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Consulting | June 25, 2019

A PANO Member’s First Board Retreat: Taking Pause to Reaffirm, Reconnect, and Recommit

Picture This

Tucked away in the Nature Center at historic Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, members from AFRICOM-Philly came together for their first-ever board retreat in November 2018 with lots of excitement, curiosity, and wonder. We – Tony Hernandez and Sharlene Goldfischer of PANO’s Consultant Collaborative, retreat facilitators – began by sharing our own excitement, curiosity, and wonder as we set our intentions for the time together and shared our journey of how we came to work with AFRICOM. Borrowing from Simon Sinek’s work (Find Your Why), the strengths-based work of the Gallup organization regarding healthy teams, and the insights of Ken Wilbur on the stages of organizational consciousness, we invited members to reach into the memories, moments, stories, and the unique strengths and expertise that they each bring to the organization.

Inviting a Renewed Commitment

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
                         John Lennon,1971

In many ways, AFRICOM-Philly, the Coalition of African and Caribbean Communities in Philadelphia, came together in 2001 to put John Lennon’s heartfelt lyrics into action. They dreamt big, about the world as one for African and Caribbean immigrant and refugee communities in Philadelphia. They envisioned strong and inclusive for the past 19 years a group of volunteer leaders have been working to bring this vision to life through the facilitation of family access to health and social services, serving and empowering women and youth, promoting economic development, facilitating inter- and intra-group conflict resolution, advocating on issues of concern to African communities, and educating the broader public on African culture and experiences.

As we all know, and to quote another rock-and-roll icon, Bob Dylan, “The Times, they are a changin”. Faced with resource and membership changes as well as shifting constituent needs, AFRICOM-Philly reached out to PANO’s Consultant Collaborative for support with:

  • Strengthening of board function in alignment with organizational mission, along with better understanding of roles and expectations as well as the diversity of strengths, skill sets, experience, and frameworks for board function
  • Deciding the future direction of the organization related to changing stakeholder programming needs, funding sources, and the current volatile and complex immigration policy environment in the U.S. and, therefore, how to maximize impact and stakeholder engagement
  • Laying the foundation for the development of several organizational practices related to alignment with organizational values and purpose and continued board and staff development

This was to be their first-ever board/staff retreat!

The Day Arrives

AFRICOM-Philly members at the board/staff retreat

Retreat participants worked through different exercises to help them gain clarity about their work with AFRICOM-Philly. They spent time sharing their personal stories, proudest moments, and the impact that AFRICOM-Philly has made in the lives of others. Using these stories, the group drafted a candidate purpose statement representing AFRICOM-Philly at its best.


How We Worked Together to Support AFRICOM-Philly

PANO responded to this highly collaborative organization with a highly collaborative approach…with “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, a Zulu phrase often abbreviated as “ubuntu” meaning “a person is a person through other people”. We, Sharlene and Tony, were invited to work together, in “ubuntu”, to provide this developmental support for AFRICOM-Philly.

On an introductory call with AFRICOM-Philly leadership, Sharlene identified the underlying message that she was hearing around the need to clearly identify the organization’s purpose and values (especially with the changing landscape) and to develop practices to help the board and leadership work in alignment with what’s identified. During this same conversation, Tony noticed another theme coming through: supporting board members and staff in gaining a clear understanding of their impact and contributions to both the organization and the members served.

Based on the above, we leveraged each other’s strengths and put forth a comprehensive plan for AFRICOM’s inaugural retreat that included:

  • A pre-retreat survey
  • A four-hour board retreat
  • A post-retreat survey assessing what changed for AFRICOM’s leadership team since taking the pre-retreat survey

Then…we (Tony and Sharlene) got to experience “ubuntu” ourselves when we met face-to-face for the first time – after months of working together virtually with each of us based in different cities – to pull final details together the day before AFRICOM-Philly’s retreat.

What Changed for AFRICOM-Philly as a Result of Working with PANO’s Consultant Collaborative

AFRICOM-Philly quickly cultivated new partners and re-engaged with past partners, totaling eight entities after only one post-retreat board meeting. President and COO, Eric Edi, commented on the special significance of a partnership renewal with Bartram’s Garden, the site of the retreat.

Almost instantaneous energy was put into community outreach events, including a robust Black History Month event in partnership with another organization.

The following were also reported in connection with organizational change since the retreat:

  • The format used for the retreat was utilized for the membership meeting to plan for 2019
  • An inclusive atmosphere was generated by distributing a survey regarding needs to member organizations before the meeting.
  • During the membership meeting, key issues to be addressed moving forward were identified by participants, again, with an intention of inclusivity.
  • Eric Edi conducted one-on-one phone or in-person conversations with members of the Executive Committee, asking, “What must we do better this year to run the organization more efficiently?” The answers to this question have already resulted in positive organizational change in the areas of consistent communication, improved scheduling, and greater volunteer presence.
  • The vision and mission statements generated at the board retreat have been incorporated into new literature and grant writing, reflecting the new direction of the organization.
  • The organization is planning a second board retreat in 2019.

AFRICOM-Philly’s new purpose statement

For AFRICOM-Philly’s leadership, staying connected with what they do at their best as individual contributors and as an organization and staying aligned with the new vision statement will propel them forward in the best possible way. Their newfound clarity will allow them to discern strategic partnerships and working relationships moving forward.

They also see newfound value in taking time to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses as they work together, and in building strengths-based partnerships internally and externally.

According to a post-retreat survey respondent, the retreat, “… allowed board members and community partners to learn the distinction between direct service and organizing.”

One of the biggest realizations they had was recognizing the importance of holding a retreat and taking a moment to pause and reflect.

What the Collaborative Consultants Gained from Working Together to Support AFRICOM-Philly

After the initial meeting between AFRICOM-Philly and us (Tony and Sharlene) as Consultants, we realized that we needed to discover our own “alignment”…what specific strengths, skills, experiences, and expertise each one of us was bringing to this engagement and how we could best partner to meet AFRICOM-Philly’s needs for their inaugural board retreat (i.e., how we could work together in “ubuntu”. )

Interestingly, we both have professional backgrounds in the field of education, Sharlene as a special educator with a background in Psychology and a first Master’s Degree in this area, and Tony as an elementary school educator with a B.A. in Education and a Master’s of Education and Human Development.

It was important to both of us that the primary intention of holding this retreat would be for board members and community partners to affirm their relationships to each other as people first and then honor what they contribute to AFRICOM-Philly.

From Sharlene:

My conversations with Tony have always felt ease-filled and aligned.  And, that synergy seemed to transfer to our early conversations with AFRICOM-Philly leadership, where we were listening and formulating potential approaches as though we had met and planned things out before the call.  That feeling of “we’ve done this together before” carried on throughout the project, from early proposal generation to bringing to life our individual expertise, strengths, and interests in a connected way through to the actual day of the retreat.

Sharlene Goldfischer, Owner and Principal
Quintessence Coaching and Consulting, LLC

From Tony:

Creating in the collective is always better than in isolation (“Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”), which is the reason Sharlene and I joined the PANO Consultant Collaborative. the nature of the PANO Collaborative allows us to leverage what we do best in a collaborative environment, enhancing the value we provided for AFRICOM-Philly. This opportunity also gave us much opportunity to learn from and with each other.

Tony Hernandez, Founder
Reflective Wisdom

PANO’s Consultant Collaborative

At PANO, we believe that together we can create something better than any single organization can build separately. The PANO Consultant Collaborative connects nonprofit organizations with experienced, like-minded professional consultants to increase efficacy and impact through collaborative, needs-based counsel. Each consultant brings a unique experience, specialization, and abilities to the group, which makes for a diverse and innovative approach to each project.

If your organization is looking for a consultant to help take your mission to the next level, from developing a case statement to strategic planning and everything in between, check out PANO’s Consultant Collaborative.


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