Research Center for Leadership in Action at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

This teaching resource is made available on the Hallway thanks to a partnership with the Research Center for Leadership in Action at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and funding from the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Research and Documentation Component.

About the Research Center for Leadership in Action

As the leadership research and development hub for the field of public service, the Research Center for Leadership in Action fosters leadership that transforms society. Founded in 2003 at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, a top-ranked school for public service, the Center’s unique approach integrates research with practice, bridges individual pursuits and collective endeavors, and connects local efforts with global trends. RCLA scholars use innovative social science methodologies to address ambitious questions that advance big ideas in leadership. Public service leaders rely on RCLA to create customized leadership development and capacity-building programs that facilitate critical reflection, peer-to-peer learning and transformation at the individual, organizational and systems levels. RCLA collaborates with the spectrum of public service organizations, from government agencies to nonprofits and community-based groups across the country and around the world. Partners include more than 700 social change organizations, universities and leadership centers in the United States and abroad, local and state government leaders, and major foundations and corporations including the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, AVINA Foundation, and Accenture. Learn more at

About the Leadership for a Changing World Program

Leadership for a Changing World (LCW) is a signature program of the Ford Foundation designed to recognize, strengthen and support social change leaders and to highlight the importance of community leadership in improving people’s lives.

The LCW Research and Documentation Component is housed at the Research Center for Leadership in Action at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. LCW uses three parallel lines of inquiry ethnography, cooperative inquiry and narrative inquiry – to explore questions related to the work of leadership. RCLA is committed to developing participatory approaches to research and uses dialogue with LCW participants as a core of the research process. While the award portion of the program has concluded, RCLA continues to partner with nonprofit organizations to develop together new understandings of how social change leadership
emerges and is sustained.

Learn more about Leadership for a Changing World here.

Changing Mandatory Drug Sentencing Laws on the Federal and State Levels: Putting a Human Face on Injustice Reversing a Political Juggernaut

Julie Stewart and her colleagues mobilize the angry and grief stricken families of people incarcerated under mandatory drug sentencing laws. Under these laws, even first-time, non-violent offenders receive extensive prison sentences. The organization brings diverse interests together to change both federal policy and state statutes.

Engaging Traditionally Disenfranchised Residents in Community Development: Changing the Terms of the Struggle

South Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) annually engages 5,000 low and moderate-income residents in the economic development of their gentrifying neighborhoods. FAC is a community development corporation that goes beyond traditional housing development. Its programs are national models for partnering with community residents to create affordable housing and living-wage employment, form community benefit agreements with developers, and enable individuals returning from prison to rejoin society.

Enabling Low-Income Families to Buy Their Own Homes While Holding the Land in Trust for the Community: The Power of Balance

The Burlington Community Land Trust has a radical vision: to secure housing as a basic right, not as a commodity to be bought and sold. The Trust enables low-income families to buy homes on land it owns, controls and keeps perpetually affordable.

Developing Leadership and Political Capacity Among Laotian Refugees: Healing a Culture, Building a Community: Laotian Organizing Project

Formed in 1995, the Laotian Organizing Project builds trust and leadership among Laotian refugees in Richmond, California. Richmond is home to a growing number of Laotian refugees from tribal groups that do not have a history of interacting and for whom getting involved is both new and scary. But, faced with over 350 industrial facilities and issues such as a lack of affordable housing or living-wage jobs, community members are speaking out and challenging traditional tribal conflicts and beliefs.

From Services to Activism: How Latino Day Laborers and Domestic Workers are Advocating for Themselves: Creating "Co-Authors in Justice" CASA of Maryland, Inc. (CASA)

For over a decade, Gustavo Torres and CASA of Maryland have been working with day laborers, tenants and domestic workers to fight and advocate for themselves. The organization responds to the growing phenomenon of immigrants working as temporary laborers, ripe for exploitation. Going beyond services, CASA also develops workers as leaders in their communities and engages them in broader policy issues. 

Fighting for Pollution Cleanup in a Company Town: Leveling the Playing Field: Silver Valley People's Action Coalition (SVPAC)

Barbara Miller and a coalition of local activists address the environmental and health consequence of 100 years of mining in Idaho's Silver Valley. They are up against the physical damage wrought by lead poisoning as well as community members' deep reluctance to speak out against the mining companies that had such a hold on the community. 

Cultural Roots as a Source of Strength: Educating and Organizing A Fragmented Immigrant Community: Rediscovering Pride

Oaxacans represent a range of indigenous groups from southeastern Mexico. The groups speak 16 different languages. Their cultures and customs are neither American nor Spanish. Prone to "double racism" they experience widespread discrimination. Founded in 1991, the Oaxacan Indigenous Binational Front educates Oaxacan migrants about their rights and helps win improvements including better wages and working conditions. With many Oaxacans going back and forth between jobs, homes and families in both the U.S. and Mexico, the coalition has offices and members in two countries.

Revitalizing a Community Through Property Ownership: "A Place Worth Saving": New Road Community Development Group of Exmore, Inc. (NRCDG)

Ruth Wise and her colleagues have put their formerly disenfranchised neighborhood on the map. Through engaging community residents, buying property and creating sophisticated financial negotiations, they have brought long-sought sewers and home ownership to residents of New Road. 

Creating Supportive Housing for People Living with HIV/AIDS: Local Lessons, National Strategies: A Place to Call Home

AIDS Housing of Washington develops innovative housing facilities to meet the continually changing needs of people with HIV/AIDS. The organization also offers technical assistance to other communities nationwide and participates in a national coalition, which plays a pivotal role in federal AIDS housing policy.

Preventing Homelessness and Creating Lasting Solutions Through Housing Development, Service Provision and Advocacy

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is a national model for integrating housing and homeless support services while engaging in advocacy to influence public policy. With a combination of clarity, tenacity and adaptability, the Coalition pursues its mission to prevent homelessness and create lasting solutions.

Preventing Drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge: The Gwich'in Tribes and their Role in the National Policy Debate: Rebirth of a Nation

Members of the Gwich'in Nation, which means "caribou people", number only in the thousands. But they are united, even reborn in pursuing their steadfast goal: to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is their home and the calving grounds of the caribou, upon which the Gwich'in rely for food and a way of life. Over the course of 15 years they have effectively organized themselves and built strategic alliances with environmental groups, young people and others.

Creating a Regional Transportation Authority in Detroit by Connecting City and Suburban Interests: A Different Kind of Stew

MOSES addresses the problems facing the city of Detroit and its suburbs. With nearly 70 congregations, two universities, including the University of Michigan, and dozens of allies in business, senior citizen, and environmental groups, MOSES successfully supported the creation of the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority. Primarily a congregation-based organizing project, MOSES sets aside denominational differences and focuses on what the congregations have in common for improving the quality of life for their communities. 

Piecing Together the Fragments: An Ethnography of Leadership for Social Change in North Central Philadelphia 2004-2005

The Village of Arts and Humanities has initiated a collaborative community planning process entitled Shared Prosperity in North Philadelphia. This initiative engages neighborhood residents, business owners, community groups, and other organizations in revitalizing North Central Philadelphia by recognizing and strengthening the communities existing assets and leadership. The Shared Prosperity model radically refigures the expert/client relationship.

Organizing Communities to Protect West Virginia's Natural Environment: A Different Power Source

OVEC is a relatively small group that effectively takes on the most powerful industrial interests in West Virginia. Since 1987 Janet Fout, Dianne Bady, and their co-founder, the late Laura Forman, have organized Appalachian communities to protect their air, water and mountains from being destroyed for oil, timber, coal and other profitable enterprises. 

Meeting the Challenges Faced by Miami's Haitian Community Through Partnership and Consistency: Magnifying the Impact; Focusing on a Common Cause

Since 1991, Marleine Bastien and her colleagues at FANM have been providing direct service, leadership development and advocacy programs for Miami's Haitian women. FANM also builds relationships with other organizations representing Miami's many diverse ethnic groups, enabling it to impact public policies that affect immigrants and refugees.

Building Justice for Immigrants and Refugees by Supporting Local Institutions and Magnifying Their Impact: The Power of Diverse Voices

Over the course of 20 years, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) has woven together a powerful network focused on refugee and immigration policy and practice. Based in Washington, D.C. and directed by former Hmong refugee, KaYing Yang, SEARAC arose from the political upheaval throughout Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War. It offers technical assistance and coordinates action on a wider scale with a national network of 182 mutual assistance associations and spiritual organizations.

Building Community Power by Building Grassroots Leaders: Sacramento Valley Organizing Community (SVOC)

The Sacramento Valley Organizing Community (SVOC) builds public power through public action. Since 1994, a base of grassroots leaders in three racially and ethnically diverse counties of Northern California have secured funding to build hundreds of affordable homes and enabled thousands of immigrants to become U.S. citizens and created a welfare to work center that places people in living-wage jobs. The group is currently expanding throughout the region. While it successfully wins on issues, its primary passion is leadership development. 

Building Black Leadership on HIV/AIDS Issues: Unleashing the Power of Existing Communities and Organizations: Saving Our Own Lives

In 1999, with HIV/AIDS tearing through the African-American community, Phill Wilson and his colleagues began to identify black stakeholders and offer them strategic ways to respond to the epidemic. They are having a substantial impact.

Lideres Campesinas: Grassroots Gendered Leadership, Community Organizing, and Pedagogies of Empowerment

The roots of Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas (Lideres Campesinas) are grounded in farm worker women who create a better future themselves and their communities. The organization is based on the idea that farm worker women are leaders that can be empowered to solve the problems of injustice in their own lives and communities. This ethnography addresses three areas of research, including Lideres Campesinas's history; changes in terms of leadership, empowerment and community organization; and documenting the organization's pedagogical model.

Building a Campaign for Workers' Rights and Rekindling a Culture: Sun of Justice Rising: Tonatierra Community Development Institute (TCDI)

Salvador Reza, a longtime organizer for indigenous Mexican rights, helped lead a successful campaign to organize taco vendors in Phoenix. Faced with a local ordinance that would restrict the operation of mobile food stands, effectively banning them, Reza and his colleagues at Tonatierra mobilized the vendors to fight back. Their ultimate success recaptured the spirit of a community traumatized by 500 years of colonization and cultural destruction. 

Leadership Development for Community Action: An Ethnographic Inquiry: Northwest Federation of Community Organizations (NWFCO)

LeeAnn Hall directs the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations (NWFCO), a collaboration of four state-based community organizations engaged in the fight for social and economic justice. Leadership development is at the heart of the NWFCO mission and central to LeeAnn's own leadership style. Through training and issue-specific campaigns, NWFCO and its affiliated organizations build grassroots capacity to effect social change. The ethnography focuses on the very personal process by which people begin to self-identify and act as leaders.

Bringing Salmon Back to the Columbia River: How Native American Tribes are Implementing a Watershed-Wide Plan

Four Native American tribes on the Columbia River are bringing back a salmon population decimated by irrigation, pollution, development and other forces. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission combines the tribes' cultural heritage with modern science and public policy strategies.

Waging Democracy in the Kingdom of Coal: OVEC and the Movement for Social and Environmental Justice in Central

This ethnography explores how Janet Fout, Dianne Bady and their original co-founder Laura Foreman built the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). This diverse, grassroots effort in the coalfields of West Virginia focuses on stopping mountaintop removal, a practice in which mine companies literally blow the tops off mountains as a way of getting to the coal inside. This destroys mountains, forests, streams, wildlife habitat and communities. The ethnography also explores how OVEC builds political relationships that are spiritual, communitarian and democratic.

Using Sensible Legal Strategies and Unlikely Alliances to Achieve Fairness for Immigrants in Nebraska: A Reasoned Voice Will Take You Far

Since the mid-1990s, Milo Mumgaard and his colleagues at the Nebraska Appleseed Center have established themselves as honest brokers for doing the right thing on behalf of immigrants in the nation's heartland. Their track record encompasses significant victories in public policy, from immigration to welfare. They also give individuals and community groups the legal tools they need to win on housing, labor and other struggles.

Using Art and Theater to Support Organizing for Justice: Storytelling in the Name of Justice: Junebug Productions, Inc. (JP)

Junebug Productions, founded in 1980, enables artists, community members, and students to share their experiences of the Civil Rights Movement. Junebug uses its widely replicated storytelling model, called "story circles," to build understanding and relationships among people affected by this historic time. The story circle process creates opportunities for African Americans in the black belt south to engage in art and social change activities to improve their quality of life.

Until All of Us are Home: The Process of Leadership at Project HOME

Project H.O.M.E.'s co-founders, S. Mary Scullion and Joan Dawson McConnon together with members of the Project H.O.M.E. community explore the emergence of leadership through struggle in the fight to end homelessness in Philadelphia. This ethnographic report explores the process of shared leadership at Project H.O.M.E. (Schall, Ospina, Godsoe, & Dodge 2004).

Keeping Industrial Polluters Out of Austin's Latino and African Communities: From Dumping Ground to Fertile Fields for Community Action

People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER) activates the power of the Latino and African American communities of Austin, Texas, to both protect the earth and safeguard community health.

Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers: An Ethnographic Study

In recent years scholars, authors, and activists have articulated the existence of a generation gap within the African-American community. In the context of the developing generational divide in contemporary African-American social life, this study examines the program Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers (AIM) and its successes and challenges in transitioning youth to leadership. This ethnography examines AIM's organizational culture and its ability to transition youth, its staff, volunteers and clients into leadership in partnership with the adult leadership of the program.

Across Immigrant Communities: Serving Diverse Needs and Advocating for Policy Change: One Goal One Voice

Dale Asis and his colleagues have built a remarkable 19-member coalition in the wake of the 1996 federal immigration policy reforms. Cohesion now exists in a community where immigrant groups once worked in isolation. This includes a shared approach to some service delivery as well as policy strategies and intentional development of new immigrant leaders. 

A World Without Prisons: Improving Prisoners' Lives and Transforming the Justice System Important Things to Tell

Cassandra Shaylor and Cynthia Chandler founded Justice Now in 2000. They push hard for prison abolition while advocating for better health care and conditions for prisoners in California's two largest women's prisons. They prioritize the leadership of prisoners, and offer interns the opportunity to work and meet with women inside prisons to learn firsthand about prisoners' human struggles as well as the policy implications of state sponsored violence.

How Young Women Ex-Offenders are Transforming Themselves: Turning Pain into Power: Center for Young Women's Development

The Center for Young Women's Development employs young women just out of juvenile detention. The women learn about the roots of the social and political factors that have shaped them and their communities. They counsel others and engage in community activism, turning their pain into power.

How Welfare Recipients are Building Their Power and Changing the Welfare System: I Got the Tools to Fight for Myself: Community Voices Heard (CVH)

Community Voices Heard (CVH) is an organization of low-income people, predominately women on welfare, working to build power in New York City to improve their lives and those of their families and communities. CVH uses a multi-pronged strategy that includes public education, grass roots organizing, and leadership development; training low-income people about their rights, political education and direct-action issue campaigns. 

How Theater is Building Bridges in Diverse Communities: To Challenge and to be Challenged: Cornerstone Theater Company

For over 15 years, Bill Rauch and the Cornerstone Theater Company have been creating theater productions that explore issues of race and prejudice. Members of the ensemble travel to communities throughout the country. They engage community members from all walks of life to help create and perform plays that reflect their local experiences and build bridges. The Company produces commissioned and contemporary works as well as classics. 

How North Carolina's Religious Congregations are Building a Volunteer Network to Sustain People with HIV/AIDS

Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN) enables members of North Carolina's faith community to overcome fear and judgment about people with HIV/AIDS and to act on the policies of their national denominations. Since 1992, RAIN has trained over 2,600 volunteers while building a network of congregation-based teams. The teams care for individuals with HIV/AIDS while engaging in relationships that foster understanding and strengthen all involved.

How Immigrants are Organizing for Worker Rights: Your Hands Make them Rich: Justice for Janitors (JforJ)

As part of a nearly 20-year movement to unionize janitors, immigrant workers in the Los Angeles area have won significant improvements including wage increases, insurance benefits and job security. Their team of seasoned organizers includes many former janitors. The organizers enable workers to overcome fear and apathy, speak out about low-pay and workplace mistreatment, join or form unions and demand change. 

Serving Connected Needs in Appalachia: Homegrown Help in Appalachia: Hazard Perry County Community Ministries (HPCCM)

For years, outsiders brought individual social service programs and funding to Eastern Kentucky, then left. Gerry Roll and her colleagues redefine the interrelated problems facing their community. They create solutions through building partnerships and sharing information. 

How a Coalition of Immigration Groups is Advocating for Broad Social and Political Change: Power in Diversity: New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC)

In the late 1990's members of the New York Immigration Coalition took the bold step of beginning to use their collective clout to be effective, not just on immigration policy, but on issues like housing, education and health care. They have found strength in the core issues that knit them together. Director Margie McHugh and coalition members engage in power sharing, voter education, policy development and above all, winning.

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