MAGLab: Co-creating Our Way Forward Toward Justice

By: Elissa Perry, MFA

In 2011 Management Assistance Group (MAG)  began conceiving of a Network Leadership Innovation Lab as a practice for learning about and developing leadership in movement networks. From the get-go, we knew that learning about and developing leadership capacity for this context was about co-creation and shared meaning-making with movement network leaders not about doing something to them or about them, hence and action learning approach!

MAGLab was born of a paradox: nonprofit organizations with justice (social, environmental, economic) missions are in many ways stronger than ever, yet the systemic changes they seek—and the fundamental improvements in the lives of their constituencies—are more elusive. The challenges are stark: in a world of growing economic and political inequality, advocates for social justice are increasingly locked in high-stakes struggles with well-funded opponents exerting more and more control over social discourse and policy.

Many justice leaders feel overwhelmed and isolated from one another as they compete for resources.  Movements, too, are working in isolation: often, progressive movements function as silos, though the issues they address—such as poverty, human rights, immigration, a fair economy, democracy reform, racism, and health—are profoundly interconnected. The fragmentation of these issues is not how they are experienced in people’s lives; as such, it undercuts activists’ ability to build political power.

And yet there are bright spots! Organizations are coming together in ongoing and intentional networks to build power toward realizing common justice values and are finding success. Working in this way, while delivering promising results also presents some distinct challenges such as…. While there are many supports available to strengthen leaders and organizations, few—if any—help those same leaders engage with the larger ecosystem of movements and networks. Thus the MAGLab was born! The first iteration of the Lab focused on Network Leadership Innovation and was co-created with movement network leaders with cycles of reflection and action intended to give participants a vibrant space for learning through storytelling, experimentation, investigation, reflection and shared meaning-making.

image of silly group of people

Perhaps most importantly, MAGLab participants, MAG staff and Lab advisors were inspired with an experience and a vision of what it is like to “be the change we want to see in the world.” While at times it can be challenging, by favoring collaboration over competition, all are working in a way that fits the values that drew us to—and keeps us doing—justice work.  Indeed, the Action Learning experience of the Lab has shown us that it is possible to achieve alignment between our aspirational values and the way we work and live. It is that vision that inspires us, humbles us, and motivates us to continue this work.

Lab Participants/Co-creators

  • – Phil Aroneau & May Boeve
  • CASA De Maryland – Virginia Kase & Gustavo Torrees
  • Chinese for Affirmative Action – Jenny Lam & Vincent Pan
  • Forward Together– Eveline Shen & Moira Bowman
  • National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce – Rea Carey & Darlene Nipper
  • State Voices*
  • URGE (formerly Choice USA) – Kierra Johnson & Mari Schimmer
  • Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (formerly Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana), Dana Kaplan & Jolon McNeil
  • Jobs with Justice – Sarita Gupta & Erica Smiley

*Cietta Kiandoli and Tracy Sturdivant from State Voices were contributors to Lab design and early implementation.