NGen Session: A Conversation with Ai-jen Poo

Annual Conference , Civic Engagement , Collaboration , Leadership , NGen Add comments

Guest post by: Trish Tchume, director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

Participants of Independent Sector’s NGen track were given the unique privilege of spending time with Ai-jen Poo to learn more about the approach that she and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) have adopted to achieve seemingly impossible wins – like the historic passage of New York State’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, the first in a campaign to have similar legislation passed throughout the country. During her session, Ai-jen offered insight into just how the NDWA is able to develop and achieve what she refers to as “BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals.)”  She broke it down to three basic principles:

• First - Believe in the power of story.  For the past 10 years, the New York chapter of the NDWA has held a story circle every 3rd Saturday of the month in a church basement in Brooklyn.  Ai-jen spoke about watching women in this dedicated space give voice to their experiences, connect with others’ experiences and become incredibly powerful through this process of sharing story.  So they’ve set this simple yet powerful act as a base for building buy-in across the country for almost all of their campaigns - facilitating story circles of everyone from labor union members to adults who were essentially raised by domestic workers to weave a common narrative about how we all want to care for and be cared for by others in a dignified way.

• Second – Ask yourself, “What feeling do we want people to walk away with?”  Ai-jen paraphrased Maya Angelou who once said, “People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you make them feel.” In order to build deep resonance and sustained commitment from members and allies, the NDWA begins by identifying the feeling that they want people to walk away with.  Whether planning a story circle, a multi-day strategy session, or a multi-year campaign they ask – do we want people to feel inspired? Welcome? Hopeful? From there, they build their entire agenda around creating that feeling.

• Third (and perhaps most importantly) – Remember the importance of love. In Ai-jen’s view it’s the most powerful force for change in the world. During story circles, this is a theme that emerges again and again as a primary motivation for the decisions people make – love of parents, love of children, the love that workers have for their clients.  Lifting up this common motivation reminds seemingly disparate groups around the table that there is no such thing as an unlikely ally.

As a new director of a national network, I was personally struck by how different, how powerful, and how connected the work of our sector would be if we all led with these principles which tap into such fundamental elements of our humanity. 

For her visionary leadership, Ai-jen Poo is being honored as this year’s American Express NGen Leadership Award Recipient at tonight’s John W. Gardner Leadership Dinner.  To learn more about her and the audacious work of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, visit:

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