Reimagining The Work: What Emerged from My Experience as a Baltimore Corps Fellow

Reimagining The Work: What Emerged from My Experience as a Baltimore Corps Fellow

When I reflect on my career trajectory, the work I have done, and the work I will continue to do, I can see how my place in an organization and the world will continue to grow and evolve. Just as an individual goes through a series of changes and stages in life, so does the work of organizations. While working at Maryland Philanthropy Network (MPN), I’ve seen firsthand how MPN continues to grow and emerge. As the organization continues to strategize what its future will look like, I too continue a journey of self-discovery and reflection.

A word I was exposed to in new ways throughout my experience at MPN is emergence. This was reflective of my encounter with the book Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. The concept of emergence is referenced in the book as author Nick Oblensky’s definition that “Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions (brown, 2017).” I have seen this idea of emergence come to life during the pandemic and my time at MPN.

For the past year and a half, I have worked at MPN as a Program and Research Associate, working on educational action-oriented programming, as well as research and data collection on grants in the state of Maryland with a concentration in Baltimore. This position was a part of the Baltimore Corps Fellowship program. As a recent graduate of Syracuse University, who started working in a different state during a pandemic, I was a bit uncertain of how my skill set would translate to the work of philanthropy — a space that was somewhat unfamiliar to me.

I came to MPN following a stint working with the City of Baltimore as a Community Needs Assessment Fellow through the Mayoral Internship (formerly known as the Mayoral Fellowship). This was my first interaction with Baltimore Corps, and it opened my eyes to the great work being done in the city and how valuable it is to provide young professionals a seat at the table.

My experience as a Mayoral Fellow was a stepping stone that allowed me to lift my voice and learn about ways to challenge disparities that exist in Baltimore. I gained firsthand insight into progress happening in Baltimore and how social impact requires attention to detail to find ways to engage the community and find solutions to critical issues. I took note of my observations through focus groups and discussions which built upon my Community Needs Assessment. As a transplant to Baltimore, I appreciated the ability to hear from lifelong residents about the actions they have made to make Baltimore a better place for all.

These simple yet impactful interactions connected despite their mission and goals all showing a pattern of action around working to be a changemaker in Baltimore. You might think how this relates to the concept of emergence? I feel as though my experiences have been moving me towards what I long for and have moved me on my journey of finding my purpose and what space I want to hold in the world. Emergence looks to be collaborative efforts to understand where collaboration happens and I think although the experiences aforementioned occurred separately, they are all a part of a pattern of action dedicated to service.

Joining MPN in 2020, I had the opportunity to learn about the work and critical issues impacting philanthropy in Maryland and across the country. The shift from in-person to virtual meetings earlier that year, staff transitions, and the growing disparities from COVID all brought to light the importance of changing the ‘status quo’ and allowing grace.

Although the pandemic limited the way convenings were done at MPN, it also highlighted the importance of holding space for different types of interactions. The pandemic had and continues to have various negative consequences and limitations, but one tremendous positive is the room it allows for innovation. Being able to work and hold action-oriented meetings for members remotely was an extreme benefit because we were able to find more time to connect on critical issues in the philanthropic space.

Providing flexible work and attendance options can be a tool for workplace equity and justice. An article by Axios that highlights the impact of working from home mentions this profound statement “companies could undo significant gains in diversity, equity and inclusion, and culture building with return-to-work mandates (Pandey, 2022).” I think if we look at all of the gatherings and communities that have been built in the virtual world, it would be a misstep to not look at the groups that were included in the room because of Zoom and our virtual platforms and develop strategies to include and engage them.

I think about our learnings from virtual convenings and how they can translate to the hybrid approaches that MPN is considering. For example, we can think of how the organization can be more accessible in the hybrid format. Taking a look at the impact of flexibility on disability inclusion, MPN also signed onto the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy’s Disability Inclusion Pledge. This effort to include voices who have often been left out of the conversation shows one of the ways that MPN continues to walk the path through our equity, diversity, and inclusion journey. This is one of the many forms that emergence has been visible in how we are working to transform the vision of our organization.

I also reflect on our lessons learned from the COVID pandemic, racial reckoning, and all areas of unrest that the past two years have brought the world. Despite the limitations, I saw the great work that is possible with the team at MPN and our partners. As we look at what post-pandemic life could look like, I see the value of in-person connection, which happened during our first team retreat in February (pictured below). It was great to connect with my colleagues and have an opportunity to do some community building exercises and more importantly, safely gather together as a team.

Source: Maryland Philanthropy Network Staff Retreat, February 11, 2022

Continuing Onward

When I reflect more on the Baltimore Corps Fellowship and what I see for my time at MPN moving forward, I am hopeful the organization’s shifts will be influential on the way that we pivot. A word that has been ingrained throughout my experience in areas of the organization is alignment. I hope to provide supportive services that connect the actions of members and also promote the organizational values and vision truly being at the forefront of all of our work.

I have been so grateful to be on a team of mission-driven women who are dedicated to the efforts that advance philanthropy. As our tagline “Advancing Impact” stands, I have truly seen the ways each and every staff member of MPN is truly using their role to impact areas of philanthropy. From workforce development to education, we have learning opportunities that continue in service of our members and allows for the emergence of new learnings and aligns with what needs to be done to bring philanthropy to its fullest potential.

As I continue my professional journey and my work with MPN, I am discovering the place that I have in social impact and how my skills can aid in the growth of the organization and how MPN continues to develop my personal and professional skills with the help of my supportive colleagues. When I think of the experience that Baltimore Corps has allowed for me to join such a transformative philanthropy serving organization, I am thankful for the opportunity and acknowledge all of those who have been a part of the journey thus far.

Thanks for reading,

LieChelle Robinson Hernandez

Originally posted on Baltimore Corps blog here.



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