Support for Systems Change Grantees 

In 2018, Rotary Charities made a new commitment to address complex community issues like poverty, health inequities, homelessness, and climate change. New grants and learning opportunities were developed to support collaborative initiatives that take a systems approach and work upstream to target the root causes, not the consequences, of problems.  

Systems change is challenging work that requires complex relationship building, coordination, commitment, and resourcing, all against constant pressures to revert to the status quo.  

In response, Rotary Charities is launching a pilot program that will provide additional support and expertise to systems leaders.  

Our Systems Change Coaching program offers systems change-focused grantees free consultation with a pool of systems change experts.  

Grantees can reach out to Freya Bradford to get connected to support today! 

Topic Areas

Advocacy as a Systems Change Strategy

Using advocacy to influence policies and practices.  

Collaboration Platforms & Mindsets

Choosing and using new platforms to share information and connect across organizations, like Slack, Basecamp, Mural, Google Drive. Building the “working out loud” muscle and nurturing peer support norms. 

Communication & Storytelling

Communicating and storytelling about the work or to help change mindsets, especially those that undermine systems change and create polarization.   

Designing Strategies to Change Systemic Patterns

Designing a constellation of actions with the aim of changing a systemic pattern, prototyping & creating hypotheses.   

Equity & Inclusion

Centering equity in systems change work so that changes aim to eliminate structural racism and other forms of inequity. Engaging hard-to-reach groups – those experiencing the problems the group is solving for, and those with the most to lose if things change.  

Evaluation & Learning

Noticing and collecting signs of systems change, communicating them to multiple audiences, and using them to adapt/improve strategy and action.  

Exploring Challenges Systemically & Finding Leverage Points for Change

Determining the boundaries of a systemic problem and using frameworks and tools to look at the factors that may be contributing the current levels of a problem. Once a problem has been explored or mapped, using the data gathered to find places to intervene in the system for greatest impact.  

Facilitation & Using Group Tension

Creating inclusive conversations and building and maintaining momentum toward action, especially during times of crisis and physical distancing. Recognizing healthy tension and using it to move things forward. Dealing with difficult human relationship dynamics.   

Fund Development

Strategies to support collaborative fundraising efforts.

Network Convening, Leadership & Governance

Creating multi-stakeholder structures where authority, ownership and accountability are shared, and roles and decision-making processes are clear and transparent.   

Systems Leadership & Wellbeing

Tending to the capacities of those taking a leadership role in a systems change effort, most importantly the self-awareness and self-care to cultivate the inner space from which system leadership originates.

Meet the Coaches

Jennifer Berman
Areas of expertise: Network Convening, Leadership & Governance;
Designing Strategies to Change Systemic Patterns;
Exploring Challenges Systemically & Finding Leverage Points for Change

About Jennifer

Jennifer has worked in a variety of settings over the past 25 years as a community organizer, philanthropic advisor, leadership coach, and curriculum designer for transformative learning journeys. Most recently, Jennifer was the Director of Training and Partnerships at the Garfield Foundation, where she founded several communities of practice for consultants, funders, and changemakers working in complexity. She is an experienced facilitator with applied experience in large multi-stakeholder projects, a certified leadership coach, and Zen practitioner. She is passionate about supporting the internal and external change needed to create a more vibrant, relational, and joyful world.

Jennifer on LinkedIn

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all? 

I’m in the middle of facilitating a six-week course for changemakers focused on systemic facilitation and just beginning curriculum design and development for an upcoming Basecamp Americas program - a four-month introductory course for social change leaders focused on complexity and systems change.

What is systems change coaching to you? 

My answer is continuously evolving. Today, I’d say:  Accompanying people on their journey as they explore what it means to live and lead in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.  It’s more than straight-up leadership coaching — it’s that, plus some mentoring & teaching about complexity, systems change frameworks, and how we adults grow and make meaning of the world and our place in it.   

What do you wish people understood about systems change work? 

It’s messy, sometimes exhausting, sometimes exhilarating, deeply humbling, and deeply personal — it requires a willingness to explore and navigate our internal complexity as well as the external complexity of the world.  And there is no silver bullet “best way” to engage with this work.  As George Box said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”  


Jessica Conrad

Areas of expertise: Collaboration Platforms & Mindsets;
Communication & Storytelling;
Network Convening, Leadership & Governance

About Jessica

Jessica has been working at the frontiers of positive change as a storyteller, communications strategist, program manager, and curriculum designer for over a decade. A skilled facilitator, she brings extensive experience designing and delivering strategic initiatives and transformative learning opportunities—including graduate-level courses focused on systems and complexity theory and leadership—in her previous roles at the RE-AMP Network, the Blekinge Institute of Technology, the School of Systems Change, and, most recently, the Garfield Foundation. While with the Foundation, Jessica contributed to its collaborative networks portfolio and stewarded a community of practice for grantee partners leading large, multi-stakeholder projects focused on equitable climate change, public health, community development, and food solutions.

Currently, Jessica supports purpose-driven people and organizations in a consulting capacity with coaching, facilitation, and strategy in the realms of leadership, storytelling and communications, organizational learning and development, and program design.

Jessica Conrad on LinkedIn

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all?

In partnership with Rotary Charities, I’m currently working to produce a series of case studies we're calling "Stories of Change" that feature initiatives taking a systemic approach to address the complex community challenges of youth homelessness, food insecurity, and health inequities in Northern Michigan. Our intention is to share nuanced stories of change in action, along with lessons learned, to foster a culture of learning across the region and within the larger field of systems change. 

What drew you to systems change as an approach? 

I started my career as a journalist, and when I began writing about the energy transition, I followed my curiosity into a role with the RE-AMP Network, a multi-stakeholder network working to accelerate an equitable transition from fossil fuels to clean energy in the Midwest. RE-AMP is known for its innovative approach to whole-systems change, and I was immediately drawn to the value the network placed on relationship building, analysis, shared learning, and participatory processes to advance its strategic priorities. People were collaborating across organizational boundaries in new ways and creating real impact. I immediately saw the opportunity of systems change approaches for addressing the root causes of our most pressing problems. 

What is systems change coaching to you?

To me, coaching is the practice of creating a thinking environment for the client. It’s about creating a supportive (and sometimes challenging) space where people can discover what they already know and what new opportunities they see for taking action toward their goals. Coaching becomes systemic when it explores the broader systems and relationships the client is a part of, along with their way of doing, being, and knowing. It involves supporting the client in noticing patterns of thought and behavior and working with them to shift those patterns for positive outcomes.

Sarah Ely, Crescent Hill Consulting
Areas of expertise: Collaboration Platforms & Mindsets;
Network Convening, Leadership & Governance; 
Exploring Challenges Systemically & Finding Leverage Points for Change

About Sarah

Sarah Ely has worked in the systems change space for over 35 years at both micro and macro levels. She is deeply informed from years of working in multiple sectors: nonprofit community service agencies, corporate/manufacturing, K-12 public, and higher education. As an organizational development expert, she focuses on convening stakeholders and collaborative meeting design. She helps equip members and facilitators with meeting agendas and activities to save time, get better results, and experience authentic collaboration by virtue of how the meeting unfolds. Planning change and improvement together is a liberating, highly effective method to move the needle on a challenge in a world where top-down or only a few are involved.

Sarah Ely on LinkedIn

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all?     
-Provider of immersion training for facilitators. Liberating Structures: a systems-based repertoire of 33+ novel group techniques for meetings of any kind. Small shifts can structure meetings in ways that traditional methods cannot (e.g. managed discussion and roundtable). Face-to-face or Zoom.
-Meeting designer, facilitator, and consultant to nonprofit, government, and private sectors for important, high stakes meetings. Examples: cross-functional planning, problem-solving and innovation sessions; convening for strategic purposes; envisioning new initiatives with an intact work group or broader collective; highly engaged community forums.
-Executive Coach for the Rudi Ansbacher Advancing Women in Academic Medicine Leadership Scholars Program at U-M Medical School. Change leadership is central to program and coaching endeavors.

What is your coaching style? 
Connecting many dots through skilled listening and a penchant for forward action. This punctuates my coaching style - a Connector. My graduate training was systems theory and clinical practice. I’ve clocked countless hours with conflict theory and resolution practice, too. Systems change was the compass that made it possible to work effectively in five diverse sectors as an organizational development leader. Today, when I help others on matters of facilitation and/or using group tension, a key success factor is connecting dots and exploring viable options to inform design and facilitation planning. The kaleidoscope of stakeholders, conditions and challenges, strategic direction, leadership decisions, and resources is in full play when working together.

What do you wish people understood about systems change work?
When convening a group, include and engage representation from every facet. Today, many people recognize and strive for this. But without highly effective facilitation tools, it can be daunting to operationalize widely diverse, active group engagement. The needle of change can move in ways never before thought possible when effective group facilitation methods are on board. Also, those who will directly carry out the work are a premium asset to change planning. Include them early and often. All levels.

Pennie Foster-Fishman
Areas of expertise: 

About Pennie

Dr. Pennie Foster-Fishman has over 30 years of experience partnering with communities and states to build places where all children and families can flourish. Her consulting, research, and evaluation efforts are grounded in the belief that change is most possible when all residents and local leaders become active agents of change who are empowered to create neighborhoods, schools, organizations, service delivery systems, and communities responsive to local needs and designed to promote connection and equitable opportunities. Dr. Foster-Fishman has consulted with hundreds of public sector, government and nonprofit organizations, community coalitions, and funders around the world, advising them on strategic planning, effective strategy design, and systems change design, implementation, and evaluation. Dr. Foster-Fishman’s frameworks for promoting collaborative capacity, youth and adult engagement, and community systems change have been adopted by communities, state/national agencies, and funders around the world. Dr. Foster-Fishman is a retired professor from Michigan State University and currently the President of Transform Change, a company that partners with communities, states and funders to create system solutions engineered for equitable health, economic security, and educational success.

Naava Frank, Knowledge Communities
Areas of expertise: Collaboration Platforms & Mindsets;
Network Convening, Leadership &Governance;
Evaluation & Learning

About Naava

Naava L. Frank, Ed.D. is a nationally recognized, published expert, with 20 years of experience in the use of communities of practice (CoPs) and networks for non-profits. Naava consults to foundations and organizations to launch and support the growth of communities of practice and networks to foster learning, provide moral support, and effect systemic change.

Naava Frank on LinkedIn

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all?

I am currently working as a systems change coach for Purpose Built Communities, whose work addresses racial equity, affordable housing, community wellness, and education. Purpose Built takes a holistic neighborhood-based revitalization approach to breaking the cycle of poverty. We co-published a paper on how the Purpose Built Community of Practice (CoP), funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, addressed systemic issues in a time of COVID. My passion is helping clients develop sustainable system-wide networks and community learning strategies.

Who is a systems thinker that inspires you?

I am inspired by the work of Etienne and Bev Wenger-Trayner, founders of Systems Convening and Communities of Practice (CoP), and by my mentor John Smith.  I come to systems change from the discipline of Communities of Practice. 

What is your coaching style? How do you hope people feel when they are working with you?

My coaching style is highly collaborative. I partner with clients, helping them discover and solidify their strengths while offering my perspective and experience. I aim for people to feel energized and supported, that new doors have been opened to them and they are ready to take a new step.

My clients say about me. “She is an excellent listener who was able to help me reflect on issues and relationships and see new ways to move forward.” “Naava is effective at reading the mood in a group and engaging the group in an empathetic, insightful way.” “She knows that this work can transform work and lives, and she knows how to make that happen in the most generous, honest, helpful way.”

What has been a memorable systems change consulting/coaching moment? 

A memorable system change moment was learning that a CoP of school leaders I had helped launch was still meeting after 15 years and had been of enormous support to school leaders when COVID hit. 

Through Communities of Practice, I have been gratified to see what happens when relationships are formed, trust is built, and we get the system in the room together.

Brendon Johnson, Artinznl LLC, Fito Network

Areas of expertise: Network Convening, Leadership & Governance;
Equity, Inclusion & Power;
Fund Development

About Brendon

Brendon Johnson has over 15 years’ experience co-designing and running programs that amplify local and systemic impact through communities, networks, and multi-sector partnerships. He has advised, trained, and coached 40+ organizations and networks across 50+ countries on topics such as collective leadership, participatory learning, and decentralized decision-making. Brendon is an expert facilitator, having designed and led hundreds of workshops and events around the globe. Currently, in addition to consultancy work, he runs a network of over 100 communities, movements and networks from around the globe who unite for collaborative learning and collective advocacy.

Brendon Johnson on LinkedIn

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all?
Supporting networks in their back-end functioning, and exploring how networks can lead to transformational change. Also, run a network of networks (

What is your coaching style? How do you hope people feel when they are working with you?
I like to ask a lot of questions and avoid giving advice before I feel I know enough about an initiative. I also like to give people "homework" to try out, so they can come back with reflections or questions themselves – so the learning is embedded in the doing. 

Systems change approaches can include many aspects; what do you believe is one non-negotiable thing that every systems change initiative should include?
Listening and learning. Any engagement requires deep, participatory, and continual listening. At all levels of engagement, not just the design phase. This should be complemented by multiple iterative cycles of learning – with all stakeholders, across the ecosystem. 

What is your advice to those thinking of starting a systems change approach?
Don't get daunted by the "big" thinking, and don't feel like everything has to be in place before you pass Go. Systems change is a long, iterative process. It requires careful listening, thinking, and design, but it also requires continual experimentation and learning. So no matter where one is, they should start from there, with a combination of thinking, designing, and doing together.

Megan Motil, Parallel Solutions
Areas of expertise: Network Convening, Leadership & Governance;
Designing Strategies to Change Systemic Patterns:
Managing Change;

About Megan

Parallel Solutions is rooted in Traverse City, Michigan and primarily serves people and places in the Great Lakes region by:

• Guiding strategic planning and decision-making
• Providing organizational development coaching, advising, and training
• Helping clients plan for and manage changes in leadership, funding, programs, and partnerships
• Supporting collaborative efforts within teams and networks, between entities, and across sectors
• Facilitating and designing meetings and community engagement processes

The firm’s diverse mix of federal, state, and local government, private, and nonprofit sector clients invest in downtowns and neighborhoods, build housing, run cooperatives, develop and maintain trails, protect and restore rivers, create and manage public parks, protect drinking water, address homelessness, support food security, steward wildlife habitat, nurture connections with nature, create and promote the arts, educate students, design and manage transportation networks, and support individual and community health.

Founder Megan Motil has a particular passion and strength in guiding clients as they set direction and make strategic decisions while navigating uncertainty, confusion, tension, or conflict. She’s passionate about coaching clients who are working to address complex issues that do not have easy or formulaic solutions. She operates from a position of experience in the nonprofit world of time and resource constraints. As an advisor she shares caring and candid observations, and empowers clients to explore new ideas, perspectives, and processes with directness, empathy, and insight.

Prior to launching Parallel Solutions in 2014, Megan worked for seven years at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, serving simultaneous roles as Associate Director and Director of Development. From 1999-2007, Megan was a community planner, then Regional Planning Director, at Networks Northwest. Megan wrote her undergraduate thesis on food systems and holds a master’s degree in organizational management.

Megan Motil on LinkedIn

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all?
This year, my systems-rooted services included consultative support for the Boardman-Ottaway River Network Collaborative, the Healthier Drinking Culture project, the Three Mile Trail, the Northwest Food Coalition, and the Water First Collaborative. I also guided half a dozen strategic plans and supported some clients’ leadership and governance transitions. I don’t call a lot of the work I do “systems” work, and, typically, neither do my clients. They say, “How do we connect with community members in meaningful ways and include diverse voices and perspectives?” Or “How do we manage tension or conflict and build trust among partners?” Or “We trust each other, and we’ve assessed resources and brainstormed ideas, now how do we evaluate and prioritize options?” Or “How do we clarify roles, make decisions, and hold each other accountable?” Some of the work I do is very public, and some is behind the scenes. Systems work happens in both settings.

What is your coaching style? How do you hope people feel when they are working with you?
Leaning into and leading any change process is hard, even when it’s a path we’re choosing. In a coaching relationship with a client, I hope they feel supported, seen, heard, valued, and understood. When they leave a session, I hope they feel they’ve gained clarity about their direction, contemplated something new, or received guidance about an approach, tool, practice, or resource in support of the next intentional steps they feel ready to take. Folks who work with me longer-term can also expect to receive texts, voice or email support in between coaching sessions.

Who is a systems thinker that inspires you? In what way?
My earliest exposure to “systems thinking” came from reading Elinor Ostrom’s research on “governing the commons” while working on my interdisciplinary undergraduate thesis on food systems in the late 1990s. Later on, during my graduate studies in organizational management, I was introduced to Margaret Wheatley’s writing. Early in my career, when I worked in government and then as a non-profit leader, their perspectives influenced how I approached my work. Many brilliant and empathetic thinkers, writers, and leaders inspire me today. But the people who move me the most are the system thinkers who are the doers, including folks in our local community who are committed to systems work related to housing, food, health, the environment, and energy. They’re examining the interconnectedness of various inputs and outputs, looking upstream at challenges and root causes, and working together in new and deliberate ways to create solutions and change the ways they work within their organizations and within multi-stakeholder networks. This type of collaboration takes a commitment to evolving and to sharing power and control, and resources. There’s always resistance and a temptation to revert to what’s safe and familiar, and to be influenced by what gets rewarded and incentivized within our organization, business, or society’s dominant or habitual framework. So, what these folks are practicing takes courage, determination, and tolerance for risk and failure.

What is your advice to those thinking of starting a systems change approach? 
Anyone who has ever worked on a group project knows collaboration is complex, even when it’s an approach we’re choosing to embrace. If you are motivated to address complex community issues like housing, food security, transportation, energy, ecology, and health, I will encourage you to take the leap. Systems change is grounded in relationships, shared learning, and trust. It works when people are motivated to participate wholeheartedly. My advice: Lead as a host, not a hero. Stay curious. Practice patience. Clarify communication, roles, and decision-making expectations. Establish a feedback process and stay accountable to each other. Try something. Learn and adjust, and keep moving, together. Give the process time. And if you feel stuck, ask for help.


Curtis Ogden, Interaction Institute for Social Change, Beautiful Ventures, Research Alliance for Regenerative Economics, Netweaver Network, Food Solutions New England

Areas of expertise: Network Convening, Leadership & Governance;
Designing Strategies to Change Systemic Patterns;
Managing Change;

About Curtis

Curtis is a Senior Associate with the Interaction Institute for Social Change and an independent coach. Much of Curtis’ work entails consulting with multi-interestholder networks and collaborative efforts to strengthen and transform food, public health, education, and economic development systems at local, state, regional, and national levels.

Some of his current and past clients include: DC Legal Aid Transformation Network, Food Solutions New England; Right from the Start (CT), InFACT at Ohio State University; Hunts Point (NY) Resiliency; Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network; National Parent Leadership Institute; Partnership for the Future of Learning; New Technology Network; Cancer Free Economy Network; Collaborative Action Newark (NJ); Community Practitioners Network (New Hampshire); and Social Impact Exchange.

Curtis is originally from Flint, Michigan and did his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He now lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, a dozen chickens and a lionhead rabbit.

Curtis Ogden on LinkedIn

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all? 

  • Supporting the Food Solutions New England Network into its second decade of work in evolving a regional food system that is sustainable, just, and democratically owned and operated (function as a process designer, facilitator, trainer, coach and network weaver)
  • Supporting an initiative in the District of Columbia to improve the legal/civil aid field and ground practice in anti-racism and anti-poverty principles (network design, collaborative skill development).
  • Supporting a cohort of members of food policy councils from around the country to build their muscle around network strategy and action 
  • Supporting a team focused on developing a network around the Wellbeing Blueprint to integrate principles of wellbeing into social and economic policies at federal, state, and local levels.
  • Supporting a collaborative of funders to create and grow a national network focused on advancing equity in health and education.
  • Developing a curriculum to support an evolving network in the country of Ghana to reform public education system in local districts and at the national level.
  • Working a state-wide conservation organization to integrate equity and more collaborative approaches into their conservation work.
  • Working with a state-wide food bank to integrate equity, collaborative leadership, and systems strategies into its work and internal culture.
  • Working with a team of researchers on how to bring the theory of “energy systems science” and “flow networks” into social change work.
  • Coaching leaders in a variety of fields to improve team, organizational and network performance.

What drew you to systems change as an approach? 

I was introduced to permaculture practice (sustainable/regenerative agriculture) while working at a grassroots development education center in Zimbabwe in the 1990s. That experience opened me to the wonder of living systems and thinking about how things interrelate and interact for health, prosperity, etc. Designing with a permaculture mindset is something that still informs and challenges my practice. See for example.

What is your coaching style? How do you hope people feel when they are working with you?

I like seeing myself as a partner to those I coach. I enjoy learning with and from those that I coach and asking questions that can draw out new insights and ideas. I am also happy to give advice and suggestions, if welcomed, and to use those as a basis for ongoing co-creation. I hope that people feel refreshed and enthusiastic as a result of my work with them as they lean into their own development and embrace new possibilities.

Nick Pineda, Solo-preneur & Coach

Areas of Expertise: Designing Strategies to Change Systemic Patterns;
Exploring Challenges Systemically & Finding Leverage Points for Change;
Burnout, Regenerative Leadership & Culture Change

About Nick

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all?

I work with visionary leaders who are burned out. Together we get to the core of this fatigue by uncovering what is going unsaid, unnamed, or unseen. This helps leaders see themselves more clearly as keystone actors within a system. Without consciously tracking the patterns of power we perpetuate in our own minds and partnerships, we unconsciously design those patterns into the systems we serve.

What’s surprising to many, is how often these hidden or invisible terrains end up revealing the keys to unlocking stuck power dynamics, partnerships, cultures, and even blockage in our own bodies as well as a truer version of ourselves that are more congruent, aligned, and in balance with what we value. While much of this work starts with the self, it quickly extends to understanding patterns of inequality, injustice, oppression, and extraction in larger communities and systems. 

What drew you to systems change as an approach? 

I stand for healing in myself (I continue to tend to chronic pain from injuries I took on in a short-but-meaningful professional rugby career). I stand to create the conditions for healing in others (because the only person who can give us the repair we need is ourselves, with the help of others), and I stand for a society where each of us can be a part of healing, regenerative systems. 

A much more ancient way of seeing the world, I’m drawn to the lens of systems because it invites interconnected, non-linear, emergent, and interrelated ways of seeing and thinking. It’s a lens that gives us permission to be both our parts and the greater wholes we serve.

What has been a memorable systems change consulting/coaching moment? 

I was working on a global culture transformation effort in Sydney with a focus on innovation. After several weeks, we noticed folks we trained went back to their “home teams” and the cultural inertia of “the way we’ve always done it” made it feel impossible to implement new approaches. 

During that trip, I was reconnecting with my own indigeneity, thinking about my Filipino roots. How did my ancestors develop and spread the cultural and navigational technologies to safely reach each part of the Polynesian archipelago?

What clicked for me then (along with reading Damon Centola’s How Behavior Spreads) is that great behavioral shifts never happen with individuals. It requires a minimum of two trusted nodes in anyone's closest circle to spark the spread of new behavior. This changed dramatically how we trained and recruited for the work. 

Tanja Sarett, Synergies in Philanthropy
Areas of expertise: Collaboration Platforms & Mindsets;
Communication & Storytelling;
Network Convening, Leadership & Governance;
Fund Development

About Tanja

Tanja Sarett, M.A., CFRE, CVF, ACC, is a nonprofit and fundraising consultant, facilitator, trainer, and executive leadership coach. Her consulting work and fundraising experience has focused on major gifts, institutional giving, advanced prospect research, wealth and philanthropic screenings, moves management, campaigns, fundraising events, board development, and donor cultivation and stewardship.

Tanja brings to her work with professionals and nonprofit organizations a wide range of collaborative and creative techniques and tools from IDEO Design Thinking, Liberating Structures, the Technology of Participation, and the Agile community.

Tanja is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), an Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Master Trainer, a Certified Virtual Facilitator (CVF), an International Coaching Federation accredited Associate Certified Coach (ACC), an International Association of Facilitators (IAF) endorsed Facilitator and a 21/64 Multigenerational Giving Advisor.

Tanja Sarett on LinkedIn

What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all?

Focus on creating inclusive, engaging, safe opportunities for nonprofit leaders and networks to innovate, define goals and outcomes, and become a changemaker.

What is your coaching style? How do you hope people feel when they are working with you?

My coaching style is grounded in leadership and executive coaching. Coaching is about building a partnership with you to develop your leadership skills and help you become an effective changemaker.

Systems change approaches can include many aspects. What do you believe is one non-negotiable thing that every systems change initiative should include?

Every system change initiative needs to include the involvement and engagement of key stakeholders.

Jeanie Williams, Wayfinder

Area of expertise: Evaluation & Learning;
Exploring Challenges Systemically & Finding Leverage Points for Change:

About Jeanie

Jeanie has been leading and working with groups for over 20 years as an educator, a trainer, an executive director, a presenter, and a facilitator. She specializes in group dynamics, experience design, learning, and listening. She creates environments that allow people to be themselves, get honest, and see what is ready to be seen. Her customized approaches draw from many sources, including ecology, experiential learning, somatic listening, Liberating Structures, and Theory U. Jeanie is a certified life coach, a dancer, and a naturalist. Jeanie lives in Suttons Bay.

Jeanie Williams on LinkedIn

What drew you to systems change as an approach? 

My first love was biology, ecology, and nature. I am educated as an ecologist and a naturalist and in the early 2000s I was offered an opportunity to teach a course called Moving Toward Sustainability at the Community College of Vermont. At that time, sustainability wasn’t the buzzword it is now, so I had to do a lot of self-study to get myself familiar with the topic. Systems thinking was one of the concepts I gravitated to because it immediately made sense to me. If we are going to create change, we need to look at all of the pieces and how they interact together. We have to understand lag times, self-organization, feedback, and entropy. All of these are foundational to the field of ecology and are simply the way nature works, so it made sense to me to also look to systems thinking when we want to influence human-made systems. Human systems are not exempt from natural laws, so we might as well learn them and let them help us.

What is your coaching style? How do you hope people feel when they are working with you?

My coaching style begins with listening; I like to start by getting a really good sense of what the client is working with, what they are hoping for, and what they need. I ask questions that help the client see what is at the heart of their concern and where their biggest stuck points lie. From there, I can reflect back what I see, and then we can start working on how the client can move forward. I am more inclined to help the client discover their own path than to offer advice or a specific plan. I believe that the client and their team best know what needs to happen next. I can offer frameworks and perspectives while the client can consider how these things apply to their situation. From there, the path forward is often revealed.

I hope people feel more trust in themselves and their teams. I hope they have clarity on the next steps that need to be taken. I hope they feel a sense of relief that their problem is addressed and change is underway. I hope they feel good about asking for help and learn to let support be part of their regular process.


What are you working on right now to help make systems work better for all?

The main thing I am working on is how to help us better see and understand the system we are working within by using our bodies to represent the system and interact with it. The system could be our own internal system of beliefs, experiences, and inclinations, the team or organization in which we work on a daily basis, or the larger system we are trying to influence and shift. Through the simple practice of physically stepping into the system, we can often better see and understand the places that are not working – they become impossible not to see – and we notice new possibilities for change that were previously unavailable.

I am also focused on gathering information from stakeholder groups to ensure we hear all of the important voices and perspectives that are needed to understand the system we are trying to influence, and in bringing together these stakeholder groups so they can hear from each other and individually broaden their understanding of what we are working with. 

Right now, I am working with Housing North as they decide which tasks are most vital for advancing the housing vision they have for this region, as well as with the Grass River Natural Area as they develop and implement a management plan for the Grass River that will preserve the natural beauty and functionality that exists now, for generations to come.