Where is the Leadership?

“Where is the leadership?” I hear this too often in our work to improve life outcomes for vulnerable children. Why aren’t the candidates talking about the future and calling on investments in early childhood education, summer youth employment opportunities, or  community-based solutions for youth justice—all proven to generate financial and well-being benefits far in excess of the costs? Why aren’t Governors leading the charge for improving access to healthy food in underserved communities, a proven strategy to improve health and academic achievement, rather than fighting the expansion of Medicaid? Why aren’t Mayors leading community vigils against violence rather than stopping and frisking any young black or Latino male walking down the street

At Stoneleigh, we think a lot about leadership. Among our signature programs is the Emerging Leader Fellowship, which provides recent graduates of college or graduate school a high quality experience in the social justice field. Through our ELF program, we hope to cultivate the next generation of social change leaders.The Emerging Leader Fellowship provides an opportunity for exceptional graduates interested in social policy and public service to work for one year at an organization in the non-profit sector of the greater Philadelphia area. The fellowship provides a dynamic, hands-on experience for the fellow resulting in a tangible work product that advances his or her career and the work of the partner organization.  Successful projects strengthen the partner organizations through policy, research, or advocacy work, and provide the fellow with the chance to gain new skills or experience.

Through the fellowship, we hope to develop a cadre of leaders. Thus, of equal importance to the end product that emerges from the fellow’s work, is the “fellowship” part of the ELF program. Stoneleigh is very intentional about providing opportunities for the fellows to come together, work together, and learn more about each other’s work. We believe that these early connections and bonds will provide a rich network of contacts that will be useful as these leaders mature and move up into more powerful leadership roles. Additionally, we bring our Stoneleigh Fellows and our ELFs together to engage in shared learning and networking.

At this time of year, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride as our 2011-2012 ELFs leave the nest and embark on the next stage of their professional careers. Of particular joy is when a Stoneleigh Fellow hires an ELF, as Dr. David Rubin did when he hired Sophia Hwang. Without their fellowship bond it is unlikely these two exceptional leaders would have known each other. Equally as exciting is when a sponsoring partner and ELF have connected so well that the partner finds a way to retain their ELF beyond the fellowship. This has been the case for the Juvenile Law Center and Kacey Mordecai and Justine Taylor and Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission. However, whether it is within the Stoneleigh family or outside, the true measure of the success of our ELF program is in the fellows’ ongoing commitments to social change and employment within the social justice field. Fortunately, too many of our fellows fall into this category to name.

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. They are coaxed and coached; encouraged and empowered; supported and sustained. We look forward to the day when we can see the trajectory of our ELFs and know that no-one in their communities is wondering where there is leadership. 

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