The Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative interviewed Portia Ballard Espy, our Executive Director, as part of its “Leadership in Challenging Times” blog series. The series highlights the inspiring work of the HBS community in addressing the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, alongside the fight for racial equity and an especially polarized political climate. In this post, Portia Ballard Espy discusses her work as Executive Director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. Portia participated in the Performance Measurement for Effective Management of Nonprofit Organizations (PMNO) Executive Education Program in June 2020.
An excerpt from the interview:
How has your organization and your role responded to this year‘s challenges?
Our work is done exclusively via live convenings, something we’ve determined is essential when engaging diverse groups in relationship building and shared learning. As the news of COVID-19 and possible restrictions began to surface in 2020, I asked my program leaders to develop strategies to continue the work should we be forced to work remotely. Shortly after our scenario planning session, shutdowns were announced, and we took our entire operation virtual. We’ve been working in this virtual mode since March 2020 and have become comfortable using technology to achieve similar results as were realized during our in-person convening. During this time, we have launched a certificate program, held our annual nine-day residential Summer Youth Institute virtually, and launched a fellowship program focused on mitigating issues leading to outmigration, all while keeping our staff complement steady.
As racial justice and gender inequity issues gained greater attention, we received significantly more requests from organizations seeking to establish more equitable cultures inside and outside the workplace. Converting our work to a virtual format has allowed our small team to impact many who’ve sought our support. The virtual format we’ve employed has allowed us to work well beyond our state’s/region’s borders, which has been one of the unintended but positive outcomes. I’m very proud of the resiliency displayed by our team in making the shift so quickly and maintaining the integrity of our programs.