One of my sources for inspiration in launching Strong Roots is Natalie Brown, a friend and former classmate from the Community Psychology Masters’ program at WLU. Since graduating, Natalie has made use of her skills and experience in community-based research together with her energy and enthusiasm to benefit the Kitchener-Waterloo community through her consulting business, Common Thread. I had the chance to reconnect with Natalie yesterday through an hour-long phone conversation, which was a great help for someone just starting along a similar path. Learning more about the business details and potential pitfalls was really useful, but more important for me was the affirmation and encouragement that someone else was successfully doing similar work. We also realized the need for an ongoing and broader conversation about non-profit consulting work in Canada, both for sharing ideas and resources and providing mutual support: if you’re in the field and are interested in participating in these types of conversations, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
Back to yesterday’s chat, part of our conversation focused on how to refer to ourselves. Technically, we’re consultants in that we provide certain services within a pre-defined timeframe in exchange for renumeration (though don’t let financial concerns stop you from contacting me if there’s any way I can help!) – plus, it says so on our respective websites. However, “consultants” doesn’t sit well with either of us. For me, I think the term implies a distancing between myself and the organization I’m working with, as in “I’m the consultant, you’re the client, I’ll do the work, you’ll pay me, end of story”. Rather, I hope that any new connection is the start of a relationship that focuses on how can we work together to benefit each other, yes, but more importantly, benefit our community and our world.
So, if not “consultant”, what should I call myself?
According to her bio, Natalie is as an “Agent of Social Change”, which in my opinion speaks well to the broader goals of our work. Our advisor in the Masters’ program, Dr. Scot Evans (now at the University of Miami), has developed the concept of a “critical friend” for non-profits, defined as someone who is known and trusted in the organization but still has sufficient distance to raise potentially-uncomfortable truths (but in a friendly way), such as when a non-profit is straying from its mission – “Connected troublemaker” is another way of conceptualizing that role. Another line of thought that came to me today is the word “Ally”, which is used in the LGBTQ community to denote an individual identifying as straight: this term acknowledges that the ally is not directly a member of the community, but also that they are working together for a shared purpose. Likewise, as someone working with an organization in a consulting role, I will never be a full “insider” or member of that group, but we could still share the same objectives.
For now, I’m falling back on the generic “consultant” title but otherwise trying to avoid labelling myself. If you have any suggestions for how I should refer to myself, please share in the comments below or on Twitter!