Greetings CIRS community:
We wanted to share with you some reflections on the legacy of CIRS, the changes we have made over the years to stay the course, the announcement of an addition to our leadership team at CIRS, and a change in its structure.
Continuity and Change
Much of the work we have done at CIRS has been focused on generating rigorous research and analysis, to help identify equitable solutions to long-standing dilemmas in California farming. Our work has also focused on the needs of diverse communities where farming takes place-from farmworker neighborhoods of the San Joaquin Valley, to urban agricultural outposts in Santa Cruz. While rural communities continue to change, the mission of CIRS remains focused on the persistent challenges of equitable food production and community development. There is still a need for fact-based solutions to address these challenges. The CIRS commitment to scientific inquiry that consciously serves the long-term public interest has not waned.
Maintaining and developing our work is no small task, and our success builds ever-deepening connections to networks of people concerned about food, labor, water quality, climate change, rural community health, the environment, and agricultural policy. The continuity of CIRS has been proven through its ability to make change when needed. For example, in 2010 we became a virtual office with the vision of staff dispersed and working on the ground in rural communities. We also recognized that getting the best researchers for the job would often require us to contract with professionals outside our staff, so we have developed a list of affiliated researchers who you can see on our website and who consistently respond and provide excellent services.
Now we are embracing a model of shared leadership, both in practice and in title. CIRS has always made a big footprint with few staff, and while this has served us well, it has not allowed us to build the next generation of future leaders. So I asked Michael Courville to work alongside me as Co-Executive Director. I am happy to announce that he started in April. Michael brings a depth of experience in social research and nonprofit management that will complement and strengthen my own work at CIRS, and he brings a real passion for rural issues that have kept him engaged in research and rural community advocacy his entire career. (See Michael's bio, below)
Why Shared Leadership?
“Our mythology refuses to catch up with our reality. And so we cling to the myth of the Lone Ranger, the romantic idea that great things are usually accomplished by a larger-than-life individual working alone. Despite the evidence to the contrary -- including the fact that Michelangelo worked with a group of 16 to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel -- we still tend to think of achievement in terms of the Great Man or the Great Woman, instead of the Great Group.”
Walter Bennis, The Secret of Great Groups, 1997
Sharing leadership helps to institute an executive team with the skills, experiences, resources, and continuity of values that will impel our mission well into the future. We will share the management duties and leadership of the organization, building upon a model of equitable leadership and collaborative decision-making.
Our work at CIRS requires keen management; sharp thinking, collaboration, public relations, program oversight, financial planning, and the cultivation of supporters that can help us implement our formula for change. It is a complex and demanding job. No one person, or one leader, is likely to sustain such an eclectic set of demands over time. In fact, a great deal of scholarship and evaluation of nonprofit leadership has pointed to the value and benefit of sharing leadership responsibilities, and a number of high-functioning nonprofits and businesses have adopted shared leadership to draw upon the full strengths of their leadership teams. We believe that this approach allows each director some time and space to reflect on their work, stay grounded in the organizational values, and practice more inclusive leadership throughout the entire organization. Shared leadership reflects our value of social justice, advances the sustainability of CIRS, and aligns with our commitment to promote the public interest: develop CIRS while developing others in the process.
We are both thrilled to be working together in this capacity, and look forward to talking with many of you in the months ahead about CIRS and our embrace of shared leadership.
Gail Wadsworth Michael Courville
Co-Executive Director Co-Executive Director
Michael Courville is an experienced nonprofit director and social researcher. He brings over twenty years of experience to CIRS working on rural issues, sustainable food systems, community development, social policy, and organizational capacity building. He is the founder of Open Mind Consulting and served in a combined role as Director of Community Programs and Development at California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA). While at CRLA, he led the Fund for Rural Equity in partnership with the Irvine, Hewlett and Packard Foundations. He has also led a number of formal program and learning evaluations for nonprofits, with an emphasis on qualitative methods and research design. He believes that a combination of research, reflective leadership, and civic engagement helps to advance equality and enhance our capacity to build more caring communities.
His past projects have included an investigation of agricultural export production in Latin America and the impact on small producers in Honduras, a process study of family-centered social service interventions in rural areas of Fresno and Riverside Counties, cross-generational leadership in nonprofits, and a formal analysis of farmworker heat stress prevention methods in California. His writing has appeared in Social Policy, the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, and the Management Information Exchange Journal. He was also co-editor and co-author of Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform (Food First Books, 2006). Michael holds graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley in political economy and social welfare.