Jessy Tolkan is a name you may know – SCI alumni, on the Board of Directors for Web of Change, former Co-Executive Director of Citizen Engagement Laboratory, named one of the 100 agents of change in America by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2008… that’s one busy woman.
Lucky for us, Jessy took the time to sit down with SCI sponsor Junxion Strategy for an interview on the factors that help make us effective change strategists, and what SCI’s got to do with it.
This article by Hilary Mandel originally appeared on Junxion Strategy’s website on June 5, 2014. If you are kicking yourself for not yet signing up for #SCI2014, a few spots are still available for last minute registration!
Social Change Institute: An Exchange of Perspectives
For the fifth consecutive year, Junxion Strategy is proudly sponsoring Social Change Institute at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, British Columbia. This is one in a series of articles by Junxion profiling SCI 2014 participants.
After years of working as an independent strategist on consulting projects for a wide variety of clients, Jessy Tolkan is stepping into a new role this June as Senior Advisor and Managing Director of Working Families Organization, a non-profit 501(c)(4) advocacy organization that works on economic and social justice issues. “It’s really exciting to take on this leadership role in this moment,” says Jessy, explaining that WFO has recently expanded its efforts from New York to eight U.S. states. “We’re drawing new bright lines about what Democrats really should be fighting for,” she adds enthusiastically, describing the group as “pushing Democratic thinking to the left,” establishing a core progressive infrastructure and advancing bold policy goals.
Jessy is looking forward to swapping stories with leaders of other social change organizations at this year’s Social Change Institute at Hollyhock. It’s her second time attending the conference, and this time, she says, “I’m really excited to offer an insider’s perspective of an organization that’s gone from being on the sidelines to smack dab in the middle of everything.” Even before stepping into her new role at WFO, Jessy was effectively guiding that transformation from behind the scenes, significantly increasing their budget and helping the group hone their management and sustainability chops. Now they’ve gone “from being a small sideline group to being in the middle of it all,” she says proudly.
In addition to her political advocacy work, Jessy has several other consulting roles, including running a global electrical vehicle infrastructure campaign for multiple multinational car companies. “I know, it’s the opposite extreme,” she admits, “but it’s very exciting – we’re trying to transform an industry, and make electric vehicles a thing in cities all over the world.”
With all that she’s juggling, Jessy still feels it’s important to take the time to come back to SCI (June 11-15). “I have the incredible gift of so many amazing opportunities around me,” she says. “At SCI, I’m seeking the perspective and clarity to make really good decisions about how to do that work, do it well, and preserve my personal sanity and wellbeing.”
Jessy takes the part about personal wellbeing seriously. She’s on the other end of what’s been “a remarkable personal year,” having gone through some major health challenges that put her out of commission for over five months. Since returning to work a few months ago, she has a renewed perspective. The last time she was at SCI, she says, “I looked at the personal self-care stuff as a bonus ‘nice to have’ thing. Now I look at that as the core of being able to be impactful – the core of long-term professional success – the core of being able to be an agent of transformative change.”
Coming from Washington, DC, Jessy is also looking forward to the unique perspectives she’ll experience in British Columbia. “As an American, the ability to get a view of the political and social justice sector in Canada is so refreshing and enlightening for my work,” Jessy says. “SCI offers an opportunity to engage with other leaders who may be confronting similar challenges, but in a different context.”
This busy woman will be back at Hollyhock later this summer heading up the leadership team on Web of Change, a conference for people on the digital side of the social change sector. She’s also a “very proud” member of the Hollyhock Board, and speaks of the importance of not separating conferences like SCI from the venues where they take place. Jessy looks forward to engaging fellow SCI participants around the question, “What can we all be doing to ensure that Hollyhock is around for a very long time and is able to offer programs like SCI in the long run?”
At least part of the answer lies in involving more people as driven and passionate as Jessy Tolkan – and once again this year, SCI promises to be full of them.
To see Jessy in person at the 2014 Social Change Institute register last minute here! Follow us throughout the conference on Twitter #SCI2014