Community Projects

As part of LT’s curriculum, participants apply the leadership lessons they have learned through community projects. LT'19 had the opportunity to apply their leadership by choosing a community issue and studying the leadership skills, behaviors, and styles exhibited by people leading in their topic area. At our final Challenge Day, the teams reported on what they learned about leadership in the context of their issue area, including the Leadership Challenge Behaviors they observed, the ways in which leaders did or did not include all voices, how leaders on different sides of the issue engaged their constituencies and demonstrated leadership, and how they did or did not bring a racial equity lens to the issue. Read a summary of the past five years’ of projects here.

Below is a list of issues LT’19 explored, the leadership they observed, and key takeaways.


+ Addressing Food Inequities in our Community

We explored how leaders are addressing food system inequities in our community, specifically in Seattle’s Central District (CD). We interviewed leaders from different touchpoints within a food system (research, policy, production, real estate, transportation, vendors, and community outreach). We asked them how they defined a food system, how racial equity shows up in their work, and the biggest challenges facing the CD’s food system. The most effective leaders and organizations prioritized three actions: 1) building partnerships across a range of organizations; 2) taking time to listen and acknowledge the voices and stories of the community they serve; and 3) having conversations early to inform solutions.

+ Cultural Shifts in the Accessibility of Outdoor Recreation for People of Color

Inquiry questions included: How are nonprofit, government, and private sector leaders working to change the narrative about who can access and participate in outdoor recreation in the Pacific Northwest? What efforts have they implemented or considered to improve access for people of color? What successes and challenges have they experienced? We learned about various leadership styles and how leaders inspire a shared vision. We also learned how leaders in this arena challenge the status quo by experimenting, acting in bold ways, and empowering government and communities to break down barriers like stereotypes, limited transportation, and cultural norms.

+ Food Security for School-Aged Children

We investigated the organizations, initiatives, and challenges surrounding the issue of nutrition support for young people in Seattle and South King County. We interviewed representatives from the school districts, school boards, PTAs, city and county governments, local NGOs, family healthcare programs, and other support organizations to understand the roles they play in the funding and administration of food security programs. We found that there are thoughtful approaches to address food scarcity holistically, but the results vary in the adoption and success of nutrition support programs. There isn’t a commonly-held opinion for what is the “best strategy” to build the right sustainable solution, but there are several ways we can get involved to build access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally-appropriate food for youth.

+ Gentrification and Displacement

Our team explored what leaders in South King County are doing to cultivate neighborhoods of racial, cultural, and economic diversity in a housing market where gentrification is rapidly displacing long-time residents of color. We interviewed leaders representing three areas of leadership impact: individuals, communities/organizations, and policies. We supplemented our interviews with lab team visits to White Center, SeaTac, and Tukwila, experiencing the dynamics that are driving change within the communities. While we encountered dedicated leaders, the region is grappling with the issue of displacement in real-time. We found a significant focus on housing affordability, but we also heard about more subtle threats to a community’s historical fiber. The leadership we witnessed inspired us to consider our own responsibilities and opportunities for leadership as residents of this rapidly transforming region.

We explored how leaders in our region are innovating around homelessness as it relates to affordable housing. Through conducting interviews with leaders with different perspectives, attending community meetings, and reading articles, we identified four themes: 

  • Initiatives are more successful when you empower and involve the community.
  • Engaging others in the community to participate and cultivating strong partnerships yields creative ideas, broader acceptance, and better long-term success. 
  • Initiatives advance more quickly if leaders forge ahead with an idea/pilot program. This enables innovative ideas and facilitates learning from early failures and wins. 
  • Optimizing the expertise and relationships of each organization in a coordinated effort produces better outcomes.  

+ Intersection of Technology and Transportation in the Puget Sound Region

We explored how leaders are leveraging disruptive technology in the transportation industry to address inequities in communities. We interviewed experts from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to learn what their organizations are doing to prepare for change, and how they are thinking about equity. We also connected with community members who rely on alternate modes of transportation. Nearly all the leaders we interviewed recognized that organizations and institutions would need to adapt and grow collaboratively to better meet the needs of the public, particularly for people who would be most impacted by disruptions in the transportation sector. The proper stewardship of data was also a frequent concern, as well as the importance of addressing the issue of equity head-on. We grappled with whose role it is to lead the way: Is it the public, private or nonprofit sector? We also considered the roles and responsibilities of individuals in using and promoting public transportation.

+ King County’s Proposed Children and Family Justice Center

We interviewed leaders with various perspectives on King County’s proposed Children and Family Justice Center. Themes from our interviews included:

  • Leadership is most effective when it is in service of others.
  • When tackling a social impact issue, it is critical to have the people who are most impacted by that issue at the table, co-designing the solutions. 
  • It is essential to recognize your power and privilege in the work that you do. 
  • Challenges must be evaluated via their systemic causes, and we must assess how we are sustaining structures of inequitable institutions. 
  • Historically, change has occurred when a group of people was uncompromising. There are also those that need to help facilitate the compromise.

+ Leadership Impacts on the Sweetened-Beverage Tax

We explored the leadership impacts on the Sweetened-Beverage Tax, which was put into effect on January 1, 2018. We interviewed leaders from public, private, academic, and healthcare organizations. Key stakeholders have demonstrated both positive and negative leadership characteristics in developing the legislation, passing of the tax, and deciding on uses for generated revenue. National health organizations determined to bring the Sweetened Beverage Tax to fruition demonstrated paternalistic behaviors in taxing individuals into making healthier decisions. Local leaders challenged the process by sponsoring the legislation and writing the tax to fund community interests, including pre-K and Fresh Bucks programs. Local leaders throughout the various sectors partnered with national organizations to create the most positive outcomes for the communities most likely to be impacted.

+ Support for Minority-Owned Small Businesses

What can leaders do to support small businesses in neighborhoods where the income and race of new residents are significantly different than historical demographics? To explore this question, we studied an intersection in the Central District that has been impacted by this change. We walked the block with a colleague who grew up in the neighborhood, spoke with business owners, reviewed data to understand the breadth of change, and interviewed civic leaders. Our key takeaways were:

  • Leaders in city agencies and civic business groups must model the way with an equity focus by prioritizing the needs of small minority-owned businesses.
  • Access to capital is a common need, but agencies and civic organizations struggle to provide capital support.
  • Increased rent is a major contributor to the displacement of small businesses. Many organizations provide programs and resources to prepare businesses to adapt to a shifting market, but there are often barriers to access (time commitment, navigating systems, skepticism, etc.) which limit the programs’ efficacy.

+ Transportation Access for Middle-Income Workers

The region’s record-setting growth has impacted housing affordability. Many middle-income workers are priced out of housing in certain areas, affecting their employment options and commutes. We interviewed leaders about transportation and how they are promoting access to transit. Leaders expressed their goal for transportation access and equity as having a system where people can live and work where they choose. They also emphasized that transportation is a connection to public life, which is essential for workers’ well-being, regional economic development, and a healthy community. While learning how leaders are working to better connect the region, key leadership practices emerged. These practices included working with a shared vision of hope, getting the right people involved and in the right role, being upfront about challenges and having difficult conversations, and working to align leadership in an unstructured ecosystem. Leaders emphasized the importance of listening to the experiences and needs of the people they serve and sharing power.