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Peer Learning: Helping Foundations Change Together

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Vicki Rosenberg has seen foundations grapple with changing their cultures and practices to more fully embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.

Her message to others? “The water’s safe. Come on in and join us.”

Rosenberg, a consultant on diversity and equity issues and a member of the D5 Leadership Team, has seen teams from ten Michigan foundations take on a multi-year commitment to understand and increase their intercultural competency to support achieving their goals for diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations and in their work outside of their organization.

Rosenberg directs the Council of Michigan Foundations’ Peer Action Learning Networks program, which combines assessment, education, concrete tools and extensive support for participants’ activities in a one-year Level One Program and Leadership Program offered after that year. It is part of the Council’s six-year Transforming Michigan Philanthropy through Diversity & Inclusion initiative.

Organizations’ response to the program has been enthusiastic.

“Based on the response to the program which serves staff from all levels of these organizations from CEO to administrative staff, it is clear that people want to grow as individuals, be part of effective and inclusive teams and organizations, and being part of a growing peer learning network is a definite plus.” Rosenberg says.

What works in supporting organizations through change to improve diversity, equity and inclusion? Here are some of Rosenberg’s observations.

Give people a roadmap to assess how they’re doing on diversity, equity and inclusion issues. Peer Action Learning Network members begin by completing the Intercultural Development Inventory. Without something concrete, conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion can be “fuzzy and subjective,” Rosenberg says, and influenced by the power dynamics of the organization. Using a standardized measure “changes the conversation and changes the thinking. Now people use the same language and they all know what they’re talking about.”

Find the right starting point. When doing research on unstaffed and small staffed family foundations, Rosenberg says they realized that, for this particular group, addressing diversity, equity and inclusion meant addressing intergenerational issues.

Help people to learn through putting the learning into action. In the Peer Action Learning Network curriculum, teams design and implement projects that have relevance today for their organizations – such as developing hiring policies that will result in recruiting and retaining more diverse individuals to initiatives that engage the community in a more intercuturally competent way. The program provides coaching and other supports to help them overcome obstacles and build new skills, understanding and capacity. Addressing diversity, equity and inclusion is “not for the faint of heart,” Rosenberg said, and supporting teams in change requires a real effort that adjusts to the teams’ changing circumstances. “We know that participants will encounter obstacles,” Rosenberg said.

Create easy ways for peers to learn from each other. In addition to six one-day seminars during the Level I program, the Michigan project facilitates a secured community website where teams share lessons, resources and ideas with peers, staff and faculty.

Plan for the long run. Sustainability of organizational change promoting diversity, equity and inclusion is really hard. “This work takes years,” Rosenberg said. While CMF did not anticipate creating a Level II Leadership Program or a Toolkit For Transferring Knowledge for teams to use with colleagues not participating in the program, the need for those additional supports became evident towards the end of the first year. “The PALN program, as well as all other aspects of the Transforming Michigan Philanthropy initiative, are heavily evaluated. The program team recognizes that we are learning as we go and adjusting to members’ needs as they emerge.” said Rosenberg.

Lessons from CMF’s Peer Action Learning Network will be instrumental as the D5 Coalition continues its work. Working in partnership with 14 regional associations of grantmakers, D5 will in 2012 create more models for foundations to support internal change – including convening leader action networks for people who are willing to learn about and champion diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in their organizations.

Rosenberg, until recently the vice president of education, communications and external relations for the Council of Michigan Foundations, will manage the Peer Action Learning Network and related activities for CMF through her consulting practice, Vicki Rosenberg & Associates.

For more information about the CMF Peer Action Learning Network program, contact Vicki Rosenberg at or Chris Stallworth at


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