January 12

The Hunger Project and Being a Sidekick

Meet two "bougie" chicks out to change the world!

Anne and Suzanne met at the end of 2019.  Anne was looking for someone to work with, to help create a leadership development program for a group she was working with in Haiti. From that first meeting, they sensed a synergy in their commitment to develop programming they could leave with the people of Haiti to teach others in Haiti.  In other words, no need to pay outsiders for leadership training.  This ultimately led them to co-create the Imaging in Action work, and the Summit that launches this coming May 14th-21st.

In a recent Open House discussion, Anne interviewed Suzanne as a way for others to get to know her AWESOMENESS, learn about her role as CEO of the Hunger Project and why she is SO passionate about being a Sidekick! 

Some background before we begin …

Suzanne, for the majority of her career, has been a coach and advisor to CEOs and high level executives. She, and her husband Dwight, founded and operate 2130 Partners - where they provide consulting services. AND they co-authored a great book that shares the core of their 20+ years of leadership development. 

Suzanne & Dwight are very involved with Vistage International, the largest executive level business networking organization in the world.  Both are group chairs and Chair Emeritus in that organization which has over 24,000 members in 20 countries. In addition, they have been involved with the Hunger Project for 30 plus years, where they started as investors and activists. In 2017, Suzanne made the decision to put a pause on her coaching and consulting business to take on being the global CEO for the Hunger Project.

Q. Tell us a bit about 2130 Partners
When Dwight and I started our leadership development and education company in 1990, we picked the name 2130 Partners, to represent the year 2130, which at the time was 140 years from 1990. 140 years is approximately seven generations, and we were very inspired by the Native American notions that our lives are lived as a responsibility to future generations. 
When people heard the name 2130 Partners, they thought it was a real estate address, but that gave us a perfect chance to be able to describe what our work with leaders and leadership was about. If we were to ask the people who will be alive in the year 2130, what they want us to spend our lives working on, that was what we wanted to be working on. Plus, 140 years - seven generations is long enough that our egos are out of the way. I don't even know that my own great, great, great, great grandchildren will remember Nana.
For most of us, there won't be statues of us. We won't be in the history books, and yet I can live a life that makes a meaningful, significant contribution, and leaves a legacy for the rest of the world. 

Q. How did that lead into you deciding to become CEO of the Hunger Project?
Dwight and I had been long-time contributors so when the Board of the Hunger Project felt there was a leadership gap and asked me if I would step in as CEO in 2017, I said YES. They wanted someone who was familiar with the work of the Hunger project, its mission and methodology, AND someone who also had the CEO skills to lead it into the future. 
I looked at that as I have looked at all opportunities that have arisen in my life. Is it the highest and best use of the ‘Suzanne unit’ to invest energy and effort in that direction?
In the past, when other opportunities came up to be a CEO of another company or to contribute in some other way, I felt working with many CEOs and many executives through 2130 Partners had the highest leverage and reach. However, when I started looking at the opportunity to be president, and global CEO of the Hunger Project at that particular time and moment in history and in that organization's lifespan, it looked to me as if that was an even higher scope and reach of impact. 
The mission and vision of the Hunger Project is very close to that of both Dwight and I and 2130 partners.  

Q. What is the mission of the Hunger Project? 
The mission is to end hunger and poverty by pioneering sustainable, grassroots, women-centered strategies and advocating for their widespread adoption in countries throughout the world.

Q. What were the challenges you faced when you stepped into leadership with the Hunger Project?
So I see the Hunger Project - the organization, and the Hunger Project - the mission - as connected but distinct. 
The Hunger Project, as an organization, had its organizational woes - from leadership transition, to the external pressures that come with organizations. For the Hunger Project - the mission - the challenge really was shifting more attention and focus to the second part of the mission. During the first 40 some years of the organization, a lot of emphasis, focus and resources (which means finances), time and energy was spent on pioneering the strategy. On being sure that those strategies included sustainability, the grassroots, and the women centered focus. 
And it became clear to me that even if hundreds of millions of dollars came through the organization called The Hunger Project, with those brilliantly pioneered strategies - one organization was not going to end hunger and poverty on its own. So as the CEO and global President, I started looking at that second part of our mission statement, which is ‘advocating for widespread adoption of those strategies and methodologies worldwide’. 
One of my favorite taglines that I have used before, during and after my time as CEO is causing collaboration on purpose and at scale. The on purpose piece is like a double entendre. It's causing collaboration on purpose, meaning towards a goal, towards a vision, towards an aspiration, but also purposely, like intentionally. Learning how to cause collaboration towards something you're committed to was and is what I am about. And then there's ‘at scale’, right? So causing collaboration on purpose and at scale. 

Q. Can you give us an example of one of the strategies that you would say is unique to the Hunger Project within the NGO development field?
For the 40 plus years that the Hunger Project was pioneering those strategies, they didn't really have the language to explain the complexity. Then in 2015, terminology adopted by one of our brilliant vice presidents in the Hunger Project, in collaboration with others is called ‘community led development’ with a gender focus of uplifting women. So the strategy pioneered was grassroots, sustainable, and women focused. 
As I walk you through the crucial pieces of this - it isn't only like a promo of the Hunger Project, although I hope you love the Hunger Project out of this, my partnership with Anne and others has highlighted that this community led development model can be ubiquitous in how to come together, get better and solve any issue on the planet. 
Community led development differs from the way people have done things top down, aka, the patriarchal model. You know, a PhD at some foundation in Seattle comes up with an agricultural breakthrough that they think the Africans can put in place and it'll solve all the food issues. Community led development isn't that.  In fact, that's actually detrimental to ending hunger and poverty. Instead, the methodology involves the people who are having the experience of hunger and poverty or the women who are being suppressed, diminished, demeaned or don't have a voice and having those people step into leadership. They lead their own charge towards their futures that they design rather than a good idea from somewhere else.
This community led approach is often missed when I speak to people who are ‘in the know' and have spent decades in development, or have degrees in international development. They often collapse this approach with community based, community driven or community inspired development. Community based means instead of working at a national level, your company is doing its top down work in the communities. Community based or community driven is leaning towards the community led approach, but doesn’t empower local leadership. These approaches let the community drive it, but the overarching organization has the agenda. The community led development model combines all the best of what we know and have learned over the last 40 years.
The Hunger Project is not the only organization to have figured this out. There are now more than 75 organizations that have joined the Hunger Project in something called The Movement for Community-led Development.
So we now go into a community and be the leaders who don’t have the answers.  Instead, we believe that those in that community have the answers.  This requires a shift and transformation in how we think about leadership.We aren’t leading a shift that is about us, our skill, expertise or our good ideas. We are facilitating a shift that’s about them. This requires a different type of leadership, which is what Dwight and I talk about in our book, Accelerate High Level Leadership in Today’s World . This mindset shift is also what we will be showcasing at the Summit.

Q. Now in terms of the Hunger project strategy, why is women centered leadership so important?
While we understand how we look at gender is evolving, historically we are still talking about mostly women. In the communities the Hunger Project serves, the men generally have traditionally held the power.
As a generalization, where men think from and where women think from are different. Women think from family and community. When you ask women what's missing in your village, they say schools, they say a health center. They say clean water. They say nutritious food. They say having their children have a future to look forward to.  Right? That's what they'll say.
When you ask men what's missing from their village or their village structure, they'll say a road, a bridge, etc. You know, it's not wrong but without that other voice having equal access to resources, resourcefulness, government extension services, voting, etc. When both voices are not represented, it doesn’t work.
We're not saying replace patriarchy with matriarchy. Not at all. That would just be another suppressive regime - it would be a regime change, it wouldn't be a transformation. What we're saying is that when women's voices and what women bring, and when men's voices and thought patterns and, and emotional concerns come together in partnership, that's where you get the magic of community led development. 
The other key piece is a mindset shift. You know that in almost any condition, if people have a mindset of we can't: our company's not big enough; I'm just a woman; I'm of a lower cast; I'm a rural person; I'm indigenous with historical trauma, it's not possible to see anything other than that, right? So that's why being able to envision and see themselves as the creator of a vision for their community is essential. 
Having people come together and seeing their community as thriving, as girls and boys going to school equally, having vegetable gardens, having clean water to drink, having them envision and see those things as possible is a core and critical initial part of their leadership development. And when those things are missing, there's gonna be failure. 
Anne: This is why imagining is important. It is this key skill set that you're using to create a possibility, to envision, you must, you gotta activate consciously. We're actually using that imagining ability all the time, but we're not necessarily using it consciously. 

Q. So how does the Hunger project carry out its work?
Fundamentally, by developing the leadership of the people, primarily women,  in the country and communities they serve. 
One of the Hunger project’s guidelines, methodologies and commitments from the very beginning has been that only people in that country work in that country. We never had expats. So in Malawi it's all Malawians. We don't even have Ugandans working in Malawi. In Uganda it's Ugandans. So consequently when things like the pandemic come up and all the nonprofits working in the area had to pull out all their expats, we didn't have to do that. The people needed for any projects are already there and they could keep working.  
And yes, there are still trust issues. The reason it takes 10 or more years is that sometimes it can take two or three years just to build trust and have the community express the desire and make a request AND have women show up for the meetings. The vision, commitment, and action workshop, the Hunger Project’s primary programming, is the tool they use. 
This program is now being made available to other organizations. The caveat is - the Hunger Project’s worldview and context around it have to be in place. The Hunger Project's worldview and methodology is - seeing people in hunger and poverty as partners, seeing them as competent and capable and fully valid and valuable human beings. Not somebody we have to do something for, or somebody that we have the solution for, and we just need them to buy in. 
So the Hunger Projects evolution of its programs working in the field, was seeing a woman who is now a leader in her village. She has a great vegetable garden. Her children go to school and she's mentoring other women business owners; she's participating on the Village Council and  connecting with the local villages to make a co-op. Shifting not just from me, I can't, I'm not good enough - into, WE can and WE will.
In community led development, if you miss that, you just miss the whole thing.

Q. So how does this mindset shift apply outside the context of the Hunger Project?
Well, it isn’t just true in development organizations or for women in India. All of us have some limiting beliefs. We could say - we're two bougie white chicks - what the bleep do we have to offer? We’re not qualified to do anything about equity. We all have some self-limiting beliefs like this.
An example of another limiting view  … In the early days, in my adolescence, philanthropy was definitely about women and glass ceilings - how it wasn’t right, and so on. And then I realized that while it’s important, it isn't enough for a woman to find her voice and to find her place. The environment around her also has to transform.  It has to shift from being just about MY glass ceiling and MY career to a WE and OUR issue.
We all need the same kind of mindset shift; those men and women of the villages have in order to provide their leadership. This is why the work we are doing in Imagining in Action is so important, to solve the problems we all face we have to move beyond our limiting beliefs not just as individuals but as a WE.

Q. Tell us about The Sidekick Manifesto
I came across this during the time I was president and CEO of the Hunger Project. Sean Humphreys, who calls himself the blue collar professor, and his students put this together. I got it by email from the head of our organization in Bangladesh - not from anyone in the US. When I got it from him, it was kind of like a poke in the nose - in terms of the role of the global office, which is headquartered in New York, in the US. So it was really just beautiful, the way that it came about. 
It really rocked my world to think that there's something outside the Hunger Project and the way I'm thinking that was so correlated. And it’s said in this fun, irreverent, stab at philanthropy and development and our do-gooder ways.
Anne: This manifesto really speaks to the type of mindset you need to have, in my view, if we really wanna make the kind of changes that we know we need in our world, so that our planet and our societies flourish for generations to come.
And it’s such a big thing for leaders to think of themselves as being ‘the sidekick’. Knowing that how I'm gonna provide some of the most and best leadership is not by not being in front. Instead being the sidekick. This matches what The Hunger Project discovered also, right? 
Right! You know, sometimes when we try to do good, we're doing harm. I know many of you have heard the word ally - being an ally and allyship - and all the discovery around that.  To me, it's all correlated. The sidekick manifesto is actually looking at - what is the condition that wants to be shifted? Who are the people living in this experience, those who could speak to that from a historical and a current perspective? And how can I support and uplift their leadership? What is my sidekick role here?

You can learn about the SideKick Manifesto and even take the pledge to be a sidekick HERE.  We are excited to announce that Shawn Humphrey will be one of the speakers at this year's Imagining in Action Summit. 

Suzanne & Anne are committed to the SideKick model of Leadership. A model that pulls for dropping the super-hero cape and acting from and in service of a BIG Yonder Star Vision.  Both the sidekick model and being in service of a vision will be important topics being explored at the Summit in May. 

Synopsis written by iLumn8 contributing author Safiya Robinson, in-house copy editor Susan Bouet and founder Anne Peterson.