the first pivot that we identified was folks’ mindset shift from not simply feeling like they’re living in a space of scarcity or where they have to think about their own organization solely but how do we think about the wider field and how do we use both our influence and power to be able to drive impact. I think that’s where you see that abundance sort of shifting or leaning into abundance as a community of practice.

The second pivot that we saw was moving from consensus to consent. And this really is something that we at Community Wealth Partners have internalized as a method for our own organizational decision-making processes, so we’ve leaned heavily into this concept of consensus, of moving to consent rather than consensus, and this is a concept that’s brought forth by Circle Forward Consulting, and the way that they sort of define consent-based decision making is that consent-based decision making is aiming to help a group make a decision that’s within the group’s range of tolerance. It’s not necessarily trying to get everyone to agree to a particular thing but it’s getting folks to say I’m OK with this decision. I can live with this decision. I can support this decision. And knowing how crucial that would be and how important it would be to bring in that concept and that mindset and that way of decision making in a group that has folks come in and out, who has folks who are plugged in 95 percent of the time, or some folks might be plugged in five percent of the time. So how do we make sure that everyone felt like they had a voice that they can share dissent when decisions are being made but that it doesn’t create a bottleneck situation where we’re sort of stagnant or can’t make decisions. So I think that was one pivot that we also made.

The third pivot that we leaned into was this idea of moving from breadth to depth. How do we ensure that our vision might be cross-sweeping across different populations, across different communities, across different sub-issue areas. So our vision might be broader but then how do we ensure that people have spaces and places within the community of practice that they see themselves, that they see their work in, and that they can actually get into the nitty-gritty and wrestling through some of the things that bring the most energy and most joy as they pursue equity. We had innovation pods. We also had different discrete opportunities where folks could work together to really deep dive and deepen their collaboration, deepen their knowledge, and I think Stacey mentioned earlier some of our learning pods and some of our innovation pods. So allowing folks to really go deep in the areas that feel most energizing for them while still being part of a whole. So I think that was something that folks really mentioned appreciating as part of the community of practice and something that we’ve seen be successful and keep folks plugged in as things shift and change and different things come to the forefront in terms of social issue areas that might be more pressing at different moments in time from the pandemic to now being in a post-pandemic world.

The last pivot that we leaned into was this idea of moving from I to We, and this is where we sort of saw folks—and I think this plays off of the first pivot around moving from scarcity to abundance. Here, we saw that members of the community of practice have realized and have leaned heavily into the concept that they can accomplish more things together than they can let’s say individually. So this came about during I want to say it was 2022 but don’t quote me on that. It might have been early 2023 when we held a listening session as the White House was announcing a conference on nutrition, hunger, health. This conference was happening for the first time in more than 50 years and our community of practice members realized that there was a gap in the voices that were being represented, and that gap was the voices of those with lived experience in the food insecurity space. So we organized the listening group and were able to bring those perspectives forward, and we were able to share with the White House just some of the things that we were hearing and ensure that we were—you know, we’re all organizations as in the community of practice is 50-plus national organizations. They have their own areas that they’re focused on, different agendas that they might be pushing forward, but how can we put those individual or organizational agendas aside for a second and center and elevate community voice. That was, I think, a really powerful way of us going from I to We, and I continue to see that as we continue to see collaborations happening both within the community of practice topic areas, but also outside of the community of practice. So that’s been really exciting.

Those are the four pivots that we’ve identified and that we have begun to see as necessary for collectives to move with synchronization, to move with trust, to move with the ability to support one another, and to actually make some action or change happen through the longevity of our community of practice.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thanks, Caro, for that both by outlining those and also giving sort of, you know, contextually examples around how that happened. I’m curious and I would love to hear from both Stacey and Minerva around this as a member of the COP, what pivot or if there’s a couple of pivots that resonated with you most and sort of how did that show up or how did that impact rather how you then engaged in that COP space.

Minerva Delgado: Well, I can jump in first. This is Minerva. Just speaking to the example that Caro just gave around the White House conference, it’s interesting in terms of moving from I to we so my organization is a coalition, so we are a We but in the context of the community of practice, we are an I in the sense that it’s Alliance to End Hunger that participates on behalf of our members although many of our member organizations are also in the community of practice.

The White House conference which the conference itself happened in September of 2022, that was the result of a lot of advocacy from a lot of our organizations and the White House held a conference on hunger, nutrition, and health, and they asked all stakeholders to hold listening sessions and to submit recommendations that would end up eventually in a report. So it was an interesting internal dialogue we had when the community of practice said should we do our own listening sessions.

Now our organization was already planning our own listening session and almost every other antihunger organization was planning their own listening sessions, so it was a very interesting internal dialogue and then interesting dialogue with the community of practice like does it make sense for this to be something the community of practice does together when we’re all individually working on this.

So I think what was very interesting to me in those conversations is that we were able to in the community of practice talk about if we’re going to do this as part of the COP, it needs to have a unique focus or add some value on top of what all of our organizations are already doing, and so that added value that was identified was really focusing, and this gets to the depth, right? Having more depth in the work we’re doing, really focusing on the experiences of people who are using federal nutrition programs and are living those programs and have that living expertise of SNAP, WIC, and the other programs that we were talking about so that made it easier for me then to go to my organization and say, yes, we should participate in this because it has a unique focus. They’re not replicating what we’re doing, and so that was I think a really—it was one of the high points of the experience that we’ve had so far with the community of practice, being able to do a listening session and to submit recommendations to the White House as a collective that are part of the community of practice so I would definitely highlight that as one of the really important pivots, the I to We, and how that kind of played out with the community and within my organization as well.

Courtney W. Robertson: Just like that concept as like there is power in numbers, right? When only one of us go at it, they may not hear it as clearly as 50 folks aligning around the same thing. Thank you for that. Stacey?

Stacey McDaniel: You know, there’s a couple of these that really did resonate, and to be honest I can see them all in both the community of practice and the work that we do.

Caro mentioned the scarcity to abundance that participatory grantmaking that happened where the group had a set amount of funds and we worked together to choose who those were awarded to. That was such a beautiful thing to see play out amongst a group of nonprofit providers, right? Because it’s the elephant in the room, right? Nonprofits are always pretty hungry, no pun intended, for funds but to see everyone really working together to allot those funds and really intend and look objectively, OK, what’s going to make the greatest impact, and then we were able to go—we mentioned that we got to go have a participatory experience so one of those, the funds were used to help on the Santa Clara Pueblo to provide a tractor and get farming set up so they could grow their own food, have that. To set foot in that pueblo, meet with the community, meet with the tribal elders, see a garden and hear what that meant to the community was just one of those moments that really is full circle with the YMCA, and we are boots on the ground providers. We put meals in the hands of three million kids a year but to see something slightly different, right? When it wasn’t just our organization that got to see—and again that goes back to that I to we, to see this play out in a community and really see how that changed the landscape of having the opportunity to grow your own food and prepare that, share it with the community, it was so lovely and powerful.

I think taking that back, you know, if ever—we mentioned that these were pivots. If ever there was a time to pivot, it was during the pandemic when everything changed so drastically for all of us, so I feel like we had that appetite to really work together. We saw tremendous needs happening across the country and to come together for that common good to make sure that our communities across the nation had the food they needed when they needed it the most.

Minerva Delgado: I definitely agree, Stacey. I think that was such a really important moment for the community of practice when we came together to do the participatory grantmaking, and it had I think some unintended consequences which was it really helped to build relationships. I feel like going through that process and doing it together, we got to know each other better as organizations, as individuals but also, we got to live out these values that we were talking about and really see how we could put those values into action which I think has really helped the work, and particularly shaping our work around BIPOC communities. I think it started with that participatory grantmaking and really identifying those as important values for the grantmaking process I think helped us then as a community to make that shift.

Courtney W. Robertson: Minerva, you just segued. I was going to hold this question for a while, but I think that’s a really great segue because you lifted up the focus around BIPOC communities so I’m curious just to kind of I guess make the connection more explicit, how do you all see these pivots driving towards equity?

Minerva Delgado: So I’m happy to jump back in on that one. When we first started the community of practice, the goals were very broad, and I think it made sense because you’re bringing together these incredibly diverse organizations that, yes, are focused on food and nutrition but that’s an incredibly broad space. So we’re talking about farmers, we’re talking about nutrition educators, we’re talking about WIC health care workers, we’re talking about people who are promoting SNAP, and so, you know, people care about senior nutrition and child nutrition. It’s a very diverse community and so it made sense when we first got together, it was really about how can we expand access to healthy food which is very broad, a very broad concept. I think there was an intentional effort by the Community Wealth Partners to try to help us get deeper, right?

So we’re talking about the breadth to depth pivot, how can we go deeper? How can we make a bigger impact? And part of that was helping us to identify what was our, you know, to really focus our attention and energy more. I have to say that that happened I want to say two years in, and I don’t think it would have happened if we tried this exercise a lot earlier because I think we had to build a level of trust that we had by the time we had this conversation. By the time we had this conversation about really focusing on BIPOC communities, it was we had been working together for a long time. We had developed trust. We had developed relationships within the groups, and even so it was challenging. It was a challenging pivot.

I remember we did it in person which I think was crucial. We got everyone involved, and the process involved just really kind of having conversations and narrowing focus, and I don’t want to take up too much space here, but I remember having a very strenuous conversation, I guess I don’t know another word to use, with someone in the community who was pushing back a little bit, and I think for good reasons. I mean I think everyone kind of came and was able to speak about what was important to them, and in particular when we’re talking about focusing on Black, indigenous and people of color communities, there are folks who I think rightly are going to say, well, wait a minute, is that the right focus when in the U.S. most of the people who are hungry and food insecure are White?

However, we do have among BIPOC communities, we have much higher rates of food insecurity, and so there was this natural tension that’s been happening in the antihunger world for a long time. Do we take a colorblind approach, or do we focus where we see the highest rates of food insecurity which is communities of color, and so that was naturally a debate that was going to play out, and the fact that we had trust to be able to do that and have those conversations I think was absolutely critical and really led to the success of that pivot.

Stacey McDaniel: I really appreciate, Minerva, that you pointed out that this was something that we did after trust was established. I think so many groups just want to jump right into the nitty-gritty of getting work done and have tough conversations, but tough conversations don’t happen without trust. There was trust amongst this group, and, Minerva, I also appreciate that you called out hunger is much higher in BIPOC communities. If you look at Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap and some of the research, there’s nearly two times higherYou’re two times as likely to face hunger if you’re in a BIPOC community which the data is telling us this is a real issue more concentrated in these communities, and so I think it goes back to that second pivot, right? From consensus to consent, and, Minerva, I remember us all being in person and just narrowing the language down further and further. They had all of these different small groups that were working having these conversations and they kept coming back, and they’d share their language and the whole group would extract pieces of it, right? And it was—at the end of the day it was something that everyone could agree to. You can wordsmith something to death, right? We all love words and we can use them but we get bogged down, and I appreciated the strategy from consensus to consent because it didn’t allow us to get bogged down on the language so what can we agree on here to all work with, and it gave us a point to move forward and really have that bigger impact and to go out and to not only say we’re going to do this but to put the funding behind it to also do this, to have the relationships amongst these national groups, national players, to really work together and go deeper on the issues specifically of hunger in BIPOC communities and how are we going to look at nutrition access. How can we work together to create greater programs, greater changes?

Minerva mentioned the conference at the White House, but I think it’s worth mentioning too that we just saw some of the biggest wins for food insecurity that we’ve seen in years, right? We’ve been trying for over 15 years to get the meal programs changed. We just saw Summer EBTs come through. We saw rural non-congregate summer meals for children be written into law. These are big wins, and I can’t help but feel like part of this is for group work like this, right? The USDA hosted listening sessions, the White House did, and groups like ours were coming together to say what can we agree on, what do we need to really make changes happen for communities.

Courtney W. Robertson:I appreciate those responses so much, and I just want to uplift a few things that you all—or underscore rather a few things that you all named like, one, sort of this concept of crisis creates opportunity, right? So having the right opportunity to really make these pivots, thinking about timing so you all talked about we had to put in some time to build trust and sort of the relational components of the work. Thinking about place so like does this happen virtually, does this happen in person, and what impact does that have, and having the right resources behind it.

Minerva, you lifted up sort of like what group do we focus on. Are we just going to do a universal approach, and in our world of like collective impact and taking on that approach, we often—we talk about it as targeted universalism, right? So we have this universal target that we’re all trying to reach but then who are the—in terms of what the data tells us, what community is telling us, etc., who are the folks that need—not just who need the support most deeply but what are sort of those differentiated strategies and approaches we should be taking to support the different groups who are showing up so really what I’m taking from this is like the work you’re doing is already steeped in equity, and then these pivots allow you to do the work smarter, more efficiently, and in an equitable way that everybody can engage in so I appreciate those.

So sort of switching gears here, what would you all say or what pivot would you say was particularly challenging, and you can answer this either from like for me personally this was really challenging or something that like in general was challenging for the group to navigate through.

Minerva Delgado: For me I think the—and this was the personal, I think personally challenging for me was the whole conversation about this targeted universalism like do we focus on the whole or do we focus on part of the whole. For me, I remember having these debates, vigorous debates, in that room and it comes down to thinking about the work of Angela Glover-Blackwell and the curb-cut effects, that she’s coined the idea that we have these sidewalks that have curb cuts or ramps that was originally created for people with disabilities to be able to go in for wheelchairs to be able to cross the street. Well, that has made mobility easier for almost every other group that uses, and pedestrians that use sidewalks, whether it’s moms and dads pushing strollers or people on electronic scooters now or bicycles or just somebody maybe pulling wheeled luggage. I know I appreciate the curb cuts so this concept that when you try to remove the barriers for those with the deepest need, it’s going to benefit everyone. So I think that for me was challenging personally, to have those conversations and try to convince folks of that. I think that everyone in this community of practice is really well meaning, and I think ultimately understood which is why we were able to make that pivot, that, yes, when we try to remove—improve access for the hardest to reach populations and remove barriers for folks who really have been struggling to get access for the longest time, then we really are making a difference for everyone.

Carolina Ramirez: I think that pivot from consensus to consent and breadth to depth, those two were probably some of the most—as facilitators of the community of practice, were some of the ones that we were really wrestling with and trying to figure out like, OK, so as we think about our vision and getting more focus, how are people going to perceive it, how are people going to receive it? It was a lot of intentionality that went into even that session, making sure that it was in person because we knew that through Zoom and virtually, it’s not the same and you might miss something in that connection, in that authenticity, that open conversation that we could have.

I think we wanted—as we thought about that breadth to depth, really facilitate a space that felt safe for people to put it on the floor in the words of an ATLer. Put it on the floor, right? Just put it out there. Say what you have to say. Share honestly, wrestle through it, and then as a community, let’s build consensus on where we go next, and let’s try, sorry, build consensus as to where we go next.

I will personally share there was some anxiety there as a facilitator, prepping up and leading up to those conversations, and again I think it’s because you have so much care for the community of practice, and you have some much care for the people who are dedicating time to this that you want people to feel seen. You want folks to have sort of open conversations while still acknowledging that there are some real realities that we want to address and some real inequities that we want to now focus in on. So I think that felt challenging, but it was also very rewarding.

I would say I left that feeling like, wow, we really got to a place where folks feel comfortable, people shared what they needed to share, people had challenging conversations, and I don’t think we left New Mexico feeling like we are still a community, we still left with trust, we left with those relationships, and we even made greater strides I would say now with that focus. So I would say there was some fear. There was some anxiety. There was some of all the things leading up to it, but I would say don’t shy away from trying to have those conversations and really leaning into sort of how to focus in as a community when you’re trying to pursue equity because I think focus is really important. I would also say that it took us a lot of time.

I think folks mentioned it took almost two years for us to get there, and we were doing things in those two years, right? We were still having conversations. We were building relationships. Our participatory grantmaking process was underway but I think having the two years to really cement and build those relationships, have transparent communication with the community about when you were going to make some pivots was also really helpful throughout that two-year span to build trust, to build accountability, and to build authenticity. I don’t think without that we would have gotten to the place that we are now.

Stacey McDaniel: Caro, I really appreciate that you mentioned this took time, and I think when we’re talking about challenging work, that I just appreciated that this community of practice really did establish group norms first and foremost that this was a safe place, that we were a variety of organizations who are coming with different backgrounds, different experiences, different goals but that every individual was respected, and we encouraged ideas to be shared, and the tone was set that it was a respectful environment, right?

There were some times that things could have gotten really heated because these were difficult issues and treacherous waters to kind of navigate but I felt like the community of practice not only did a good job of setting up group norms that this was a safe respectful place for all but also really just setting that groundwork because you also provided a lot of education experiences.

We had quarterly convenings where you were bringing in leaders from different groups to educate the group, to share firsthand experiences, and really just started planting seeds all along the way very intentionally and these seeds every time, right? We’d water them a little more, and you see them grow, and water a little more so I feel like I wasn’t just the safe space, respectful, but it was also that seed planting. There was a lot of education, a little, along, along, and we just kept watering until eventually you had a whole forest going that started out with just a few seeds.

I think it’s important for us when we talk about collaborative work that we are including all of those components. You’ve got trust, you’ve got respect, you’ve got safety, but you’ve also got educational pieces because we’re all learning every day as individuals, we’re growing and recognizing people are at different spots along their journey, and giving something for everyone to take back and grow and share and hopefully start planting seeds in their organization and in their lives too.

Courtney W. Robertson: Stacey, you are on it with the parallels like food and—I’m loving it. Thank you. So at least how I interpret these pivots, they’re recommendations like someone could read this and say, great, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing but I would say these are recommendations so with that, what else would you recommend to a collaborative that’s like in its pursuit of equity, bringing folks together, to you all’s point, across different sectors who sort of have different focuses in terms of where their organizational work is, etc., what would you either recommend to them outside of what those four pivots or what is something you’d like to underscore from those four pivots?

Minerva Delgado: Well, I’ve noticed I think it’s so important to have an internal champion in the organization itself because organizations have their own agendas, work plans, and as Caro mentioned early on, nobody is doing this full time, right? This is all part of my responsibilities, part of, you know, in my organization we’ve brought more people into the community of practice. They are kind of playing a role, but I feel like there were times that I had to be the cheerleader for the community of practice within my organization. We’ve been doing this now for a number of years since 2020, and so there are going to be times when inside the organization it’s like, OK, we need to pull your attention this way, and so I think it’s really important to identify that person within the organization that’s going to stay committed to the community of practice, who sees its value, who’s going to be the cheerleader and bring other people from the organization into it. Otherwise, I feel like these things fall apart so that’s just I think a good piece of advice, and it’s also all about that relationship building.

Carolina Ramirez: I think something that I would probably highlight and I think you’ve heard it probably a few different times now is this idea of investing in relationships and trust, and how critical that is from the onset, and sort of being really intentional about how you go about doing that, whether that’s through group norms but we have relationship building in every single facet of the way that we organize our time together so there’s always opportunities for folks to get to know each other on a deeper level.

I think if this is the collaborative that’s being funded, really sort of trying to find flexible funding in ways that will allow the group to have ownership and responsibility over the resources that they’re being allocated, and self-determination over how it’s being utilized so that folks really build that ownership from the very beginning, and it’s not something that’s the facilitator sort of top-down but more this is our resources, this is our decision making, and we decide how we’re going to do that.

So I think really leaning into decision making as a co-created and co-facilitated process with members of the community of practice is critical. I would even ask folks to consider as they look at these different pivots, just to consider which one of these feels really energizing for their collaboratives, which ones feel really challenging for their collaborative and what might they do to try to have conversations around these three or four pivots, and being honest and transparent about where you are as a community. I think that being honest with members of a community of practice allows you to uncover a lot of different opportunities that you may have never thought existed.

Stacey McDaniel: I love that we keep going back to relationships because I feel like it’s the heart of all good work, and especially when we’re talking about equity. It takes all of us, and when I think about the opportunities for other collaboratives to really dig in and be part of this work, I also think of another word that often comes up with our group, and we haven’t even mentioned it yet but it’s probably one that comes up for other collaborative work too, is that so many of us are weavers. We weave together different pieces to really make a greater collective impact, and I think as we look at these collaboratives it’s important to remember that, right? When we all start weaving together our strengths with the resources of our different organizations to come together for this common goal, and I’m such a hand talker. This is a podcast so you can’t see that right as we start weaving, it starts making something stronger, and then we start really getting at bigger impact, bigger change, but to weave, we have to agree to work together, right? The relationships have to be there to agree to do this, and I just think that the underlying piece of that too when you talk about trust, relationships, is that we’re entering that with that abundance mentality.

When we have a scarcity mindset, we’re automatically going to be a little more protective, less likely to share, and a little more self-centered. I really think getting folks to buy into that abundance mentality of if we can do this for the greater good together, we’re going to really get at broader systems change that can make an impact for so many people across our country, across this world, and what happens when we change that? What would happen if we stopped worrying about our little piece of the pie and instead started looking at how we start distributing that pie and getting it out so that everyone can have a bite. That’s where the magic is going to happen.

Courtney W. Robertson: How do we get more pies, right, so we can all have our own, I love that. I was going to make a corny joke about being a “beweaver” which I’ve thrown it out there now but, no, I do, I love that concept of weaving, and like you said, it gets stronger as we all play our part and contribute so thank you all for that.

As we wrap our time together, Caro, if you could answer this, just sort of what’s next for COP as you all are thinking about your pursuit of equity in the work you’re doing in the food justice space.

Carolina Ramirez: Thank you, thank you. So right now the community of practice is in a transition period. We currently are intending to continue our work or support from the Walmart Foundation up to about June 2024. Right now we are working to identify the pieces of this work that we want to move forward and sustain so if there are partners or funders or supporters out there who are looking to understand more about communities of practice like this one, we’re open to having conversations. There’s a lot of learning, a lot of great work that’s happened through the community of practice so our goal is to sustain that impact, to sustain the relationships that have deepened, and to explore opportunities whether that’s through partners or funders that we can continue to convene in the future.

So I’ll say our future is to be determined potentially but it is a really exciting transition right now to think about all the work that we’ve done over the last two and a half to three years, how do we share that impact back out with the field so that folks are able to leverage some of the things that we’ve learned together, how do we bring it back to the organizations who are part of the community of practice, and how do we find supporters and partners or funders who can help us continue to move this work forward, potentially a different iteration or the same but there’s so much here that we’re excited to continue to find synergies or folks who are willing to continue this journey with us.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome, and how can folks connect or reach out or learn more about the work?

Carolina Ramirez: Where can you learn more? So you can email me, Carolina at cramirez@communitywealthpartners.com or check out our website. We have a healthy food website that will probably be linked below, and folks can reach out there as well.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome, and then Stacey and Minerva, would you like to particularly share any information where folks can connect with you all or reach out?

Minerva Delgado: Sure, absolutely. So we at the Alliance to End Hunger have a lot going on with right now we’re looking at farm bill and priorities for that. We’re also doing a lot of work around funding for food and nutrition programs, and with the community of practice we’re actually talking about doing a series around community engagement. We at the Alliance have been doing a lot of work with community-based partners around making sure that we are incorporating the voices of people’s lived experience and expertise in our work, and so we helped to develop a community engagement field guide with the community of practice, and we’re going to be helping design a learning series for the community of practice, so we’re really excited about that collaboration that’s coming up with the community of practice. I can be reached at mdelgado@alliancetoendhunger.org.

Stacey McDaniel: So if you’d like to learn more about the YMCA’s antihunger efforts, you can check out ymca.org, and see our food programs page on there to learn a little more and connect. You can always follow on social media as well. You’ll find the hashtag the Y feeds kids, and you’ll see a lot of great work happening across the country or you can reach me by email at stacey.mcdaniel@ymca.net.

Courtney W. Robertson: All right, thank you all so, so very much for your gifts of expertise, knowledge, time, and everything today. We would like to thank our listeners for your continued support of the Collective Impact Forum podcast.

(Outro) And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes for this episode. And if you’re enjoying all that we share at the Collective Impact Forum podcast, we encourage you to rate us on your preferred podcast platform, and share your favorite episodes with colleagues.

We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the past, present, and futures of these tribes.

The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.

In Forum news, we’re excited to share that registration is now open for the 2024 Collective Impact Action Summit, that will be held online this April 30-May 2, 2024. It’s our biggest learning event of the year, featuring over 25 virtual sessions, and sharing out best practices from collaboratives from across the U.S. and globally. And we’re excited to announce that our closing keynote will be with political leader and changemaker Stacey Abrams that will discuss the power of movement building.  Please visit our events section at collectiveimpactforum.org if you would like to join the 2024 Collective Impact Action Summit.

This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast producer. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, let’s keep working towards collective impact.


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