As I celebrate ten years working with MNA this September, I find myself thinking about this question of purpose, “To what end?” Time and again this grounding question has been a deep grace for me, helping me navigate endless possible courses of action for both myself and MNA. It has served to anchor me to something greater – the “why” behind the work. For me – and for others in the nonprofit sector – the end we seek can be summed up in three words: the common good.
I love this phrase; it simply and elegantly fuels and directs my work. More recently, however, the phrase has provoked a challenging question for me. Who defines the common good? And what is my responsibility toward those struggling to access the common good? Is the common good a valid pursuit or has it become a feel-good, out-of-reach ideal?
These questions have become more pressing over the past eighteen months. Our staff and board have been exploring MNA’s role in furthering a more equitable and inclusive Montana, one where every person can experience full belonging in the ways we each long for. Our work in diversity, equity, and inclusion has not been easy work for me. My insecurities and uncertainties related to not knowing what to do coupled with my tendency toward perfectionism have been barriers.
Early this spring one of our staff members gave me a printout with Deepa Iyer’s visual framework for change that I found intensely insightful. It invited me to consider that many different paths and roles are necessary for meaningful change to take place on the most important issues, including those of equity and inclusion. It helped me understand that trying to do everything isn’t effective nor is it expected. At the same time, doing nothing is not an option. Deepa’s work opened a door for me by responding to my most basic questions about the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion: “What should we do? What can we do?”
On September 28, Deepa Iyer will open the 2021 MNA Conference with a keynote that responds pointedly to these questions. She’ll go further by helping us explore the benefits of change and the collective loss we experience when we allow discomfort or unfamiliarity to keep us from growing. Whether your organizational mission involves housing, childcare, employment, the arts, environment, healthcare, youth, or something in between, Deepa’s work offers a strategic framework for social change that is accessible and deeply relevant for Montana.
I have come to believe I cannot credibly stand for the common good without also standing for diversity, equity, inclusion and – ultimately – a more just society. That doesn’t mean I have answers; but I am listening. I hope you’ll join me and hundreds of our colleagues on Tuesday, September 28 when Deepa talks with us about what goes into social change and the many roles that must be occupied for us to collectively pursue the common good.