Editor’s note: This post is also available in Spanish.
Honoring these values, Kimberly McClain, GFC’s US-based Regional Director for the Americas, decided to apply GFC’s commitment to change to the role of the regional director. She took concrete steps to build a new collective leadership platform, inviting Rodrigo Barraza, GFC’s Mexico-based Program Manager, to join her as Co-Director for the region.
In these early days, Kim and Rodri have begun reflecting on what it means to develop shared leadership.
Rodri: Everything starts from trust. From day one, Kim was dedicated to getting to know the team and learning from our strengths. She was always willing to listen to us, organizing weekly spaces not to evaluate or control, but to exchange ideas that would make us grow together.
With Kim, I learned that trust is not blindly believing that someone will do everything perfectly and without mistakes. Trust is creating an environment where you can share doubts and fears, because at the end of the day you know that you are not alone, that someone is willing to bet on you.
When Kim first told me about her co-leadership idea, I was scared. Then I remembered that I could trust Kim and her decisions. And that I was capable of responding to that trust with responsibility and commitment.
Kim: The idea of a co-directorship really came from our working relationship. Rodri brought so much leadership to our migration initiative – which was GFC’s most ambitious new project at the time – and it was immediately clear that I could trust him to make whatever he touched a success.
As we venture into this co-directorship, we’ll need to continue to cultivate self-awareness and self-reflection, humility, and adaptability, and to not take ourselves too seriously. We are not going to get this “right.” We are going to create new ways of working together; we’re going to celebrate shared successes and credit each other with amazing contributions to GFC and social change in the Americas; and we’re going to work hard to keep nurturing a trusting, open, and caring relationship that can carry us through when we mess up.
Now I know I’m not alone, and I hope that sense of safety, the “I’ve got your back” of co-directorship, will give us both a boost of confidence and creative energy.
Kim: Over time, Rodri and I figured out how we could support each other through our more natural strengths, but we also challenged each other to grow, learn, and try things we each felt were our weaknesses. What started as an opportunity for me to manage differently – breaking down hierarchies and letting go of control – evolved into the clarity that Rodri and I were meant to lead this region as equals.
Rodri: Kim and I are very different people. I am a nurturing unicorn, always dreaming and imagining new possibilities. Kim is a meticulous dragon, defending the team and always making the right decisions to optimize resources and maximize impacts. The beginning was difficult, but soon we both understood that in that discomfort lay the secret of our growth. We realized that our work is continually complemented and strengthened.
After deciding on collaborative leadership, the first thing Kim and I did was have an honest discussion and identify individual and shared roles and responsibilities. And we accepted that we are going to have moments of doubt and disconnection that will take us out of our comfort zones.
Rodri: GFC is always seeking to do things differently. In everything we do – in the relationships we build and in our internal spaces – we try to challenge the narratives that see philanthropy as a charitable and vertical act. Thinking about co-leadership is just one more part of this process. My co-director role as a Latin American based in the region shows that professionals from the Global South are not just project “executers”; we also have a voice, experience, and the ability to perform leadership roles.
Kim: I think in a world that has relied on very traditional ideas of hierarchical and individualized accountability, co-leadership is an important disruption to the system. It forces us to reconsider what we mean by such fundamental ideas as authority, consultation, responsibility, and ownership. It forces us to continually acknowledge the complexity of the world and stop resisting the gray areas.
Rodri: This will definitely be a learning process. We are willing to make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. In my opinion, the co-management model must be based on communication and care, on being able to express concerns and disagreements in a respectful manner. On knowing how to set limits and ask for help at the right times. On being open and showing appreciation for the other person.
Kim: Our ability to support our team and our partners in the Americas will be rooted in the strength and health of our relationship as co-directors. We will show up for each other and the team in how we practice care in our words and actions, and how we dare to be open with and really listen to each other.
Rodri: Leading teams is a huge responsibility. Being able to count on someone who multiplies ideas and is able to share the load is always a great relief. Our fight is a collective fight. As the writer Eduardo Galeano says, “Many small people, in small places, doing small things, can change the world.”
Kim: Two is most certainly better than one for GFC in the Americas. Together, we can explore countless new ways to support child-centered and youth-led civil society across the region. I also think we can expand our influence by example, by continued experimentation and innovation, and by speaking up to change the ways others in philanthropy approach their work.
At GFC, we will continue to explore new ways to transform, shift, and share power. It is our dream to contribute to creating a world where communities are more egalitarian and where leadership is a collective achievement built on dialogue and mutual respect. And we are willing to start at home. We are already doing it.
Header photo: Rodrigo Barraza participating in an activity with children in Chiapas, Mexico. © GFC
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