Human Needs, Inclusiveness, Belonging – Courageous Honesty

January 28, 2020

The Signature Program Class of 2020 convened this month for two essential sessions covering human needs, inclusiveness, and belonging. Purpose, ambition, authenticity, and diversity are the core values of the LGW mission. Through the Signature Program, our region’s most accomplished leaders forge meaningful relationships based in trust and deep respect. Part of building that trust is creating a safe space for leaders to share their thoughts, dilemmas, and emotions with unfettered honesty.

Fostering this culture in the Signature Program helps leaders find opportunities, navigate regional challenges, avert crises and make better-informed judgments to increase collective impact. By empowering leaders to be uninhibited in expressing their views we create an environment conducive to courageous honesty, where growth, collaboration, and meaningful connection are possible. 

With our core values in mind, the Class of 2020 set out to expand their knowledge of what people across the region need to thrive. We looked at this through the broader lenses of inclusivity, belonging and human needs. The goal? To help leaders be more impactful while creating a more just and prosperous community that benefits all. We explored the persistent challenge of human needs through interactive dialogues, breakout sessions, and immersive exercises.  


When we refer to human needs, we are discussing a concept put forth by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow categorized human needs into a hierarchy, arguing that in order to achieve greater purpose and reach self-actualization, people first must attend to physiological needs, then safety, then love and belonging, and finally esteem.

On January 16 and 17, the Class of 2020 convened for this powerful series of conversations to deepen their understanding of the dynamics around human needs in their organizations. What emerged was an honest dialogue on the realities of poverty, racial justice, gender equity, workforce demands, hunger, systemic violence and the barriers to community health that leaders must surmount to advance growth in their organizations. 

We were welcomed at Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex by; Steve Carter (’19), deputy director, facility ops M-NCPPC, Parks/Recreation, Prince George’s County, Dana Stebbins (’88), founder & president, The Law Offices of Dana B. Stebbins, president & CEO, The Cornelius Group, LGW board member, Derrick L. Davis (’14), councilmember, Prince George’s County Council and Howard Stone (’96), director, Public Safety & Fiscal Management Committee, Prince George’s County Government.

In welcoming remarks, Davis ('14) reiterated the importance of leaders uniting across the metropolitan area. “At LGW, we think about leadership across the Washington region. We all have to work together to make this region better for our kids.”

With these words in mind, the Class began breakout sessions led by the dedicated and passionate staff of A Wider Circle who provided an overview of prevalent human needs challenges in our region. The mission of A Wider Circle is to end poverty through on-the-ground programs and services, as well as through the development of large-scale solutions to its root causes. We explored new approaches to workforce development, housing affordability, and policies that support the working poor. In attendance from the Wider Circle team: Mark Bergel (’16), founder, president & CEO, Chanel Giles, administrative director, Amy Javaid, senior vice president, and Katherin Phillips, vice president, research & innovation and Andrew Wyka, director, research. 

Bergel ('16) reminded the Class of the systemic human needs challenges presented by poverty and challenged the rubric used to measure it nationally. “A family of four is said to be in poverty if they make less than $25,750. If they make more, they are not counted as being in poverty. That is the measurement used nationally. We need to use an acceptable income standard. If you are in DC, there are about 87,000 people below the poverty rate, but if you look at how many people live without enough to get by it is more like 187,000. In Montgomery County, 76,000 live below the poverty line, but if you look at who lives without enough to get by it is more like 270,000. This is about systemic change. If we don’t look at these problems holistically, we are creating barriers.” 

Next, the Class heard an inspiring first-person narrative of personal transformation from A Wider Circle Administrative Director, Chanel Giles, who retraced her moving journey surmounting the barriers of generational poverty in order to reach self-actualization. Giles emphasized the crucial role of leadership in lifting people up, “I know what is possible when people help nurture you and see your potential and walk alongside you every day.” The story was a reminder to approach people with empathy and consider a person's greater needs when setting standards in the workplace.

To begin our breakout sessions Amy Javaid set up a discussion of workforce development, covering innovative ways to support a dynamic workforce with varying levels of need. “We need to look at how can we support the whole person, not just when they are working for you, but in addition to when they are working for you. In workforce development, we like to think about a third partnership. The employer, the employee and there is often a third party that could provide childcare, give rides, provide support, it can help organizations look for partners in people they might not normally look for. We want people to think more broadly. It’s not just the resume, it’s not just the interview. It’s about the employer and the employee.”

Economist Katherin Phillips next provided an account of some of the barriers to eliminating generational poverty with a discussion on institutionalized obstacles such as "cliff effects," which occur when a family becomes ineligible for assistance with food, shelter and child care as soon as they begin earning above the limits set by the state, which creates a significant disincentive for many to rise economically, impacting the bottom line for many area businesses. Another issue covered was "food insecurity," which is a term used to describe a lack of access to affordable and nutritious food, which continues to be a widespread problem for many families in our region. This inspired the Class to engage in a deeper discussion on gender and family dynamics, racial equity, community health and ways to take action on this issue to better support working families. 

To close the breakout segment, Andrew Wyka provided the Class with a call to action on the affordable housing crisis facing our region, “there is a lot of talk about the different issues and the problems, but what is key is spending more time thinking about solutions, coming to solutions. The need is so great, the issues are so complex and so sporadic within the region, that the various systems need to be integrated. We need increased funding and a more honest discussion around systematic barriers.”

We followed up the breakouts with an interactive workshop on regional hunger led by Christel Allen Hair (’11) Sr. Director, Strategic Partnership & Community Engagement, Capital Area Food Bank, Maureen Doyle, Volunteer Coordinator, Capital Area Food Bank, Lisa Rother (’18), Volunteer. The purpose of this simulation was to provide a hands-on demonstration of the often insurmountable barriers members of our community face trying to adequately feed their families. Allen Hair ('11) described the increasing demands on services that address hunger, "most people run out of food stamps in the first 2-3 weeks of the month."  

We closed the day with an engrossing participatory conversation, leaders were candid in expressing their concerns for our community and their commitment to making a tangible impact on these issues. Leaders discussed a range of challenges they are facing with the workforce such as the impacts of community violence on staff, our regional struggle to provide housing, a lack of policy supporting those who work in public service, and the importance of holistic solutions, as examples.

Class members expressed that it is crucial to look at things through the lens of class, racial equity and to do away with problematic stereotypes. There was a call to increase dignity in the community as a whole. Through a greater understanding of the root causes and dynamics at play, leaders left better prepared to take action to address widespread community challenges.

Signature Program co-leader Howard Ross (’91), Founding Partner, Udarta Consulting gave the Class this pearl of wisdom on leading with greater honesty, "When people get emotional give people space, support each other. We have to recognize that not only do we all have a responsibility to address these issues in our community, we are also all affected by these issues. Take the time to share a little bit. We often have a tendency to say ‘we lost it' when we get emotional. What we should be saying is, 'we found it'."


To kick off Inclusiveness and Belonging Day we explored the science behind unconscious bias and how it impacts systemic issues. Ross ('91) explained unconscious bias and encouraged the Class to consider how their personal stories shape the way they interact with others: “Bias is a tendency or inclination that results in judgment without question. It is not positive or negative inherently, it is a function of the mind. It helps us spot danger. We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are, we see the world filtered through our own experiences.”

Next, Kimberly Dailey, senior consultant, Cook Ross, Inc. led the Class in “playback theatre,” an exercise focused on stepping into someone else’s story to come to a greater understanding of how unconscious bias impacts everyday decision-making. Dailey later led the Class in an interactive workshop, demonstrating ways to increase their empathy by asking them to step into another person's emotional space through mirroring. Through these exercises, the Class strengthened important bonds and grew in empathy for their peers in the Signature Program. 

As the Class reconvened, Ross ('91) one of the world’s seminal thought leaders on identifying and addressing unconscious bias, framed a larger discussion on how our perceptions play a role in leadership and decision-making. “The question we should be asking is not ‘is there bias in this situation?’, it is: ‘what is the bias in this situation?" Through an overview of the scientific causes of bias, the Class reached a greater understanding of how to mitigate the negative byproducts of unconscious bias as they make daily decisions and set standards. 

Members of the Class shared some of their overarching thoughts to close the sessions: 

“As we look at these challenges, let’s look at the root causes. If we can get the character pieces right, and if we can lead with honesty, I think we can really make a seismic change in our region with the tools that are available.”

“The empathy has to translate outside of this room. We all have a significant role to play in this.”

“We have to destigmatize poverty and understand the stereotypes we are walking around with. People in poverty take their children to school, they do homework with them. Black women are the most educated group, but we make .60 cents on the dollar. There is an incorrect mindset about certain people informing decisions.”

To learn more about the Signature Program click here. 

Human Needs, Inclusiveness, Belonging – Courageous Honesty