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Rockwood Institute

President's Message


Over the past several years, there has been a great deal of international focus on the notion of happiness. While there are many definitions of happiness, here is a composite of my favorites: "emotions experienced when in a state of well-being that range from contentment to intense joy."

This is not a new notion. Thinkers from Aristotle to Alice Walker to the Dalai Lama have written much about it, what it is and isn't, and how we humans might increase our everyday access to it. The pursuit of it is written into the Declaration of Independence as an unalienable right (although you'll notice it is the right to pursue happiness, not to actually have it).

In 2010, Bhutan took pride in its designation as the country with the highest Gross National Happiness, based on a number of metrics. If we can measure such things, how might we measure happiness within an organizational context?

I believe that one of the key responsibilities of an effective leader is to foster an environment centered in collective well-being, and to create the conditions under which happiness will thrive. What if we as leaders were to hold ourselves accountable to Gross Organizational Happiness?

A few codicils here: I'm not talking about the sentimental, smarmy happiness that most advertising tries to sell us. Nor am I talking about the co-dependent drivel of "I can only be happy if you are happy first." And I'm certainly not talking about a Disney-esque "happiest place on earth!"

I'm espousing a happiness that requires creativity, intention and attention. It is a personal and collective responsibility — a muscle that develops over time, especially in a culture that teaches us that happiness is something that can be bought and sold.

The well-being of our staff, trainers, board and alumnae/i is pretty consistently on my mind and heart. While I am not responsible for any individual's happiness (other than my own), I feel deeply responsible for creating the conditions by which collective happiness is possible.

I won't say that I'm always successful at this, but I'm learning, and think I've gotten better at it over the years. It often means that I have to muster up my courage and have regular authentic conversations, or that I have to be willing to be considered weird and risk possibly being seen as silly. It means I get to praise and appreciate often.

It also means that my work is hugely satisfying, and that I can openly love those whose work is interdependent with mine.

The Dalai Lama reminds us that "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." And that "Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive."

People who genuinely love and enjoy each other tend to be happy. Happy people tend to get a lot done. I'll bet that organizations filled with happy folks are really effective. Imagine what social movements based on happiness could accomplish!

Hopefully by this time next month, this column will be in the form of a blog, where you can make comments and reflect, both with me and with each other. For now, though, I'm quite interested in hearing your thoughts on the role of happiness in social change — please feel invited to reply back to me. I'll read and digest your comments, and will undoubtedly write further on this in the future.

Meanwhile, I wish you happiness. For you individually, for those around you, and for all of the movements in which you are a part.

From my heart to yours,

October 2012



Rockwood Leaders Changing the World

Three Rockwood National Leading from the Inside Out Yearlong alums—Majora Carter, Ben Jealous, Van Jones—and a current Leading from the Inside Out Fellow—Rashad Robinson—made the Roots 100 list of the United States' most influential Black leaders.

Fania Davis, alum of the Rockwood Fellowship for California Leaders of Color and founder and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, published an op ed on the silver lining in the school board investigation of disproportionate rates of suspension for African-American youth.



Call for Nominations: Art of Leadership for Philanthropic Leaders

Do you know an exceptional leader who leverages resources for positive social change? If so, please nominate them for Rockwood's Art of Leadership for Philanthropic Leaders, taking place February 11-15, 2013 at the EarthRise Center in Petaluma, CA. Past participants include foundation executives, board members, program officers, donors, corporate sponsors, and executive directors of philanthropic organizations. Surina Khan at the Ford Foundation shared about her experience of the leadership retreat:

"I'm a better communicator, I have clarity about goals and process, I'm better able to support my colleagues, and I'm more fulfilled on a daily basis in carrying out my work…I'm actually more joyful as a result of Rockwood — I've never been able to say that about a leadership training program!"

To nominate, please send an email to and include:

  • Nominee's name
  • Organization/foundation
  • Email address
  • 1-2 sentences about why you think they would benefit from the training



Call for Nominations: Leaders in Arts and Culture Fellowship 2013

Rockwood is seeking nominations for its next Fellowship for Leaders in Arts and Culture. Nominees for the Art & Culture fellowship are cultural workers and artists who are working in community, preferably within a social change organization (501c3), and who are actively building partnerships that have a national impact. Please send name, email address, and a brief description of why you are recommending the individual to For more information contact Virada Chatikul, Fellowship Manager, at 510-251-2500 x 119.

"After Rockwood, I have new confidence in my purpose and faith in the power of art in helping birth the world to come."
—Logan Phillips, Director of Tuscon Youth Poetry Slam, Rockwood Arts & Culture Fellow 2012



Upcoming Events

  • Akaya Windwood is taking part in two conversations at the Bioneers Conference, Oct 19-21, 2012: "Society and Inner Resilience" and "What's Gender Got To Do With It?" Use this code BC12AO1 for 20% off registration.
  • Pia Infante, Rockwood's Director of Organizational Partnerships, is hosting "The Contours of Coaching," a salon with mimi lok and Belma Gonzalez, who will be sharing about their coaching partnership. October 25, 2012, 4-6 pm at the Rockwood offices in downtown Oakland. RSVP here.
  • Akaya Windwood is speaking on a panel about "Navigating a Turbulent & VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) World" at Independent Sector's Gamechangers Conference, November 11-12, 2012.



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