Walking the Walk

September 4, 2013

We profess to be a great many things. Our nation claims to be a beacon of representative democracy, a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Yet, Generation Citizen exists because sometimes what we say we value doesn’t always match reality. So then we either reconsider our values, though in this case I’m not sure Abraham Lincoln would want to hedge on this vision, or we reconsider the ways in which we are putting those principles into practice.

At GC, we think it’s healthy to check in like this, be it on a personal or organizational level: What are we saying about ourselves, and how does that reflect either reality or the version of reality to which we aspire? Are we authentic? What do we need to do to back up these words with substance.

We first revised our Core Values on a staff retreat a year and a half ago, clustered around the coffee table in my apartment, poster paper taped to the walls, the six of us (at the time) analyzing our current values and brainstorming words and phrases which got closer to describing our organizational essence and ideals.

GC has come a long way since then, and this summer we thought it time to check ourselves. At this stage in our growth, we want to ensure that the best aspects of our organizational culture aren’t just by-products of the strong personal relationships we’ve enjoyed as a small and clustered staff but are intentional and institutionalized.

The first step in this process was reevaluating our Core Values.

We polled students in a GC summer program, outside community partners, long-affiliated and recent Democracy Coaches and Chapter Directors, Board members, staff, and teachers. We sought to determine if our espoused Core Values truly describe the work that we’re doing and the way that we’re doing it and where we had the greatest room for growth.

We got great feedback. Though we focus on youth empowerment, our values weren’t all student-friendly or accessible. As mentioned in previous blog posts, our lack of diversity does a disservice to our students and our program and perhaps stems from a failure to articulate this priority. We want to be pragmatic, but we don’t want that pragmatism to temper our ambitions. How do we urge collection action while also acknowledge the power of the individual?

So we reflected, edited, word-smithed, soul-searched, and edited some more.

Here’s what we came up with.

They’re not perfect, either in eloquence or aptness, and we’re not perfect in how we live these out on a daily basis. But I think that they offer us a clear guide for how we act and how we grow.

The next step in our process will be identifying and building out structures to ensure we’re getting ongoing feedback from all of our partners, from students to donors. Culture is dynamic, and we have to keep observing, reflecting, and adjusting to ensure that the values we embody are as great as those we hold in esteem.

~Sarah Andes, New York Site Director

Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. 

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