Real Change is committed to creating pathways for people to grow and to distributing leadership throughout the organization. These values extend to our staff and to our vendors alike. Last month, we made big strides on both fronts.
A week ago, our board of directors voted to deepen its commitment to a shared leadership structure. Effective Jan. 1, 2017, Tara Moss will become Real Change’s director of operations and join Tim Harris and me on the executive leadership team as a codirector.
One of our strategic goals is to secure the long-term sustainability of Real Change and growing leadership is key to this goal. Sustainability isn’t just about money, it’s about people.
Tara came to Real Change as a volunteer on the sales desk in 2001. We hired her seven years later to manage the vendor program. In between, Tara worked at Street Outreach Services (SOS), an organization specializing in HIV prevention and outreach among Seattle’s homeless and low-income population, where she advanced from the position of outreach worker to executive director over the course of four years.
After successfully managing Real Change’s vendor program for five years, Tara expressed interest in operations. She started working in human resources in 2012 and has since taken on increasing responsibility in finance, facilities and information technology. Tara has demonstrated a natural ability to lead and learn and her promotion to a codirector role is an exciting development for her and for Real Change.
When we talk about shared leadership at Real Change, we constantly challenge ourselves not only to think about staff, but also about our vendors. Listening to and elevating the voices of our vendors is central to our commitment to becoming an authentic anti-classist organization.
Earlier this year, we formed a Vendor Leadership Committee (VLC), a group of nine vendors who are selected by their peers. They represent diverse parts of Real Change: There are long-time vendors who just sell the paper, vendors who are involved in our advocacy work and vendors who sit on our Editorial Committee. The purpose of the VLC is to make policy recommendations, communicate vendor needs to staff, communicate decisions to vendors and manage the monthly vendor meetings. Additionally, the VLC is an opportunity for professional development for vendors interested in furthering their involvement in Real Change, such as employment or on the board of directors.
In its first six months, the vendor leadership body has already accomplished a lot. It has started managing monthly vendor meetings, planned and executed Real Change’s second annual summer social event and weighed in on key policy decisions. As an example, three weeks ago, our offices were broken into and a small amount of cash was taken from our cash register. The break-in prompted an organizational conversation about security cameras and liability. We considered taking additional security measures to make some vendors feel safer. Before making any decision, we talked it over with the Vendor Leadership Committee. They reminded us that considering decisions based on our values as much as on pragmatics is crucial.
Last month, the first six-month term of the VLC ended and a second group of members was voted in. Their first action was to rename their group as the Vendor Advisory Board to better reflect their expectations for the group. “Vendor Leadership Committee” felt vague and difficult to explain to others.
Starting with this issue of Real Change, the Vendor Advisory Board and its members are listed on the masthead in the paper in place of the previous Advisory Board, which was made up of community allies and leaders. Using an advisory board that is solely comprised of vendors communicates that we prioritize vendors’ input in making programmatic and organizational decisions.
As we head into the fourth quarter of 2016, it’s exciting to start to think about a 2017 where we have broader staff participation in leadership and increased pathways for vendors to inform our work and hold us accountable. Real change is afoot at Real Change.