Friday, June 1, 2012

Ruminations on the end of journey

On May 18, 2012, the Sistema Fellows graduated from an extraordinary year of delving not only into El Sistema, but into what it means to be a strong teacher, learner, colleague, and leader. Between the last post and today, we've been through a great deal, both as a group and individually. We finished an extensive business plan as a team as a consultant project for an emerging El Sistema program. It was a long and very intense process, that resulted in many people staying in the offices until very late at night for days on end. But what we created was a thoroughly researched and in-depth document, complete with a theory of change and logic model, a program design, and funding and marketing plans that can be a launch pad for action.

Some of us went to Chicago in April for the Drafting Convention of the new association/alliance/network of El Sistema-inspired programs. We spent two days in small groups exploring what by-laws might be appropriate for such an organization, what the role of an Executive Director would look like, and what the short and long term goals of the organization would ideally be. We discussed the hot topic of the name El Sistema USA, and after much debate, eventually agreed that we should consider other names, for many reasons. Now, small subcommittees are working on their action items, and if all goes well, an association could be born very soon. For all of the minutes from that meeting and the preceding phone calls, visit:

Individually, people worked feverishly to launch their non-profits or get a job, while working on a final presentation of their program designs. Regarding the latter, we each gave a 1 hour + presentation on a topic of our choice to the other fellows, staff at NEC, members of the Sistema Fellows Friends Committee, and others. Topics included plans for the new programs, a workshop session on how to make the "ask" for money for a non-profit, and team-building best practices. I led a workshop session on funding, to share my findings from a funding research project I did in the fall (on the priorities of major grantmakers to programs with similar missions to El Sistema), and to brainstorm with everyone around an idea I'd had to launch a site that broadens the donor base to El Sistema-inspired programs. Once I update it a bit, I'll post the Power Point from that session.

After Venezuela, the weeks flew by quickly. We had a final session with Eric Booth to reflect on the year (where we drew what our year looked like, reminding me of the posters my friends and I would make in the 3rd and 4th grade of stories about our classmates); our final session with Beth Babcock, our strategy guru; a class on negotiation with Dr. Jeffrey Prottas; a course on marketing and branding with Chris Colbert of Holland-Mark; classes on interviewing and leadership with President Tony Woodcock; a session on leadership with the luminary Hubie Jones, founder of the Boston Children's Chorus; and a workshop on how we bring our perceptions of race and ethnicity to our roles as teachers and leaders, with the amazing Eder Williams of City Term and Linda Nathan, founding headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy. With each of these sessions, I left feeling enlightened; I had learned something that either challenged the way I saw the world, or introduced me to an entirely new concept that I had never before considered.

Graduation was beautiful. Dozens of friends and family members gathered at NEC, while we each stood up and shared a story about the year. I haven't been to many graduations, but this was by far the best: intimate and meaningful, minus the platitudes.

While most of us agreed it was time to move on, I do have to admit that as happy as I was to come back to New York City, I did feel an emptiness the first couple of days back. I mean, how often is it in life that you can completely indulge - every single day for 9 months - in sharing ideas and taking action on a topic you're deeply passionate about, with 9 other people and a host of experts in various fields? Thank you, New England Conservatory and everyone who was involved in making this possible, possible.

This is the slideshow that was playing as people walked into graduation. It may not mean much if you weren't a fellow, but I hope it will serve as an invitation into the world of 10 people who went on a journey of Sistema this year.

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