Written by Malcolm Bundy, Philadelphia Community Organizer
The Institute for Conservation Leadership (ICL) launched an exciting new pilot program for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) professionals who are part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative and William Penn Foundation Watershed Protection program grantees in the fall of 2022. This program was a year-long cohort to help its members develop skills to enhance and advance their professional careers. Over the last year, 22 cohort members attended a series of monthly workshops led by Pri Ekanayake and Joy Jackson of ICL, as well as peer-led discussion groups to equip us with the knowledge and skills to assist us throughout our professional journey.
To provide a framework for our sessions, the topics we covered over the year were put into three categories. In section 1, individual skill building, we learned tips and tricks for crafting a personal pitch (Know yourself, know your audience, and know your goal). A personal pitch or elevator pitch is a concise way to introduce yourself, engage your audience, and start a conversation.
The personal pitch is an essential tool in networking, but also in life in general. My favorite topic we covered in this section was the adversity and resilience section, in which we discussed the different forms of adversity we’ve previously faced as adversity we anticipate in the future. To combat adversity and challenges in the workplace, we discussed other resilience techniques people use for self-care. The tools people shared ranged from meditation apps, to finding time to talk with peers, to simply getting outside on lunch breaks. I enjoyed this activity; as a homework assignment, we were challenged to try 3-4 different resilience techniques to experience how we benefited from them prior to our next meeting.
Section 2, Me in the Workplace, focused on various topics, from how to navigate salary negotiations to multiple aspects of workplace dynamics. I was surprised to learn that workplace dynamics is more than workplace culture and relationships. I hadn’t realized that physical traits such as how the office space is physically organized or what objects employees have at their desks (pictures, cultural artifacts, school affiliations, etc.) play a role. When thinking about workplace dynamics, an organization’s structural traits also never occurred to me as a factor.
Section 3 focused on goal setting and next steps. We covered how to conduct informational interviews and their benefits. We also discussed long-term goal setting and the importance of creating SMART goals to ensure your goals are S: Specific, M: Measurable, A: Achievable, R: Related, and T: Time specific. Creating SMART goals is an excellent way to help break more vague and nebulous goals into something more manageable.
In October 2023, we had our final meeting at the beautiful Awbury Arboretum in Germantown. Kadafi El-Kardah, from the Outward Bound School, kicked off the meeting by leading us through a fantastic icebreaker. We explored balancing goal setting, cooperation, communication, and time management along with our other responsibilities. We then took time as a group to reflect on all the topics we discussed and learned about throughout the cohort and any significant takeaways.
My favorite part of the day was the peer-facilitated activities, in which the cohort members could design and facilitate activities based on the cohort expressed interests. One group led a skill-building session in which we revisited our personal pitch, a topic from earlier in the year. The goal of this activity was to see how everyone’s personal pitch had changed and improved throughout the program. It also provided an opportunity for peer feedback in a space designed to help people improve.
The other group’s activity was on looking ahead and taking the next steps for the future. Many people felt they hadn’t used the cohort to connect with others to its full potential. People also wanted to stay connected even after the program ended and discussed what would be the best way to do so. Through group discussion, we came up with several ideas for ways to stay connected going forward. Some ideas were quarterly hikes or happy hours.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since I first joined this cohort. When I first joined, I was incredibly nervous about participating in such a program. However, thanks to the support from my colleagues and other cohort members, I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in this fantastic program. The skills and knowledge I’ve gained throughout this program will be an invaluable resource for me as I navigate my professional career.