Meet 2019 NGen Award finalist Caroline Whistler
// By Jacqueline Brennan
Voting is open for the 2019 NGen Leadership Award through Friday, August 23 at 11:59pm PDT.
Once the votes are counted, this year’s winner will be announced at Upswell this November. Here’s a heads up: Selecting just one winner from our six finalists will be tough. Each is an amazing changemaker who has made great strides toward transformative social impact in the communities they serve through collaborative leadership.
To help you make your decision, we asked each finalist to tell you a little bit about themselves, what drives them, and why the work they do is important.
So meet Caroline Whistler, co-founder and CEO of Third Sector in San Francisco, California, who is supporting efforts by public leaders to focus on outcomes by working to “shift decision-making power toward the people being served.”
Q: Who or what inspires you – and why?
CW: What inspires me is that “lightbulb moment” when a person that is part of a large system — be it a community member, nonprofit professional, or government employee — realizes that they can drive change in that system. It’s inspiring because it is a moment when a person realizes that systems are designed and run by people — a fact that can become a source of power for that individual when combined with the data, tools, and collaborative energy to effect change with others.
Q: What does changemaker mean to you?
CW: Someone who enables others to harness their own power to drive change individually and as a community.
Q: Other than the announcement of the winner of the NGen Leadership Award, what are you most looking forward to at Upswell?
CW: I’m most curious to attend two workshops on shifting power in social change work: “Empowering Community Residents to Become Agents of Change” and “Identifying and Managing Power in Social Change Work.” I’m also looking forward to connecting with and learning alongside individuals who are seeking ways to disrupt and redesign systems in inclusive ways by elevating community members to be the drivers and directors of change.
Q: What is the most personally meaningful action/protest/campaign that you have participated in?
CW: In early 2006, I spent time in New Orleans deconstructing houses in the Lower 9th Ward. Bodies were still being found next door, the water mains were broken and running for months, and the Dr. King Charter School in the neighborhood sat caked in mud and untouched. I joined a clean-up crew that entered the school and cleaned out the mud and debris so it could be reopened sooner. It was overwhelming to see the math notes and science projects of kids who had their lives, dreams, and educations disrupted, uprooted, deferred. The civil disobedience of starting the clean-up work was the initial step in the process to open the school for the 2007 academic year, and it was a privilege to have the opportunity to support the first school to re-open in the Lower 9th Ward in a small way.
Q: In one sentence, how would you capture your core values?
CW: My core values are rooted in honesty and transparency and mirror the values of our organization: respect, rigor, resourcefulness, results, and reflection.
Q: What leadership qualities do you think are most important for emerging leaders in the charitable community or working for social impact to develop?
- Humility expressed through radical listening to understand and elevate the communities you wish to serve and a willingness to lead with “guts not glory.”
- Disruptive Collaboration: Seek out and build relationships with those who disagree with what you are trying to do as well as cultivating champions. Be gracious and generous with your knowledge and connections. It takes more than you and your work to effect sustainable change.
- Authentic Enthusiasm that is energizing for potential partners to work together and unlock their power. Social impact work is hard and the road is long. It needs to also be rewarding and enjoyable to do the work of the journey!