By Alejandra Y. Castillo, CEO, YWCA USA
This week in Seattle, Washington, YWCA USA convened 43 leaders representing 30 YWCAs from around the western U.S. as part of our annual geo-network meeting. By hosting these smaller “geo-networking” meetings in each of our five designated geographic networks, we are bridging the distance between our national and regional work by supporting capacity-building opportunities, promoting collaboration, harnessing our collective action and strengthening our communication efforts. Furthermore, for the first time, our national board of directors intentionally held their quarterly meeting to coincide with a geo-networking meeting, allowing the opportunity to share ideas, promote transparency and elevate our united voice.
While YWCA is a national movement, we know that our strength lies in our collective ability to deliver social impact work where it matters the most—at the community and local level. These smaller meetings allow local associations to work on issues that may be more regional in nature and much closer to home. It also allows time for peer-to-peer learning, brainstorming opportunities and a chance to develop innovative ideas and projects. In addition, we are able to visit the great work that local YWCA’s are doing in their communities. During the Western geo-network meeting, we visited YWCA Seattle/King/Snohomish, led by CEO Maria Chavez Wilcox and her team, and witnessed firsthand the great work being done at Opportunity Place, the cornerstone of their “Moving Women and Families Forward” capital campaign.
The Western Network consists of our local associations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. This is a group of YWCA leaders that are as committed and diverse as the communities they serve. At the same time, we recognize the issues that are common among local YWCA associations such as governance, mission impact, advocacy and service provision among others. Two of the primary themes addressed at this geo-network meeting included coalition building and evaluating our collective impact. With over 200 YWCAs across the country providing a wide range of services and working to move the needle in their communities in their own ways, it is critical for us to examine and discuss how to show the collective impact on the people we serve each year.
During this geo-network meeting, local associations heard from YWCA leaders including YWCA USA’s new CEO, Alejandra Y. Castillo, YWCA USA’s Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Membership Casey Harden, Western Network’s Director of Member Services Rita Ryder, and CEO of YWCA Seattle/King/Snohomish Maria Chavez Wilcox. Through interactive sessions local associations were able to:
- explore effective elements of coalition building and identify next steps to begin or strengthen in-state collaboration between YWCAs;
- learn how to operationalize our Mission Impact Framework for the long haul by creating a roadmap to contribute to our signature outcomes;
- hear concrete examples of how YWCAs in the Western Network have integrated the framework and Racial Justice Training Manual to sustain their external and internal racial justice work and;
- discuss challenges with governance and inform YWCA USA’s efforts to assist local associations with maximizing the power of their boards to achieve mission impact in sustainable ways.
YWCA USA looks forward to ongoing engagement with our local associations as we work towards strengthening our collective work and achieve our mission. Our next geo-network meeting will take place on March 1-2 of 2018 with both the Great Lakes and Heartland Networks: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming. Can’t wait to see everyone there!