Leadership Change at PBP

Dear PBP supporters,

I’m writing to share big news for me and PBP. In April 2020, I’ll step down as Co-Executive Director at PBP and transition out of the organization. My fellow Co-ED Shari Davis will remain as Executive Director. 

Fifteen years ago, I flew to Brazil to convene a discussion on participatory budgeting (PB) in the Global North. Ten years ago, I founded the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) with Gianpaolo Baiocchi, to turn this discussion into action in the US and Canada. Now, I’m returning to global work with a new focus, and PBP is moving on to its next stage of growth.

Thanks to funding from the New York Community Trust, we’re receiving support from Community Resource Exchange to navigate the transition. We’ve been planning the change for months and I’m excited about the next steps for PBP’s team of leaders. I believe that new and rotating leadership is essential to democracy, and I’m thrilled to step back and support the AMAZING leadership of my friend Shari.

As we transition from a white male founder ED to leadership by a younger woman of color, I also know that such transitions often face additional challenges and pressures. Our board, including founding board chair Mike Menser, are committed to supporting Shari and PBP in this change. I and others are also showing up to support Shari and PBP now, and I hope you will too - see details below.

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Josh in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2005. That’s right, no gray hair.

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Planning the first PB process in the US, in Chicago’s 49th ward in 2009. Just a touch of gray.

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Shari and Josh speaking at PBP’s 10th Anniversary Party in 2019, with a certain boy who may have inspired some gray hairs.

What’s next for me? I’m not going far. This summer I launched a new Global PB Hub, thanks to a $560,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Hub aims to improve and expand PB around the world by addressing common challenges and opportunities faced by PB implementers. It coordinates research, shares learning, and develops resources, guided by two global leadership boards. PBP has been incubating the Hub as a fiscally sponsored initiative. 

In April I will switch to working full time on the Global PB Hub and spinning it off into a separate organization. The new organization will provide the international expertise and support that leaders need to grow participatory democracy programs in their countries. I’m thrilled about this opportunity to apply a community building and problem solving approach to a new project: building a more participatory democracy around the globe. 

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Global PB Hub Support and Research Boards

Founding and leading PBP for the past 10 years has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved with all of you:

1. Starting PB in the US. It’s easy to take this for granted, but in 2009 almost no one in the US had heard of PB. Those who had heard were convinced it could never work in the US. Ten years later, there are over 100 PB processes across the US. This took a LOT of work - relationship-building, hustling, and persistence.

Map of PB processes

2. Building and sustaining an organization to support the growth of PB. Much of my work has focused on building the staff, boards, and systems of PBP. And sustaining these amidst the constant challenges of managing a nonprofit. As other organizations have come and gone, PBP has remained the leading participatory democracy organization in North America. Thanks to our work, 700,000 people have decided how to invest $370 million in their communities.

3. Building and sustaining a community to support the growth of PB. PB took off and grew in the US and Canada because of the partnerships and relationships that I and others at PBP created with organizers, elected officials, government staff, researchers, and technologists. Building out PB as a collective effort with shared leadership has led to broader support than any one organization could have ever achieved. 

4. (Re)Establishing PB as a strategy for equity, people power, and system change. When I started working on PB, most international PB promotion focused on good government, accountability, and deliberation (and it still does). The original pro-poor, social justice, radical democracy ambitions of Porto Alegre had become buried. We reoriented PB toward equity, centering grassroots organizing groups working with low-income communities of color. We used PB to give people real power, with decisive voting. And we framed this as a broader effort to transform democracy.

5. Constantly learning and growing. When I started PBP I had no idea what I was doing (Ok, I still feel that way many days!). I’ve learned to trust others more, to create a more supportive workplace, and to become a clearer communicator. At PBP we’ve constantly evolved our strategy, from local technical assistance to network-building, conferences, a Participation Lab, and research coordination.

The future is bright for PBP. We’re expanding a national Democracy Beyond Elections campaign with partners, providing new support for criminal justice reform (including Divest/Invest campaigns and safe schools), and launching an online course for educators to make PB in schools more accessible. 

I’m committed to remaining a strong PBP supporter, because I know how important this work is. I’m signing up as a $50 per month sustaining donor - a lot for me. Will you join me in showing up for Shari and PBP? Will you make a stretch donation (matched now by a couple generous donors!) or sign up as a sustaining donor?

 

About Josh Lerner

Josh is co-founder and Co-Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. He has over 15 years of experience developing, researching, and working with leading community engagement programs across North America, Latin America, and Europe. He is the author of Making Democracy Fun: How Game Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics, Everyone Counts: Could Participatory Budgeting Change Democracy?, and over 20 articles.

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