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POWERcast: Anticipating and Leading Through Social Change
Episode 825th May 2022 • Leadership Forum: The Podcast • John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University
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Transformative change in our communities requires innovative, committed leaders. In this Leadership Forum: The POWERcast, Erica Crawley, president of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, and Elizabeth Martinez, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, share how leading with authenticity, bringing community voices to the table, finding collaborative partnerships and taking risks all result in sustainable success.


Tina Pierce 0:04

Welcome to the Leadership Forum the power cast, a podcast by the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. My name is Dr. Tina Pierce and I will be your host today. The Leadership Forum Podcast offers leadership tips and inspiration for public service professionals. Power cast episodes highlight women leaders in public and nonprofit organizations and their stories of overcoming challenges unique to women in public service and politics. Today, I am honored to be joined by Erica Crawley, president of our Franklin County Board of Commissioners and Elizabeth Martinez, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio. Welcome to you both. And thank you for joining us today.

Unknown Speaker 0:57

Thank you so much for having us.

Tina Pierce 1:00

In our last power cast episode, we discussed how equitable pay impacts our experiences as women, and challenges specific to women in workplaces. And this episode we will tackle anticipating and leading through social change. The world is always changing. And with it, the societies we live in, from the pandemic to Black Lives Matters. Me too, and so much more. Women are driving social change in our workplaces and communities. For today's world, being able to anticipate and lead through social change is vital for organizations and leaders. It's vital that leaders and organizations connect meaningfully and create environments where people are seen, heard and have a deep sense of belonging. My first question then is what is your approach to understanding how social change is impacting our workforce and communities?

Erica Crawley 2:12

I guess I can start it off if you would like this. So being at the county, I was in the legislature first representing basically 150,000 people. And now I'm at the county I've been at the county for nine months. And the President since January, being the largest social safety net for our community, I think it's important for us to always be tapping into how our community feels like they are able to move forward and be able to thrive and not just survive. And we do a lot of work at the county in a racial equity. Everybody knows about our rise together blueprint and the work that has come out of that and the recommendations. And so I think I'm most proud of the fact that we're always going to the community to say, are we getting this right? We are dealing with a pandemic Black Lives Matter, and they still matter, we know that black men are still dying disproportionately or women are dying in childbirth. And, you know, are we meeting, are we meeting the moment? And if not, what do we need to be? What should we be doing? Where should we be focusing and investing in what's working and I think as a leader in this space, you know, our our approach will always have to be making sure that we have the voices of our community at the tables as much as I talk to and collaborate with other elected officials. And we think we know everything and we're doing things right. If we're not having the voices of the people who are most impacted by the problems, usually the people who are most impacted by the problems are closest to those solutions, then we're missing the mark if we don't have those voices in everything that we're doing. That's how I think we meet that need.

Tina Pierce 4:11

Thank you so much. President Crowley. Yes, Miss Martinez.

Elizabeth Martinez 4:14

I agree wholeheartedly with with that approach. And I think you you know, started the the response with a question. I think it it starts with deepening our understanding, right to the point that was referenced in terms of engaging in community. I think when we look at social changes of the past and how they've influenced us think we started a different conversation, understanding that without social change, we're not progressing as a society, right, like starting that conversation, I think, is essential and knowing that when we're you know, considering whether we're talking about kind of changes that are happening in in the workforce or changes that are happening in community When we lean in with understanding the value proposition of change, I think that puts us at an advantage in this conversation, right, we look at workforce, we look at community, you know, the way that we're working has changed, you know, the role of AI, the role of automation, the people doing the work have changed that that's been significant. We've recognized that our expectations of the work has changed, right? Social media has, you know, made information more accessible, digestible the way you know, people are receiving content, delivering content looks different, our workforce looks very different, our community looks very different. So whatever conversation we're having about, about social change, and the value proposition is really starting with one recognizing the benefit of it and two, transitioning into, you know, how do we innovate in this space is taking advantage of of the things that have been afforded to us as a result of some of this change that is occurring? And I think, for us, as an organization, we're constantly centered into, you know, what Erica shared in terms of it's extremely important for us to touch the work. You know, I think one of the dangerous things that an organization can do is exclusively read the books that we author, we have to step in and have conversation about, you know, are we are we getting this right? And being comfortable when when we're not to make change and to innovate in ways that advance our community.

Tina Pierce 6:47

I love it. And I love the centering of community in the work that you all are doing and understanding that you have to go out into the community to understand the social changes that are happening, and to really appreciate the individual and lived experiences that community members are having during these times of change. Now, that may be a little bit problematic, because then when you come into your organization, you have to lead individuals within your operational structure, policies and procedures, the constraints, the opportunities that your institutions and organizations have have. And so as a leader, it's your responsibility to quickly adapt, but then you also have to get your teams, your staff to quickly adapt as well. And this is key and critical, because we know challenges are vital, are a vital part of growth. How do you then lead in and within your organization's during these times of social change? We want to start with let's start with President Martinez since we started with President Crowley, and I just have to know that we have two fabulous presidents on today's episode. And so I'm going to use that as much as I can. So President Martinez, let's kick it off with you.

Elizabeth Martinez 8:09

Absolutely. Thank you for that I you know, I think it starts with self curiosity, right. So I know we want to lean in quickly to talk about the organization. But I think as a leader, it starts with the personal work. You know, being able to step in and and identify kind of core values as a leader, being an authentic leader, I think is what sets the foundation for whatever we're going to do within our organization. And, you know, it requires a critical self awareness. And you know, as you think about as a society, especially when we're talking about organizations, sometimes it's not always something that you see represented in in the workplace, we've been spending a significant amount of time as an organization, what we call examining the soil, like, where are we today? What are those spaces that we are in as an organization, because we know the times that we are living right now require responsible disruption. And we have to be conscientious of the fact that, you know, that's going to invite some risks for our organization, but it is equally met with with the opportunity. And so, you know, I'll talk a little bit later about some of the challenges that one encounters when you start to lean in that work. But I think we start with everything. You know, we can have the best systems and processes in place, but it's the people it is the people, we're in service to people and it starts with our people.

Erica Crawley 9:46

nder the BOC directly? I have:

Tina Pierce:

And I want to stay there for a second because we know that leadership involves those various challenges and obstacles. And President Crowley, you touched on this a little bit just in terms of your staffing and some of those challenges where people have to do that self awareness, that self reflection, that check to see if their personal goals are aligning with the goals and the values, their personal values aligning with the values of the institution. And so can you speak more to what are the most challenging parts of being a leader during times of social change?

Erica Crawley:

Yeah, I think, let me give you an example of one of the things that, you know, spoke to trying to get people to understand where the county is going and to meet our residents. I quickly learned as soon as I got here that not everybody understood redlining. Some people feel like red like black people will want it to live in communities with black people just like Jewish, Italians, Latin X. Like that. It was just that like, redlining wasn't really a thing that people are saying it was black folks just wanted to live with black folks. And that's like, how do you get to how do you bring somebody along to understand that this was rooted in racism, we had federal policy that supported that, that wasn't necessarily the case, in a space where are a lot of our money and investment is in affordable housing, and really trying to, you know, impact who has access to housing, and whether it's purchasing or being able to have written utility assistance and, you know, really getting to the root of how Columbus can be very segregated. You know, it takes hard conversations. But it also takes a willingness for somebody else to say, Okay, well, this is what I thought, maybe I've been wrong, and I'm willing to learn. I think, you know, the challenging part. can be the hard conversations, and then allowing people to make decisions off of that. I think the other challenging part is leading during social change. And being a funder of a number of organizations is, we can't fund every organization that is doing impactful work. And we talk about collective impact. And there's a lot of need out there. And so it's challenging not being able to support financially, those organizations who I know are boots on the ground, doing the good work in the community. And sometimes we have to say, No, we're not right now. And that's challenging.

Tina Pierce:

And I know this is not the best way to pass this question off to you, President Martinez. But it is an excellent way to in fact, pass the question off, because as a organization that is so rooted in our communities, providing the key and critical supports that we need for our young people, and for our families, you all are out there during times of social change, requesting that funding sending out those grants, you know, applying for those opportunities to secure funding from a variety of different private and public sources. And so among those challenges that that you'll bring to the table today, can you speak on the funding challenges that may occur during times of social change? And again, those most pressing challenges when these times?

Elizabeth Martinez:

You know, I appreciate President Crawley's comments on that, and recognizing kind of the complexity connected to that, I'll start with that. And then I'll just talk broadly about some of the challenges of of leading during this time, I think, for us as an organization, and maybe I'll step a little bit back and talk about our work as a sector. You know, navigating through a pandemic, you know, hopefully at some point, we'll be looking at this pandemic, through a rear view mirror, and having conversations about what happened behind us. I think we walked into this pandemic with issues that were existing in persisting in our community, right, the a lot of the issues that we're addressing now. And having to pivot quickly and think about comprehensive ways of supporting didn't exist because of a pandemic. And so I think for us, as we think about partners, starting in I consider funders partners, right? I do believe that as we come to the conversation in this sector, our organization, by definition has a nonprofit designation, but we are in the social impact space. And I think we're looking, we're constantly looking for partners, that not only align in in values, but are also thinking about social change in similar ways that we are as an organization. And you know, how, how do we, you know, once we kind of turn in and understand our alignment, on on those key principle things, then we think about doing the work differently, and it can become challenging. I believe that it also invites the opportunity for innovation and creativity, right? There's no time like the present to invite disruption of systems in in always, even considering the way that we consider alignment. within organizations, we know that no singular organization can provide the solutions that we need for the community, there is no one organization alone that can do it. We also know that we sit in a community that is a very resource rich community. And so how do we think about aligning some of those supportive structures because it's it's more of the respect for the ecosystem, but recognizing that in the absence of a collective ecosystem, we'll be able to do good work. But I think we're mostly invested in this stage of thinking about transformative work, right. And back to the conversation about what the community not only needs wants, but in certain instances is demanding is that we really think about what's transformation. But to talk about then what does that look like? You know, as a leader, we can all align with Yes, this is direction, this is what we need to do. You know, and change sounds sexy until you're gonna have to do it right and so fully of recognition that, you know, President Crawley spoke to this. Not everyone is arriving to the conversation of change at the same rate at the same pace with the same appetite and so really acknowledging everyone's experience, kind of on that continuum of change and identifying strategies that help elevate the core. Not everyone's going to get there. Right. But we need to build enough kind of tipping point for change for an organization. I think it starts with just understanding where are we? Where are we? And then where's the capacity building opportunity to President Crawley's point? Where do we need to build into education? Where do we need to build understanding, because a lot of times when there's especially strong resistance to, to change, if you go all the way to the root, fear is in the driver's seat. And so we need to, we need to unpack What's that fear about? What does that mean? And its commitment, like when whenever we're talking about change, and even in the questions, you know, the conversation about quickly adapting as an organization, there's nothing quick to this work. Like, it's a deep commitment, you've got to do it every day, we've got to talk about it all the time. You know, it's not just a training, it's not just a conversation, it's not just a task force group is not just, you know, changing or shifting the policy, it is prioritizing the work and talking about it again, and again and again. And then at the same time, kind of managing all of our stakeholders, perceptions needs appetite for the change needle. And, you know, pulling all that together is is I think can be both exhilarating for a leader, right? If you especially if you're really deeply in this work, because you want to be part of of that social change. But it can be exhausting as well. So that there's that reality that we have to navigate through. And so tending to both of those experiences, as a leader, I think it's an important part of the process.

Tina Pierce:

Excellent, thank you so much for those responses during your response, you hit on something that's so key and critical in terms of the ecosystem for the work that needs to be done to sustain not impact, you know, I picked up how you said to sustain transformative work, right, we are doing transformative work. And so my next question then is what would you say, are the most important things every organization should do to achieve a sustainable transformative impact during times of social change?

Elizabeth Martinez:

Yeah, I would say we have to start with that foundational assessment of where we are, where we are, as an organization in every stage, you know, where are we what's core to our identity, it can be very attractive to think about because the needs are expanding or, you know, the opportunity to evolve is before you that that that means that that's your your need to solve for. I think that the more we identify, and how do we do our work well, and then we recognize in the ecosystem, that there are other people that are waking up every day, not just a program connected to the work that they're doing. But you know, I don't, I don't have a mentoring program, I wake up thinking about the work in the field of mentoring and relationships and how it becomes a vehicle in this strategy, foundational strategy to help and support young people. Right. And so that's important to me. But I also have, you know, we have the privilege as we partner with families and children to have access to uncover some other needs that they have within their home structure. And so how do we help build connections with those organizations that fill those gaps that are not organic to our work, and being very conscientious of that that's a value add within the ecosystem. That's not a competition within the ecosystem. And I think that is even worthy of examining, right because you think about, think about this sector that has been charged with the task, and many other right, there's, you know, circles of support in the community, but I'm specifically speaking to, you know, kind of the human services space, is we charged with the task of addressing issues that are both systemic and generational in nature, and most of our approaches have been very, you know, very singular approaches to the solution. Right. I'm not that, you know, I don't want to not share the opportunity to acknowledge that there are efforts that have been more collective in nature, but I think it's something that we're still testing in this community in many communities. But but it is important for us to recognize that that that foundational work is critical. We've got to examine what's working, we've got to be willing to take some risks, like failure is part of the process. And our sector sometimes when you have been charged with the task of addressing these issues, and you yourself as an organization, Dr. Pierce, you've mentioned, and even Dr. Crowley kind of invited the conversation about funding becoming a challenge for organizations, we're supporting people that are, you know, two, three paychecks away from being homeless, and some smaller organizations in this community that are two or three paychecks away from being homeless, right, as an organization that is in position to serve the community. And so what that does to the DNA of this sector is worthy of examining, like, we have to really figure out, you know, risk, we can take risks we can, we can fail forward, we can do that. I think this is the time and the opportunity to really think about that. But I do think that self evaluation, building the support structures, not being afraid to create those alliances, alliances, and then the other thing is not being so rigid, that we can't be nimble, like, if it's not work, let's try something else.

Tina Pierce:

President Crowley, I know you have some words of wisdom and some experience to add to this. How do we sustain that transformative impact?

Erica Crawley:

Yeah, I just want to echo everything President Martinez said, like, I mean, she really hit the nail on the head. And those are the conversations that we're having as a large funder, right. Here at the county, we are dealing with about a $2 billion budget. For all of you know, we're the administrative arm and fiscal arm of the county and county government. But even we looked at just for an example, ARPA dollars, almost $260 million of ARPA dollars will come through the county. And, you know, there's a lot of requests and every program that comes before us, it's like, how do you sustain this right? After these one time dollars dry up, right? Are you willing to work with other partners in the community to do this work, as President Martinez said, like, one organization isn't going to solve poverty, right? One organization isn't going to fix childcare, one organization isn't going to create all the jobs that are necessary, but in a collaborative ecosystem. We can solve them together. And that's what we are looking at, like, Who do we need to collaborate with? Who should we be collaborating with? Or funding who's willing to work with others? I was in a conversation with Autumn Glover the other day, and she was saying how, at one point in time, she was, in her previous position, getting funding from the county, she was like, I was so happy when I received the call from the county who said there's another organization on the other side of town, would you be willing to work with him? She was like, Absolutely, absolutely. And I wish I I mean, more organizations will be willing to do that. I think we can be territorial, especially as we're navigating through social change, and, and doing DEI work, everybody's doing DEI work now and then. So people want to own things. But if we can get past owning, and really like serving and meeting the needs, then I think, you know, we really will be able to meet the time that we're in right now, when it comes to social change, I think also for and be sustainable. I also think, you know, when we talk about sustainability in this space, and even going back to like one of the most challenging parts about being a leader, I could just say like, I asked hard conversations community shelter board, they get a lot of our convenience fee dollars. But homelessness continues to increase, especially for black women. And most of the people in our shelters, 70% of them are people of color. And I want to know, what are you doing differently in homelessness? You know, I'd want to know, Are you being innovative, and taking some approaches and best practices from somewhere else? are you collaborating with other organizations in the county or outside to meet the times that we're in? And are you leveraging our dollars that we're giving you every quarter? Because we're not going to shelter our way out of this? Right. And this is how we create sustainable change in a in a political environment that's changing and an economic environment that's changing. And, you know, we as fiduciaries should be able to ask those questions, and we get push back. I know I have and is the right thing to do. Because this is we only have so much funding for a time and we want to make sure that I hate to say this, the most bang for our buck, but absolutely, we want Want to make sure that we're getting the most bang for our buck, that we are not just sheltering people that we're putting people on a path to prosperity. And you know that they are able to take care of themselves and their family. So, again, I want to say, you know, it comes to alignment, it comes to collaboration. And that's how we'll have sustainable impact. And just briefly, I want to talk about like checking in for us, because we heard from the community of more than 100, and something conversations and we have the blueprint and the recommendations that came out of it. Everything that we do, if you've come in on our general sessions on Tuesday, or briefing sessions on Thursday, you will hear a lot of our agencies say at the end of their ask, it meets recommendation nine or goal nine of the rise together blueprint, it meets this goal, because that's what the community said, would remove barriers. This is how their needs can be met. And so we want to make sure that we that there is alignment for the work that we're doing, or the funding that we're we're providing that is meeting those goals, and those recommendations that the people said they need it

Tina Pierce:

I love it, alignment, alignment with community making sure that people are at the table, but also connecting people who might not be at the table and pulling them together to do the great work that gives them the passion that wakes them up every morning. Again, moving beyond just I run a program to this is my passion. This is what our organization has been committed and dedicated to. This is such a rich conversation. And I have enjoyed it so much. Thank you both for joining us today and sharing your words of wisdom. Before we close, do you have any last tips to share with our rising women leaders?

Erica Crawley:

I can start and I will just probably reiterate something that I was talking to President Martinez about before we really got started is, you know, it's the hard time right now is a hard time to lead. Especially as a woman of color. I'm the first black woman to be on the Board of Commissioners in 200 Plus, since the inception of the county. And you know, the work is tiring. But it's necessary. But it's important for me to work with women like you Dr. Pierce women like President Martinez to you know, really have lasting impact. But knowing that when I can't show up some days that I have individuals like you who are doing the work to who can fill in the gap when I need to rest and and I'm able to do that for you all. And so for rising women leaders, I would say thank you for stepping up and being in this space. It is hard and challenging. But I hope that you are surrounding yourselves with people who pour into you, and lift you up and also can stand in the gap when you can. So I wanted to say thank you to everything that you all are doing in your work every day and everyone who will listen to this. Thank you. Because you do make a difference.

Tina Pierce:

Thank you. Thank you, President Martinez.

Elizabeth Martinez:

Yeah, that was beautifully said, by the way. And you know, I so a couple of things to share. And I know we're closing here on time. But I feel like this context is important. Sitting here is the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, I also happen to be the first female of color for this organization as well. And we've been talking about community a lot here, my lived experiences mirror the experiences of the young people that I have been commissioned and in in privilege of serving here in this work that I do. So I think those two truths can exist, you know, I can be grown up in poverty, single parent homes, structures. Very, very complex dynamics, you know, father who was in and now out of the incarceration system, and be the president and CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters. So I think it's important for rising women leaders in our community to understand that everybody has a story and being able to kind of honor our story and our experiences is an important part of leadership and being able to talk about that. I would encourage rising women leaders, because I spend a lot of time talking to them and to you know, I think I'm always thinking about what I want to be when I grew up, you know, I think to a certain extent, I'm rising every day. Don't believe everything you think, right? We spend way too much time in our heads about the work that we're doing about the work we need to do about the work that's not done. Being able to to President Crawley said, you know, check in with your, with your tribe with your community, right to be both not only supportive influences in those times when you need gap fillers, but also to remind you of your greatness we you were doing the work, we're in the trenches, there's a lot of work, we don't take time to kind of pause and celebrate that. And I think we're as you're rising in whatever journey you are, to be able to pause and kind of celebrate your small successes, I think give you a little bit of fuel momentum for the next thing. And just being intentional about your growth journey. Like don't leave that in the hands of anyone, this is your journey, own it, honor it. And be intentional about kind of designing that and assembling yourself with partners that will, you know, be be willing to help support you along that way. And I too, am very grateful for being able to be in the presence of the both of you and full recognition of everything that you are doing in this community. It's certainly been a privilege to spend time with you on a very exhausting week to be able to kind of close out the week having shared time and space with the both of you and and you know, to the listeners, which I'm sure many of them are also leaning in and engaging. I think everyone has the ability to influence you know, leadership is not a title. Leadership is about recognizing that we are all part of the solution. And you just have to look to your left and look through right and say what can I do to impact kind of in my circle here, and that's leadership? Yep.

Tina Pierce:

I love this to President Martinez to President Crawley. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your experiences, your words of wisdom, your stories with us. We truly appreciate you for empowering for affirming our rising women leaders in not just the state, but beyond because we know that we have multiple women that tune in and listen to this power cast. So thank you so much for empowering us for affirming us for sharing this space with us this afternoon. Until our next episode, let's continue to change lives and change the world through leadership. Thank you.