What Will I Say When I’m Old And Gray?

When I look back on life
Which passes by in the blink of an eye
What will I say?
That I wish I pursued my
Wildest, craziest and most outlandish dreams?
I tried that thing everyone told me was ludicrous
I made embarrassing mistakes
I risked my reputation
I stumbled, I tumbled, I failed
I slogged through the mud
I crawled through the valley
I slithered through the rocks
I experimented with Truth
I reflected, I prayed, I learned, I changed
I transformed more into my truest self
I grew out of the mud like a lotus flower
I sprouted like a sequoia
I charged like a cheetah
I ascended like an alpine
I flew like a falcon
And I breathed the air of my highest calling
*Photo Credit: Davide Cantelli

My Story & Our Story: Diversity As A Source Of Strength

My father came to America from Iran in the early 80s because he knew it was a safe place where he could be fully himself and pursue his dreams.

After working odd jobs to make ends meet, he went on to start his own business and contribute to the economy. He is a Muslim.

Eventually he met my mother, an American Christian who was raised by a mother with Norwegian roots and a father from the deep south in Alabama.

These two wonderfully diverse people came together and made me 🙂

I know my story is not unique; it is a part of the greater American story.

Many of you have come or, like me, have parents who came from all over the world to the United States, a safe haven of equality, freedom and opportunity–a place where dreams become reality–a place where we can bring our complete selves to whatever we do.

Yes terrorism is a major problem for all of humanity. We should do everything in our power to address it swiftly and with strength.

But I’m convinced that the solution isn’t to isolate ourselves and ban people like my father from crossing our boarders. That will only incite more outrage and fear and fuel the flames of violence and extremism.

Rather, we should collaborate with the more than one billion peaceful, hard-working and real Muslims around the world to find solutions together.

Because history teaches us that it is only when we translate our common values into collective action–regardless of our religion, race or creed–that we create lasting change.

Above is a video of when I had the privilege of sharing my story at a church in Texas where we gathered 2,500 Muslims and Christians not as a way to water down our faiths but to put them into practice as peacemakers in an increasingly interconnected world.

What’s your story of diversity?

Creating Shared Commitment: Building Power Through Relationships

How do we intentionally recruit others to join us in a common cause? Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz teaches that we build relationships to create commitment, the glue of an organization. Ganz elaborates:

Leadership begins with understanding yourself: your values, your motivation, your story. But leadership is about enabling others to achieve purpose. The foundation of this kind of leadership is the relationships built with others, most especially, others with whom we can share leadership.

  1. Identifying, Recruiting, and Developing Leadership: We build relationships with potential collaborators to explore values, learn about resources, discern common purpose, and find others with whom leadership responsibility can be shared.
  2. Building Community: Leaders, in turn, continually reach out to others, form relationships with them, expand the circle of support, grow more resources which they can access, and recruit people who, in turn, can become leaders themselves.
  3. Turning Resources into Power: Relationship building doesn’t end when action starts. Commitment is how to access resources for organizing – especially when you come up against competition, internal conflict, or external obstacles. Commitment is based on relationships, which must be constantly, intentionally nurtured. The more others find purpose in joining with you the more they will commit resources that you may never have known they had.

Coercion or Commitment?

Leaders must decide how to lead their organization or campaign. Will the glue that holds things together be a command and control model based on coercion? Or will the glue be volunteered commitment? If our long-term power and potential for growth comes more from voluntary commitment, then we need to invest significant time and intentionality in building the relationships that generate that commitment—to each other and to the goals that bring us together. That requires transparent, open and mindful interaction, not closed, reactive or manipulating maneuvers.

What are Relationships? 

Relationships are rooted in shared values. We can identify values that we share by learning each other’s stories, especially ‘choice points’ in our life journeys. The key is asking “why.”

Relationships grow out of exchanges of interests and resources. Your resources can address my interests; my resources can address your interests. The key is identifying interests and resources. This means that relationships are driven as much by difference as by commonality. Our common interest may be as narrow as supporting each other in pursuit of our individual interest, provided they are not in conflict. Organizing relationships are not simply transactional. We’re not simply looking for someone to meet our “ask” at the end of a one-to-one meeting or house meeting. We’re looking for people to join with us in long-term learning, growth and action.


Relationships are created by commitment. An exchange becomes a relationship only when each party commits a portion of their most valuable resource to it: time. A commitment of time to the relationship gives it a future and, therefore, a past. And because we can all learn, grow, and change, the purposes that led us to form the relationship may change as well, offering possibilities for enriched exchange. In fact the relationship itself may become a valued resource – what Robert Putnam calls “social capital.”

Relationships involve constant attention and work. When nurtured over time, relationships become an important source of continual learning and development for the individuals and communities that make up your campaign. They are also a great source for sustaining motivation and inspiration.

Building Intentional Relationships: The One-on-One Meeting

One way to initiate intentional relationships is the one-on-one meeting, a technique developed by organizers over many years. A one-on-one meeting consists of five “acts”:


Attention – We have to get another person’s attention to conduct a one-on-one meeting. Don’t be “coy”. Be as up front as you can be about what your interest is in the meeting, but that first, you’d like it take a few moments to get acquainted.

Interest – There must be a purpose or a goal in setting up a one-on-one meeting. It could range from, “I’m starting a new network and thought you might be interested” to “I’m struggling with a problem and I think you could help” or “I know you have an interest in X so I’d like to discuss that with you.”

Exploration – Most of the one-on-one is devoted to exploration by asking probing questions to learn the other person’s values, interests, and resources and by sharing enough of your own values, interests, and resources that it can be a two-way street.

Exchange – We exchange resources in the meeting such as information, support, and insight. This creates the foundation for future exchanges.

Commitment –A successful one on one meeting ends with a commitment, most likely to meet again. By scheduling a specific time for this meeting, you make it a real commitment. The goal of the one-on-one is not to get someone to make a pledge, to give money, to commit their vote as it is to commit to continuing the relationship.

The excerpts above come from a workshop guide developed by Professor Ganz and many of the fellows and colleagues who have worked with him. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION & SHARE: Who are the people you feel called to mobilize to build a better world together? I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below. And if you find this helpful or valuable, please share on your social media. 

Public Narrative: Mobilizing Shared Values (Self, Us & Now)

Humans have been sharing stories for as long as we can remember. Before the written word, stories were the way we passed down our culture from one generation to the next.

As I’ve been giving presentations and facilitating groups throughout the past 15 years, I’ve discovered that people instinctively stop all distractions and start to listen when I share a good story. Theory and statistics are important, but one of the best ways to bring them to life is through real lived experience.

In a community organizing context, stories that communicate values are the fuel of social movements.

Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz developed a tool he calls Public Narrative, a leadership art that involves sharing stories to inspire collective action. Ganz says:

Public narrative is a leadership practice.

Leadership is about accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty. Narrative is how we learn to access the moral resources – the courage – to make the choices that shape our identities – as individuals, as communities, as nations.

Each of us has a compelling story to tell.  

Each of us can learn to tell a story that can move others to action. We each have stories of challenge, or we wouldn’t think the world needed changing. And we each have stories of hope, or we wouldn’t think we could change it. As you learn this skill, you will learn to tell a story about yourself (story of self), the community whom you are organizing (story of us), and the action required to create change (story of now). You will learn to tell, to listen, and to coach others.

Why use public narrative? Two ways of knowing (and why we need both!)

 Leadership requires engaging the “head” and the “heart” to engage the “hands”—mobilizing others to act together purposefully. Leaders engage people in interpreting why they should change their world–their motivation–and how they can act to change it–their strategy. Public narrative is the “why”—the art of translating values into action through stories.


The key to motivation is understanding that values inspire action through emotion.

Emotions inform us of what we value in ourselves, in others, and in the world. And it is through emotion that we can express our motivational content to others. Stories enable us to communicate our feelings of what matters, not only our ideas of what matters. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others.


Some emotions inhibit action, but other emotions facilitate action.

The language of emotion is the language of movement—they actually share the same root word. Mindful action is inhibited by inertia, fear, self-doubt, isolation, and apathy. Action is facilitated by urgency, hope, YCMAD (you can make a difference), solidarity, and anger. Stories enable us to mobilize the emotions that encourage mindful action to overcome the emotions that inhibit it.


Public narrative combines a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now.


By telling a “story of self” you can communicate the values that have called you to leadership.

Public leaders face the challenge of enabling others to “get” the values that move them to lead. Effective communication of motivating values can establish grounds for trust, empathy, and understanding. In its absence, people will infer our motivations, often in ways that can be very counterproductive. Telling our story of self can help establish firm ground upon which to lead, collaborate with others, and discover common purpose.

Every one of us has a compelling story of self to tell. We all have people in our lives—parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, colleagues—or characters we love—whose stories of challenge influence our own values. And we all have made choices in response to our own challenges that shape our life’s path—confrontations with pain, moments of hope, calls to action.

The key is to focus on our choice points, those moments in our lives when we experienced the influence of our values on the choices we made that have shaped who we have become. When did you first care about being heard? When did you first experience injustice? When did you feel you had to act? Why did you feel you could? What were the circumstances–the place, the colors, sounds–what did it look like? The power in your story of self is to reveal something of those moments that were deeply meaningful to you in shaping your life’s trajectory —not your deepest private secrets, but the events that shaped your public life. Learning to tell a good story of self demands the courage of introspection–and of sharing some of what you find.

By telling a “story of us” you can communicate values that can inspire others to act in concert by identifying with each other – not only with you.

Just as with a story of self, key choice points in the life of a community–its founding, crises it faced, or other events that everyone remembers—are the moments that express the values that it shares. Consider stories of experiences that members of your group have shared, especially those that held similar meaning for all of you. The key is to focus on telling a specific story about specific people at a specific time that can remind everyone–or call to everyone’s attention–values that you share against which what is going on in the world can be measured. Telling a good story of us requires the courage of empathy–to consider the experience of others deeply enough to take a chance of articulating that experience.

By telling a “story of now” you can communicate an urgent challenge we are called upon to face, the hope that we can face it, and choices we must make to act.

A story of now requires telling stories that bring the urgency of the challenge you face alive–urgent because of a need for change that cannot be denied, urgent because of a moment of opportunity to make change that may not return. At the intersection of the urgency of challenge and the promise of hope is a choice that must be made – to act, or not to act, to act in this way, or in that. Telling a good story of now requires the courage of imagination, or as Walter Brueggemann named it, a prophetic imagination, in which you call attention both to the pain of the world and also to the possibility for a better future.

The Three Key Elements of Public Narrative Structure: What turns recounting an event into a story?
Challenge – Choice – Outcome

A plot begins with an unexpected challenge that confronts a character with an urgent need to pay attention, to make a choice, a choice for which s/he is unprepared. The choice yields an outcome—and the outcome teaches a moral.


Because we can empathetically identify with the character, we can “feel” the moral. We not only hear “about” someone’s courage; we can also be inspired by it.

The story of the character and their effort to make choices encourages listeners to think about their own values, and challenges, and inspires them with new ways of thinking about how to make choices in their own lives.

Incorporating Challenge, Choice, and Outcome in Your Own Story

There are some key questions you need to answer as you consider the choices you have made in your life and the path you have taken that brought you to this point in time as a leader. Once you identify the specific relevant choice point, perhaps your first true experience of community in the face of challenge, or your choice to do something about injustice for the first time, dig deeper by answering the following questions.

Challenge: Why did you feel it was a challenge? What was so challenging about it? Why was it your challenge?

Choice: Why did you make the choice you did? Where did you get the courage (or not)? Where did you get the hope (or not)? Did your parents or grandparents’ life stories teach you in any way how to act in that moment? How did it feel?

Outcome: How did the outcome feel? Why did it feel that way? What did it teach you? What do you want to teach us? How do you want us to feel?

A word about challenge. Sometimes people see the word challenge and think that they need to describe the misfortunes of their lives. Keep in mind that a struggle might be one of your own choosing–a high mountain you decided to climb as much as a valley you managed to climb out of. Any number of things may have been a challenge to you and be the source of a good story to inspire others.

The excerpts above come from a workshop guide developed by Professor Ganz and many of the fellows and colleagues who have worked with him. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION & SHARE: Who are the people you feel called to mobilize to build a better world together? I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below. And if you find this helpful or valuable, please share on your social media. 

5 Key Leadership Practices To Build A Movement

How can we enable a community to move from being a disorganization to becoming an organization? Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz says:

Organizing people to build the power to make change is based on mastery of five key leadership practices. These five practices can change individuals, how their groups operate, and how the world looks, feels, and is.


1. Creating Shared Story

Organizing is rooted in shared values expressed as public narrative. Public narrative is how we communicate our values through stories, bringing alive the motivation that is a necessary pre-condition for changing the world.

Through public narrative, we tell the story of why we are called to leadership (“story of self”), the values of the community within which we are embedded that calls us as a collective to leadership (“story of us”), and the challenges to those values that demand present action (“story of now”).

Values-based organizing–in contrast to issue-based organizing–invites people to escape their “issue silos” and come together so that their diversity becomes an asset, rather than an obstacle. And because values are experienced emotionally, people can access the moral resources—the courage, hope, and solidarity—that it takes to risk learning new things and explore new ways of doing things.

By learning how to tell a public narrative that bridges the self, us, and now, organizers enhance their own efficacy and create trust and solidarity within their campaign, equipping them to engage others far more effectively.

2. Creating Shared Relational Commitment

Organizing is based on relationships and creating mutual commitments to work together. It is the process of association—not simply aggregation—that makes a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Through association we can learn to recast our individual interests as common interests,

allowing us to envision objectives that we can use our combined resources to achieve. And because it makes us more likely to act to assert those interests, relationship building goes far beyond delivering a message, extracting a contribution, or soliciting a vote. Relationships built as a result of one-on-one meetings and small group meetings create the foundation of local campaign teams, and they are rooted in commitments people make to each other, not simply commitment to an idea, task, or issue.

3. Creating Shared Structure

A team leadership structure leads to effective local organizing that integrates local action with state- wide, nation-wide and even global purpose. Volunteer efforts often flounder due to a failure to develop reliable, consistent, and creative individual local leaders. Structured leadership teams encourage stability, motivation, creativity, and accountability–and use volunteer time, skills, and effort effectively. They create the structure within which energized volunteers can accomplish challenging work.

Teams strive to achieve three criteria of effectiveness–meeting the standards of those they serve, learning how to be more effective at meeting outcomes over time, and enhancing the learning and growth of individuals on the team. Team members work to put in place five conditions that will lead to effectiveness–real team (bounded, stable and interdependent), engaging direction (clear, consequential and challenging), enabling structure (work that is interdependent), clear group norms, and a diverse team with the skills and talents needed to do the work.

4. Creating Shared Strategy

Although based on broad values, effective organizing campaigns learn to focus on a clear strategic objective, a way to turn those values into action and to unleash creative deliberation (e.g., elect a President; desegregate buses in Montgomery, Alabama; get to 100% clean electricity; etc.). State-wide campaigns locate responsibility for state-wide strategy at the top (or at the center), but are able to “chunk out” strategic objectives in time (deadlines) and space (local areas) as a campaign, allowing significant local responsibility for figuring out how to achieve those objectives.

Responsibility for strategizing local objectives empowers, motivates, and invests local teams. This dual structure allows the movement as a whole to be relentlessly well oriented and fosters the personal motivation of volunteers to be fully engaged.

5. Creating Shared Measurable Action

Organizing outcomes must be clear, measurable, and specific if progress is to be evaluated, accountability practiced, and strategy adapted based on experience. Such measures include volunteers recruited, money raised, people at a meeting, voters contacted, pledge cards signed, laws passed, etc.

Although electoral campaigns enjoy the advantage of very clear outcome measures, any effective organizing drive must come up with the equivalent. Regular reporting of progress to goal creates opportunity for feedback, learning, and adaptation. Training is provided for all skills (e.g., holding house meetings, phone banking, etc.) to carry out the program. New media may help enable reporting, feedback, coordination. Transparency exists as to how individuals, groups, and the campaign as a whole are doing with regard to their progress toward their goal.

Learning Organizing

Organizing is a practice–a way of doing things. It’s like learning to ride a bike. No matter how many books you read about bike riding, they are of little use when it comes to getting on the bike. And when you get on the first thing that will happen is that you will fall. And that’s where the “heart” comes in. Either you give up and go home or you find the courage to get back on, knowing you will fall, because that’s the only way to learn to keep your balance.

The excerpts above come from a workshop guide developed by Professor Ganz and many of the fellows and colleagues who have worked with him. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION & SHARE: Who are the people you feel called to mobilize to build a better world together? I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below. And if you find this helpful or valuable, please share on your social media. 

What Is Leadership In The Context Of Building Social Movements?

According to Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz,

Leadership is taking responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty.

Let’s break that down into four parts.

  1. Taking responsibility: leaders don’t wait for a title or permission. They understand their agency and take action.
  2. For enabling others: leadership isn’t about illuminating the world with your brilliance; rather it’s about empowering your team to achieve their full potential.
  3. To achieve shared purpose: Martin Luther King Jr. says, “power is the ability to achieve purpose.” One person with purpose is powerful, but one hundred thousand people with shared purpose has shaken the world.
  4. Under conditions of uncertainty: leaders empower their crew to achieve shared purpose in the middle of a storm.

Ganz goes on to discuss four models of leadership:

The strength of a movement grows out of its commitment to develop leadership. Sometimes we think leadership is about being the person that everyone goes to:


How does it feel to be the dot in the middle of all those arrows? How does it feel to be one of the arrows that can’t even get through? And what happens if the “dot” in the middle should disappear?

Sometimes we think we don’t need leadership at all because “we’re all leaders,” but that looks like this:


Who’s responsible for coordinating everyone? And who’s responsible for focusing on the good of the whole, not just one particular part? With whom does the “buck stop”?

Sometimes we think leadership is about exercising our authority “over” our subordinates:


How does it feel to be the dot at the bottom of the hierarchy? At the top? Without giving people autonomy and ownership over their work, it’s difficult to awaken their inner motivation to execute creatively and effectively.

Another way to practice leadership is like this “snowflake”: developing other leaders who, in turn, develop other leaders, all the way “down.” Although you may be the “dot” in the middle, your success depends on developing the leadership of others.


The excerpts above come from a workshop guide developed by Professor Ganz and many of the fellows and colleagues who have worked with him. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION & SHARE: Who are the people you feel called to mobilize to build a better world together? I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below. And if you find this helpful or valuable, please share on your social media. 

What Is Community Organizing & How Does It Change Things?

According to Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz,

Organizing is a form of leadership that enables a constituency to turn its resources into the power to make change based on the recruitment, training, and development of leadership. In short, organizing is about equipping people (constituency) with the power (story and strategy) to make change (real outcomes).

While in graduate school, I had just started supporting young adults in Africa and Latin America with college scholarships through an organization I started in college called All Nations Education (ANE).

Up to that point, I had primarily focused on raising money from high-end donors. I wanted, however, to start mobilizing college students in the United States to support our scholarship recipients in developing countries. But I didn’t know how to build a grassroots movement. So I decided to take a course with Professor Ganz called “Organizing: People, Power, Change.” Throughout the semester, we were required to work on an organizing project.

I thought it was a perfect opportunity to garner more support for ANE’s students. Six extraordinary and committed classmates agreed to join the team. Throughout the next three months, we mobilized 27 students to knock on 765 college dorm doors to connect with 270 people to get 214 donations to raise over $6,000 to help a Rwandan genocide survivor attend college for three years. (Click here to see a highlight video created by Eddie Lee.)

This experience taught me that real change doesn’t come from marketing or money alone; rather it happens when people with common values and beliefs come together with a common purpose that is greater than themselves.

Ganz elaborates on the three elements involved in building a social movement:

1. PEOPLE: Organizing A Constituency

The first question an organizer asks is not “what is my issue” but “who are my people”—who is my constituency. A constituency is a group of people who are “standing together” to assert their own goals. Organizing is not only about solving problems. It is about the people with the problem mobilizing their own resources to solve it . . . and keep it solved.

Above is a short clip from the Academy-Award-winning film Gandhi that recounts the famous Salt March during the Indian Independence MovementClick here for original footage.

2. POWER: What Is It, Where Does It Come From, How Does It Work?

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., described power as the “ability to achieve purpose.” It is the capacity we can create if your interest in my resources and my interest in your resources gives us an interest in combining resources to achieve a common purpose (power with).

But if your interest in my resources is greater than my interest in your resources, I can influence our exchange more than you (power over). So power is not a thing, quality, or trait. It is the influence created by the relationship between interests and resources. You can “track down the power” asking–and getting the answers to–four questions:

1. What are the interests of your constituency?

2. Who holds the resources needed to address these interests?

3. What are the interests of the actors who hold these resources?

4. What resources does your constituency hold which the other actors require to address their interests?

Our power comes from people–the same people who need change can organize their resources into the power they need to create change. The unique role of organizing is to enable the people who need/want the change to be the authors of the change, because that changes the causes of the problem (powerlessness in one form or another), not only the problem.

So organizing is not only a commitment to identify more leaders, but a commitment to engage those leaders in a particular type of fight building the power to create the change we need in our lives.

Organizing power begins with commitment by the first person who wants to make it happen. Without this commitment, there are no resources with which to begin. Commitment is as observable as action. The work of organizers begins with their acceptance of the respon­sibility to challenge others to do the same.

3. CHANGE: What Kind Of Change Can Organizing Make? 

Change is specific, concrete and significant. It requires focus on a goal that will make a real difference that we can see. It is not about “creating awareness,” having a meaningful conversation, or giving a great speech.

It is about specifying a clearly visible goal, explaining why achieving that goal can make a real difference in meeting the challenge that your constituency has to face.

The excerpts above come from a workshop guide developed by Professor Ganz and many of the fellows and colleagues who have worked with him. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION & SHARE: Who are the people you feel called to mobilize to build a better world together? I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below. And if you find this helpful or valuable, please share on your social media.