Community Leadership From Every Angle

A Success Coach’s Perspective

Our second year of the Community Leadership Corps kicked off earlier this summer, with over 200 young participants in Chicago and Hartford. During the first training, the cohort met each other, learned how to tell their stories, and identified the issues they wanted to work on. In the weeks after, they were expected to hold several one-on-one meetings with members of their community to assess where the need is. They then used the feedback they got to develop their team projects.

Foundation-assigned Success Coaches provide a vital resource during their six-month journey, supporting and guiding participants to help them realize the full potential of their projects. Good ideas aren’t enough; support and mentorship are key to helping young leaders thrive. Read about one of our Chicago-based Success Coaches, local lawyer Rupa Ramadurai, below:

Q: Tell us a little more about your role as a Success Coach.

A: The Community Leadership Corps program brings young adults invested in building better communities together to develop projects that are driven by the voices and needs of communities. As a Success Coach, I spend three to four hours each week checking in with my coachees. I use this time to ensure that they feel supported, provide clarity around deadlines, help them refine their ideas, and facilitate dialogue to ensure they are being transparent with one another and holding each other accountable. The most important part of these check ins is getting them to consensus with decision making. This means that I check in with them on a weekly basis through email, in person, or google hangouts. During each training, I have supported groups in breaking down the content being delivered, making sure they are taking care of themselves and allowing themselves breaks when needed, supporting them in identifying a pace that works best for where their group is at, and also reassuring them that the content being delivered can be modified in a way that makes the best sense for their respective projects.

Q: Tell us a little more about yourself.

A: Growing up, the concept of giving back was the bedrock of my upbringing. My parents instilled it in me early on, and it manifested itself through mentoring young people to read. This became a very big part of my life and led me to my first job out of college: teaching high school students. Teaching became my own form of personal service.

When I graduated college, I taught high school intensive reading in an inner city public school in Miami Dade County. It was hands down the most rewarding work I have ever done. On countless days, however, I could see the systemic barriers that my kids were up against and having to navigate that made it challenging for them to be able to show up to learn. It pushed me to think about a career that would allow me to work to better these systems (e.g. education, welfare, and juvenile justice), which led me to the practice of law. It was with that in mind that I decided to come back to the community that raised me, Chicago, and pursue a career in education law and policy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where I was a Civitas Child and Family Law Fellow. After graduating, I spent five years practicing education law and now currently work at a leadership development non-profit that supports educators in pursuing varied pathways such as elected leadership, careers in policy and advocacy and organizing, in order to achieve educational equity.

Q: So you’re taking the time to work with young people as part of our Community Leadership Corps in addition to your day-job. What drew you to the work the Foundation?

A: I was drawn to be a Success Coach because of how deeply embedded in community this program is. I really believe that community organizing is an imperative skill that everyone should have—no matter what you do. And I wanted to be a part of something that helped equip young people with the knowledge, mindsets, and skills to build power within their very own communities. I am constantly challenged in this role, and continue to learn from each and every one of my coachees on what it means to be in partnership with the communities we represent and serve. They are passionate, committed, and diligent in their efforts to do good—and watching them unravel their collective power has been inspiring. I never had opportunities like this growing up, and it’s an honor to be able to help 33 young people develop as community advocates.

I really believe that community organizing is an imperative skill that everyone should have—no matter what you do.”

—Rupa Ramadurai, Obama Foundation Success Coach

Q: What has your experience as a Success Coach been like so far?

A: I’m completely amazed by how these young adults want to be a part of the broader work of the Foundation, and how successful they have been in bridging differences between people with different backgrounds and identities to work together in a group setting. Their creativity draws upon not only their individual strengths and passions but also their ability to be be powerful listeners to the stakeholders they engage, self-reflective and critical in how to leverage each individuals in work that requires collective power. I’ve watched each and every one of them balance the minutia while simultaneously stepping back to look at the big picture they envision for the communities they are in service of.

I’ve also been getting to see them learn how to prioritize and advocate for themselves—something that a lot of people around their age haven’t quite mastered yet.

Q: Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve had to help coach participants through?

A: I recently had almost an entire group dissolve itself. In a group of three, two of the members disengaged from the CLC, while the third was left desperately wanting to continue and incredibly passionate about the project idea and need it was intended to serve. Recognizing that she only had two options—leave the program or adapt and work with another group—I found this member to show immense maturity in how she navigated the next steps.

The member and I worked together to problem-solve. I clearly saw her commitment and her passion for her project, but also recognized she had grown so attached to her ideas, that she was finding it difficult to bend and incorporate others into her vision.

Our challenge then became to help her preserve some fidelity to her project idea, while also integrating her into another group that likely already had a well-established culture.

After trying to integrate her into one group at first, which didn’t end up being a great fit, the coachee and I visited another group to explore integration with. Here I saw the receiving coaching group open their arms wide to this coachee, and while the four together had to collectively re-establish norms and a culture that was different from its prior iteration, I have been nothing short of impressed with watching these young adults be reflective and honor their feelings of misalignment, but remain receptive, flexible, and resilient to work with one another. The four of them together are stronger, and have really brought all their unique strengths to the collective vision they have for their project.

What are you looking forward to most as we head into the coming weeks?
A: I’m really excited for them to start making decisions—to have tough conversations about the direction they’ll be going and to push each other to be their best selves. Watching them continue to stay grounded in what they heard in their individual community meetings and push against their instincts to be saviors, rather than advocates is a powerful struggle but one that is imperative in this work. This next phase is going to be crunch time and I’m eager to see how their dynamics will change. I’m confident they’ll come through it successfully!

You can learn more about the Obama Foundation Community Leadership Corps here.


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