Category Archives: leadership

Disorganized colleagues, stop feeling bad and own your chaotic brilliance!

[Image description: Two wombats eating from a metal bowl. There’s a large wombat, and a cute little baby wombat. The’re both dark brown. The bowl has vegetables–looks like corn and carrots and half a green apple. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. As usual I procrastinated in writing this blog post—look, House of Cards season five is not going to binge-watch itself while eating an entire container of vegan chocolate ice cream. I don’t know how this blog post will turn out or whether it will include pictures of wombats for some reason. (Update: It definitely includes a picture of wombats).

Since the beginning of time society has had a bias toward the Type-A individuals, they with their to-do lists, and their “bullet journals,” and their “inbox zero,” and their “daily flossing.” We tend to look down upon the disorganized, equating cleanliness with godliness and other sayings related to being neat and orderly. These messages have been pushed so hard that those who are disorganized in their work and personal lives are left feeling like crap. Continue reading

Winter is here, and we must build the power of organizations and communities of color

[Image description: Nine hands of diverse skin colors, overlapping in a circle, as in a show of unity. Image obtained from pixabay.com]

Last month, I attended a luncheon where one of the speakers, a colleague of mine, mentioned doing a home visit to check in on a little girl and her mom. The small apartment was completely dark. As my colleague’s eyes adjusted, she noticed there were papers with strings of numbers taped to the walls. Seeing her curious look, the mom said, “These are phone numbers. I want her to memorize these numbers…in case they take me away.”

Stories like these are now more and more common. In Seattle we’ve seen flyers posted all over the South Park neighborhood encouraging people to call ICE “for fast deportation of illegal immigrants.” We’ve heard about the tragedy in Portland of the men who were murdered on a train for defending two Muslim women against the abuse of a bigot. These stories of fear and hatred are enough for many of us to lose faith in humanity. But I have been encouraged by the parallel stories of compassion and solidarity, of neighbors looking out for one another.

All of this makes me wonder about one of the most important roles of our sector, which is the building of community power. When the voices of the community members most affected by injustice are strong, when they have the resources and power to help change the systems—by voting, by shaping policies—our society is strengthened and all of us benefit. As our world spirals into divisiveness and intolerance, building the voice and power of the most marginalized is our best defense against the rise in racist nationalism, hate-mongering, xenophobia, violence, and injustice. Continue reading

Time inequity: What it is and why it’s no-good, very-bad

[Image description: A black-and-white photograph of two hourglasses standing side-by-side within a black box frame overlooking an indecipherable background (it might be a city, out of focus). The hourglass on the left has white sand, and the one on the right has black sand. Both seems almost full and are trickling sand, culminating in small sand piles in their respective bottom chambers. But the black-sand hourglass seems to have less sand in the top chamber.]

People have been asking me, “Vu, how do you manage to write a blog each week while running a nonprofit and parenting a toddler and a baby, and yet still retain your youthful good looks?” The secret is simple: I don’t sleep, and also, personal hygiene and nutrition standards have been lowered. Having a second kid, especially, has sapped our time so much that we tend to eat over the sink in five-minute increments; I don’t mind, because it allows me to rinse pureed peas and quinoa from out of my hair.

I can’t blame the baby for flinging food at us though. We haven’t been paying nearly as much attention to him as we did with his brother. He just turned one, and I think half the people we know aren’t even aware that we have a second baby, so little have we mentioned him. One person seemed irritated; he cornered me one day and said, “Hey, I heard you have a new baby? Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt terrible. All I could reply was, “Sorry, Dad…” Continue reading

Why we need to stop asking “What do you do?”

[Image description: A right hand is in focus, extended toward the viewer, as if this person is offering to shake hands. The person is out of focus, but appears to be wearing a grey button-down shirt with a black blazer. The composition is focused on the hand and torso, so we don’t see the person’s head.]

A while ago, while I was seeking input for a post on how we can all be more disability-inclusive, a colleague mentioned that we should drop the get-to-know-you question “What do you do?” because people with disabilities face significant employment discrimination, and this question is often a painful reminder of that. Another colleague of mine who is brilliant and talented and hilarious and wheelchair-enabled told me she spent seven years searching before someone hired her. I can imagine all the times during those seven years when people asked her “What do you do?” and how she must have felt. This has made me think of the “to-do” culture that we have and how it’s been affecting our work.

I learned a few years ago, through my participation in the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship, that the US has a default “To-Do” culture. The first thing we ask someone we meet is about what they do. Actions, in our culture, define us. For other cultures, though, are more of a “To-Be” culture, and you are defined less from what you do, and more from who you are:  Your relationships, your family history, your beliefs, your passions, your haircuts, etc. Continue reading

AmeriCorps is important. Thanks for helping to save it, you sexy unicorn, you

[Image description: A fluffy little white kitten. It’s sitting up and leaning over something, so you only see the upper half of its body. It’s looking up and off into the distance and it’s adorable.]

Hi everyone. I just learned that AmeriCorps and other national service programs are on the list of things that could get cut by the new administration. With all this chaos, who the heck knows, maybe by the time you read this, our new president will have changed his mind, and it’s not at risk at all. I doubt it though, so this blog post is to convince you to act now to protect funding for these programs. Since I’m asking you to not just read this post, but to actually call your legislators, I’m going to insert pictures of kittens throughout as a reward for your dedication.

For some of you who may not be familiar with the US’s national service programs, they are a set of federally-funded programs encouraging and allowing people to provide service to their community. AmeriCorps in particular has been an important element of the US’s

[Image description: A cute little black kitten strolling in the grass! It’s so tiny! It is mostly black with little white paws! Awwww!]

nonprofit sector, engaging over 80,000 volunteers each year across over 21,000 cities. Besides generating millions of hours of service to improve our community each year and—let’s face it—saving nonprofits a ton of money, AmeriCorps is also an important pipeline of talent, allowing many amazing leaders to jumpstart their careers.

I am one of these leaders. Back in yonder days, I entered the real world after getting my Continue reading