Five Questions with Casey: Donna Stark Reflects on Two Decades of Leadership Development Work

Posted March 9, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog donnastarkfivequestions 2016

Senior Lead­er­ship Fel­low Don­na Stark’s career has long focused on build­ing a cul­ture of results. In more than two decades at Casey, she’s steered both sys­tem reform and com­mu­ni­ty change efforts and helped social sec­tor lead­ers improve the odds for vul­ner­a­ble kids.

Some of Stark’s major mile­stones dur­ing this time include plan­ning the Foundation’s Mak­ing Con­nec­tions ini­tia­tive and launch­ing a range of lead­er­ship pro­grams designed to help com­mu­ni­ties tack­le tough chal­lenges. Equal­ly impor­tant: Stark devel­oped Casey’s Results-Based Lead­er­ship strat­e­gy and led a charge to use Results-Based Account­abil­i­ty to mobi­lize com­mu­ni­ties and sys­tems around shared goals.

Pri­or to join­ing Casey in 1994, Stark direct­ed a gov­er­nor-dri­ven ini­tia­tive that aimed to enhance inter­a­gency coor­di­na­tion among Maryland’s state pro­grams for at-risk kids. She holds a Ph.D. in coun­sel­ing and human devel­op­ment from the Ohio State University.

In this Five Ques­tions edi­tion, Stark dis­cuss­es Casey’s results-based frame­work and shares how the Foundation’s lead­er­ship devel­op­ment work has changed through time.

Q1. You have played a piv­otal role in shap­ing Casey’s lead­er­ship devel­op­ment agen­da. How has this work evolved?

Our 23-year-old Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship does a great job empow­er­ing exec­u­tives to effec­tive­ly lead major sys­tem reforms and com­mu­ni­ty change ini­tia­tives. To broad­en this work, how­ev­er, we devel­oped a diverse array of fel­low­ships and results-based lead­er­ship pro­grams. One pro­gram — our Lead­er­ship in Action Pro­gram — brings mul­ti­ple play­ers togeth­er to tack­le a tough com­mu­ni­ty issue. These efforts have helped reap sig­nif­i­cant gains in improv­ing child out­comes, such as reduced infant mor­tal­i­ty, few­er chil­dren enter­ing fos­ter care and more chil­dren enter­ing school ready to learn.

We’ve also become more col­lab­o­ra­tive; we’re involv­ing par­tic­i­pants more direct­ly when design­ing lead­er­ship programs.

Q2. What are some exam­ples of help­ing to pro­mote results-based lead­er­ship prac­tices in the field?

We help part­ners — includ­ing oth­er foun­da­tions and their grantees — iden­ti­fy both the results they want to achieve and the strate­gies that they can employ to affect change across a neigh­bor­hood, city or state. We’ve also been assist­ing oth­er nation­al ini­tia­tives — such as Promise Neigh­bor­hoods and Striv­e­To­geth­er — to embed results-based lead­er­ship into their work. Right now, we’re design­ing a results-based lead­er­ship pro­gram with the Nation­al League of Cities for their Insti­tute for Youth, Edu­ca­tion and Families.

Q3. How has lead­er­ship devel­op­ment evolved in the non­prof­it sector?

In the ear­ly days, we focused on devel­op­ing lead­er­ship in key indi­vid­u­als. Today, we’re focused on accel­er­at­ing results. We now know that it takes lots of peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly to real­ize sus­tain­able change. We’re also com­mit­ted to help­ing orga­ni­za­tions and part­ner­ships become more effec­tive at improv­ing con­di­tions for kids and fam­i­lies. And we’re pur­pose­ful­ly cul­ti­vat­ing young lead­ers and invest­ing in our next gen­er­a­tion of leaders.

Anoth­er way this field has evolved has to do with data. Today, we under­stand the impor­tance of using data to mea­sure progress, and we’re more will­ing to recon­sid­er strate­gies if the data sug­gests they aren’t working.

Final­ly: We’ve rec­og­nized that diver­si­ty — includ­ing eth­nic, racial and gen­der diver­si­ty — is crit­i­cal to lead­er­ship development.

Q4. Where do you think the field is headed?

We’re see­ing growth in cross-sec­tor par­tic­i­pa­tion among non­prof­it, gov­ern­ment and phil­an­thropic sec­tors. Busi­ness and civic lead­ers are also get­ting more involved.

Anoth­er shift is that anchor insti­tu­tions— major employ­ers and ser­vice providers, such as uni­ver­si­ties and hos­pi­tals — are tak­ing on greater lead­er­ship roles in their com­mu­ni­ties. These insti­tu­tions can play a pow­er­ful role in strength­en­ing their extend­ed com­mu­ni­ties and serv­ing as engines of opportunity.

Last but not least, we’re see­ing all sec­tors engage res­i­dents and youth in deci­sion-mak­ing and rec­og­nize that these vary­ing per­spec­tives, val­ues and opin­ions are important.

Q5. What has Casey’s key con­tri­bu­tion been?

Our Foun­da­tion has become a nation­al mod­el for direct­ly sup­port­ing lead­er­ship devel­op­ment using a results-based frame­work. Our approach, which we’ve honed over the last 23 years, is ground­ed in five com­pe­ten­cies. These are: 1) being results-dri­ven; 2) using the self as an instru­ment of change; 3) ensur­ing equi­table oppor­tu­ni­ties to reduce racial dis­par­i­ties; 4) pro­mot­ing the link between val­ues, atti­tudes and behav­iors and tak­ing action to improve results; and 5) build­ing con­sen­sus through collaboration.

Our ver­sion of col­lab­o­ra­tion is not just bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er to share inter­ests. Instead, we col­lab­o­rate by direct­ing and align­ing resources and actions to reach an end result. We have evi­dence that when we apply Results-Based Lead­er­ship to tough social prob­lems, kids and fam­i­lies reap the benefits.

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