This year, leaders from Native-led organizations and those advancing Native community development programs are working to expand their community impact through the NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence Program. The full Achieving Excellence class, offered in conjunction with Harvard University, includes 50 community development professionals, with seven of them representing organizations advancing Native community development programs. The participants stay together for nearly two years, working with coaches on projects of their choice that will make a difference in their respective communities.
"Raising the voices of Native professionals in housing and community development – that's our goal," shares Mel Willie, director of Native American Partnerships and Strategy for NeighborWorks America. "We wanted leaders from Native-led organizations to get some additional leadership support. It's a chance to have that executive level training for housing and community development professionals from Indian Country."
Willie says Native cohort members can support one another and exchange ideas as the program continues and long after the program has ended. "The connections they are making will help create a strong bond."
Achieving Excellence students attend Harvard in person twice and once online, each time for a week, over the course of the program, which is now in its 11th cohort.
For some, projects focus on things like revenue streams with a goal of creating more resilient organizations. Others want to strengthen tribal partnerships and provide holistic support for tribal members as they support affordable housing.
Christina Deady, senior director of Leadership and Workforce Development at NeighborWorks America, says that need among Native communities is high — especially after the pandemic, which hit those communities especially hard. "Native lands face the same challenges others do, plus many more," she says, citing different views of what owning the land means, a lack of infrastructure, particularly in rural locales, and a lack of a qualified construction workforce available on Native lands.
"Every day that passes means these issues are compounded: More and more Native people go without adequate housing, more and more Native people leave Native lands to find employment elsewhere," Deady shares. "The NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence Program hopes to help leaders from all types of community-serving organizations, including Native organizations, focus even more on the results that matter most and accomplish those results in less time than they would be able to otherwise because they have the support of a coach, a team of peer consultants, classic and innovative leadership techniques from Harvard faculty, and more."
Funding from Wells Fargo supported this newest cohort of Native nonprofit leaders. Funding from The Walton Family Foundation sponsored additional members of the cohort.
Pete Upton, Native CDFI Network's CEO and chairman, went through the NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence Program starting in 2018. He graduated believing that forming a cohort with Native American leaders would be extremely helpful to their development — and passed that idea along to organizers.
"I think it's important our Native CEOs are able to create networks out of their own silos," he says. "That's what I took away from NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence — the resources and people I was able to connect with. It was important to connect to other leaders outside of the normal silos that we operate within to maximize our potentials."
Want to hear more? B. Ken Eakes, a NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence Program participant from Military Warriors Support Foundation, talks about the impact.