Peer learning is powerful. When we connect in solidarity with one another as peers and as comrades, we realize that we are not alone and that collectively we have the knowledge, wisdom, and skills needed to navigate the ups and downs of food systems leadership. Whether it’s through in-person convenings, digital meet- ups, or online Discussion Groups, the Wallace Center recognizes the power of peer knowledge exchange and seeks to facilitate peer learning through the Food Systems Leadership Network as much as possible.

In the Spring of 2019, the FSLN will pilot out another strategy for peer learning: Peer Learning Circles. The goals of the Peer Learning Circles are to cultivate solidarity and peer support across the network, share useful and relevant information and resources to strengthen our work, and foster strategic thinking and problem-solving to advance the good food movement.  

For this pilot, we will start with Peer Learning Circles for Executive Directors; future Peer Learning Circles may form around different affinities. The five Executive Director Peer Learning Circles will be organized around the following affinities:

  • Executive Directors of color,
  • New Executive Directors (<3 years in the role),
  • EDs of small organizations (<$250,000 annual budget),
  • EDs of mid-size organizations (more than $250,000, less than $1 million annual budget), and
  • Mixed experience levels and organizational size.

What to Expect

The pilot Executive Director Peer Learning Circles will be comprised of 10 FSLN members, led by facilitators with either current or previous experience as Executive Directors, who will meet monthly for four months (March-June 2019) via 60-75-minute videocalls. During the first call, each Peer Learning Circle will determine their preferred methods for communication, frequency of meetings, group agreements, and structure for the calls. Peer Learning Circles may utilize a new Executive Directors Discussion Group on the FSLN online community of practice platform for ongoing communication and knowledge sharing within their group and with other members of the FSLN.

During these calls, participants will:

  • Connect with fellow food systems leaders,
  • Tackle individual and collective “sticky issues” and challenges, and
  • Provide encouragement and support to one another in a confidential and supportive environment.

Discussion will be driven and shaped by group members who are committed to helping each other grow and succeed in the unique role of Executive Director. By the end of the four months, we hope to have these become self-managed groups that can continue to meet following the pilot.

Spring 2019 Peer Learning Circle Facilitators and bios:

  • Cheyenna Weber, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, New Executive Directors Group
    • Cheyenna Layne Weber is a nonprofit consultant, writer, and executive director whose work elevates the needs of people and the planet over profit. She is the co-founder and founding director of the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City, a co-founder of the New Economy Coalition and former director of the New Economy Network, and consults on communications, leadership, fundraising, and organizational development for grassroots organizations committed to social and racial justice. She lives in New York City on lands traditionally stewarded by the Lenni Lenape. You can learn more at cheyennaweber.com.
  • Erica Williams, A Red Circle, Executive Directors of Color Group
    • Erica R Williams is a current doctoral student at Walden University and holds an MBA from Maryville University.  She is also active in the community and is deeply concerned about the economic health of north St. Louis County and particularly its black citizens.  Through her academic research and community involvement, she has linked St. Louis’s racist past to North County’s current economic status and the racial inequality blacks still experience.
  • Joseph McIntyre, 10 Circles, Mixed Size and Experience Levels Group
    • Joseph is a 20-year veteran executive director, most recently with Ag Innovations in California where he led a dedicated team in pioneering collaboration between farmers, conservation interests, farm workers, and communities. He oversaw the growth of the organization from a start-up of two to an organization that at its peak was more than twenty employees and $3 million in revenue. His academic training is in economics and organization development which he has integrated into a dynamic approach to facilitating change. As a host for our peer learning circles he brings a passion for unlocking the wisdom of the circle and his own kit bag full of best practices and scary pitfalls for executive directors that will make this a unique and enjoyable learning opportunity.
  • Megan Kemple, Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network, Small Organizations Group
    • Megan Kemple is the Director of the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network.  She also serves as the Coordinator of the Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network.  In these roles she supports stakeholders on a state-wide level and regularly facilitates state-wide calls and meetings, both virtually and in person.
  • Noemi Giszpenc, Cooperative Development Institute, Mid-large Organizations Group
    • Noémi Giszpenc is the Executive Director of the Cooperative Development Institute (cdi.coop), a nonprofit founded in 1994 that works with people in the Northeast U.S. to build cooperative enterprises and networks that create a more just, equitable, and prosperous economy. She began her career as an economics researcher at the World Bank, worked as an editor at the Nonprofit Quarterly, a magazine for nonprofit managers, and became a principal at Ownership Associates, Inc., a consulting firm in Cambridge, MA specializing in developing an ownership culture at employee-owned firms. She holds a BS from MIT and a Master's in Community Economic Development from Southern New Hampshire University.

Eligibility and Application Requirements

  • See the top of this page for a link to the application
  • This opportunity is available to Executive Directors associated with nonprofit 501 (c)3 organizations and those with fiscal sponsors. (Future Learning Circles on different topics/affinities will be offered in the future.)
  • Applicants and their supporting organizations must both be verified members of the FSLN (sign up your organization here)

Peer Learning Circle Participant Expectations:

  • Prepare for and participate fully in all calls (a minimum of 4 calls, once per month)
  • Participate in a follow-up call and survey to provide feedback to the Wallace Center on the pilot
  • Maintain confidentiality, be honest, offer advice and support in a non-judgmental way

Spring 2019 Peer Learning Circles Schedule

  • Sign-up is open through February 28
  • Participants notified of group placement on March 1
  • Monthly calls take place March-June
  • Debrief Call with Wallace Center staff in early June
  • Circles can continue as peer-led groups with backbone support from Wallace Center.

Through this pilot, we hope to get a better sense of what works, what doesn’t, and why – so that this service can be scaled up and scaled out to better meet the needs of FSLN members. While the Executive Directors Peer Learning Circles will be a pilot project, we anticipate hosting future topical support groups that will each focus on a common practice unique to nonprofits, such as resource development or project management.