The Problem

Community Transformational Leadership (Wisconsin Foundation)

In 2006 the Community Foundation of South Wood County (CFSWC) engaged in a strategic planning process that asked itself:  “What is the problem to which this institution is the solution?  The answer was “to mobilize the community and its resources to recognize the community’s collective aspirations, engage its own toughest challenges, and embrace its most inspiring opportunities.” In reexamining and reframing its role from only grant-making to leading community leadership development, the Foundation invited the Heart of Wisconsin Business Alliance (HOW) into a conversation about how they could address the serious economic challenges confronting their community. 

The community had been devastated by the sale of its major employer and the region experienced a significant loss of jobs.  The citizen’s multi-generational dependency on the company, its owners, and their leadership and benevolence, left the community insecure and doubtful about its capacity to recover. The Foundation received funding from The Ford Foundation in 2004, and in collaboration with HOW, launched The Community Progress Initiative (CPI) to address the significant challenges facing the Community.

The Community Progress Initiatives goals were to:
  • Create a business friendly environment and empower entrepreneurs.
  • Shape a shared vision for the region.
  • Stimulate new enterprises and new job opportunities.
  • Build the endowed charitable assets in the area to support sustainable community development.
  • Motivate emerging young leaders to lead positive change.
  • Inspire community spirit and pride.

The Community Foundation worked with HOW and Ki ThoughtBridge to create an exemplary model of what the future role of philanthropic institutions will be in such circumstances - that of providing leadership that is adaptive and transformational, of individuals, organizations, and of a whole community.

The three-year CPI initiative consisted of significant economic, education and development programs. The Advanced Leadership Institute (ALI) developed and delivered by Ki ThoughtBridge worked in partnership with the Foundation which credited the company with being a primary catalyst for the community’s transformation.

The Advanced Leadership Institute trained 60 community leaders in the sectors of government, business, health care, the arts, education, philanthropy, and religion. ALI has helped to rebuild this community’s economic base by establishing a strong network of leaders with the skills and tools to communicate and collaborate more effectively on behalf of the social and economic wellbeing of their respective communities and the region as a whole.  

ALI Program Objectives:
  • Infuse a cross-section of key community leaders with a shared vision for the future of the region and introduce them to the concept of holding citizens and communities in trust.
  • Equip the group with a comprehensive picture of the adaptive challenges within the region and specific communities, and equip participants with the tools and skills to address them.
  • Build the capacity of participants to engage in systems thinking, strategic planning, leading and managing change, and facilitation of conflict resolution and effective communication.
  • Provide effective models of collaboration.
  • Develop trusteeship plans of action to help achieve the vision and sustainability.  
The Process

Ki ThoughtBridge worked with the Foundation’s Executive and staff to design the application, recruitment and selection processes of ALI. We designed the curriculum and training components of the Institutes. Ki ThoughtBridge provided the facilitation and training in each session using the Integrated Model of Leadership Development© (IML©) as the overarching framework. The IML© addresses both the technical and adaptive skills of leadership, as well as the inner and outer realms of leadership formation.  This integrated approach fostered greater trust and collaboration across the region.

The Results

The Institutes graduated over 100 leaders; established a strong network of individuals who can communicate and collaborate for the good of their communities and their region. Graduates have formed partnerships and coalitions to address key education, economic, and environment challenges and have fostered opportunities for ongoing civic education and dialogue. A small regional group of elected officials in South Wood County came together and began meeting to explore ways they might strengthen the region and their communities through collaborative efforts in the public sector. Their vision is to bring together governmental entities to develop collaborative methods and strategies for planning and promoting regional development of the Wisconsin Rapids area.  They are striving to promote regional economic development, reduce unnecessary duplication of government services, enhance cost savings, increase efficiency, insure sufficient infrastructure to support economic development, and preserve and enhance the quality of life in the region.

Civic participation and pride have increased, and as leadership has moved from the few to the many, there has been a notable increase in confidence that the community can survive future adversity and be stronger. This is a huge shift in the culture.  

The work with the Foundation has received numerous state and national awards from organizations such as the Small Business Administration, Wisconsin Rural Partners, and the International Community Development Society. The Community Foundation of Greater South Wood County and The Ford Foundation received the Council on Foundation’s Critical Impact Award for 2008.  This prestigious award honors those who make a difference in their grant making while sharing with the public examples of how philanthropy seeks to enhance the common good.