Co-authored by Emily Jacobi and Jen Castro
This month marks the one year anniversary of Digital Democracy’s transition from a single Executive Director to a Co-Director model. In December 2022, co-founder and Executive Director Emily Jacobi was joined by longtime member of our Programs team, Jen Castro, in the Co-Director role. Recently, the two reflected on the Co-Director model, what it’s meant for them, and what it’s meant for Digital Democracy. The following are their thoughts.
From the beginning, we knew that a co-directorship would bring us closer to the values we hold as an organization. Collaborative leadership would mean less hierarchy and more inclusivity. Digital Democracy had been discussing co-directorship for a long time, and when we received a grant from CLUA (Climate and Land Use Alliance) focusing on building organizational resilience, we were ready to take that step. What we’ve discovered over the past year are the many other benefits to the co-directorship that we couldn’t predict.
Jen: I feel clearly that I wouldn’t want to be in a leadership role without it being a shared position. I am an activist and artist at heart, and I know that a rigid, hierarchical structure or a directorship position that kept me from continuing to work on the ground with communities wouldn’t be viable for me. With the co-directorship I can do both, and by doing both, I can help ensure that Digital Democracy stays as present and alive as possible to the needs and realities of our grassroots partners, with our values and visions firmly rooted in these relationships.
Emily: The co-directorship has helped make leadership of Digital Democracy more sustainable. When Jen joined me as Co-Director, I began to realize how complicated and difficult the job of ED truly is. In a day, I could go from needing to take a very broad view of the organization’s future to making critical decisions in response to a very specific emergency. Being able to make these decisions and shoulder these burdens with a trusted partner has been an enormous relief. I now have more time and energy to focus on my family and myself, all of which makes me a healthier and better leader.
For both of us, the journey has been a learning process. We are learning and developing structures for rapid communication and shared decision making, and sometimes this process can seem slow, but we know that we are building systems that will give Digital Democracy strength for a long time to come. There have also been moments where our opinions have differed, but we’ve been able to come to agreement through thoughtful and honest conversation based on the respect we have for one another.
In sum, this past year has affirmed for us that the Co-Director model is a valuable path for social justice organizations. This model offers the opportunity for organizations to be part of the broader systems change at the internal level, by resisting the consolidation of power, which is at the root of so much injustice, and instead creating a microcosm of abundant possible futures. Perhaps even more importantly, the issues that we are trying to address in social justice organizations are so enormous and dire, that we have to find ways to take care of each other as we do our work, and a co-directorship is a part of that. By sharing the weight of leadership, we can create new paradigms of care that will keep us nurtured and strong as we move toward the world we want.