Disrupting leadership models

Jamye Wooten is a Digital Communications & Social Impact Strategist. Founder of CLLCTIVLY, Kinetic Strategies, and Black Theology Project 2.0, Jamye is also an alumni of Future London Academy’s Executive Programme for Design Leaders.

We sat down with Jamye to talk to him about disrupting hierarchical leadership models, how growing up in Baltimore shaped his approach to community, entrepreneurship, and participation, and how his vision and its execution have changed since participating in the Executive Programme for Design Leaders.

FLA: Jamye, you're doing incredible things we can’t wait to ask you about. But first, we want to know – can you tell us a bit more about your upbringing; about what shaped you into the empathic, entrepreneurial person you are today?

Jamye: I grew up in Baltimore with my parents and three siblings. My mom is a florist and an evangelist and my dad owned five dry cleaners and several nightclubs. We had the best of both worlds - a mom with strong faith and commitment to community and a dad who was equally committed to community and who also knew how to have fun.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs. All of my siblings have launched businesses as well. My sister went to George Washington Law School and owned two pizza delivery stores and a Real Estate firm. I lost my sister at 53 and my dad at 56. Their early deaths have me thinking a lot lately in my current role as the founder of CLLCTIVLY, about the toll entrepreneurship can take on under-resourced communities. Often Black-led and Black-owned businesses are forced to boot-strap with little to no family and friends funding. We want to make sure our communities have not only what they need to survive, but thrive. The death of my sister and my dad has played a major role in my work today.

In terms of influence, I grew up in the Church and a community setting where we all depended on one another. One of my first professional jobs was as director of the Collective Banking Group, working with all the 200 churches in faith-based economic development and I loved that work. But our organization, like the church, was very hierarchical and I was interested in more decentralized models of leadership. I felt like we weren't tapping into the genius of our members and the parishioners, that this top-down model didn’t serve the collective well. This experience led me to much of my work today around Servant Leadership, Participatory Models and, Decentralised Models of Leadership, where you can tap into the collective genius of an organization.

FLA: Not everyone thinks about leadership in that collective and participatory way. What is it about that model that attracted your attention?

Jamye: Working with church leaders I often saw clergy-only meetings. Clergy organizing other clergy work on issues plaguing our community. The absence of the congregants meant they were missing the collective genius within the congregation. In the congregation there is a diversity of talent — teachers, lawyers, and the returning citizen — all with skills and life experiences that weren’t being brought to the table.

Then I came across a book called The Head Negro in Charge Syndrome, which highlighted the shortcoming of these top-down, messianic leadership models I began to study models of participatory democracy, decentralised movement building, and social network theory: models that tap into the genius of the collective.

Early on in my career, I was starting to meet so many amazing people who were affiliated with the church, but not necessarily a part of leadership – I remember Dr. Fred Smith, a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, once told me that he believe the future of church leadership was facilitation. With more and more African Americans earning degrees these top-down, do as I say models would run their course. We were entering a time when the pastor may no longer be the most educated in the church. Today we have doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other folks with graduate-level degrees sitting in our congregations and we're not necessarily tapping into that genius.

FLA: I love this idea. Can you dive a bit deeper into what you mean by Decentralised Leadership?

Jamye: Ella Baker said ‘Strong people don't need strong leaders.’ She was the right-hand of Dr. King but her view was that Martin didn't make the movement, the movement made Martin. This is what she calls decentralised participatory models of democracy.

We founded CLLCTIVLY with this participatory model in mind, and we made the decision to spend the first two years just building and deepening relationships. We’re a group of decentralised organisations together, so next, we had to establish our shared values and principles: what is our ideology, our glue?

When applying for micro-grants, we asked organisations to submit a two to three-minute video integrating one of the values from The Nguzo Saba, which are the seven principles of Kwanzaa. We wanted to begin to integrate those principles so that we were working with folks that shared the same similar values and principles. This is the concept of Ubuntu, ‘I am a person because you are the person.’ It's about relationship-building and trust-building principles rather than personalities.

FLA: So if someone is not convinced by this decentralised participatory leadership model, how would you persuade them?

Jamye: People want ownership in what they believe in, and when they have a stake in it they give more because it’s a collective community project. When people have buy-in and really feel like they have a seat at the table and that their voice matters, they give their all, and they come with 110%. I can see that more top-down approaches might at times seem more efficient. Democracy is hard because you have a lot of voices at the table. But there’s an African proverb that says ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. And so if you're thinking about the long term it has to be collective, not individual.

FLA: Can you tell me a bit more about CLLCTIVLY and what your main focus is for the next year or five years?

Jamye: Sure. We launched CLLCTIVLY in 2019 as a resource for those that seek to find, fund and partner with Black social change organisations. In 2015, after the murder of Freddie Gray here in Baltimore, we launched Baltimore United For Change, a coalition of grassroots organizations. During that time I created the skills bank, an ‘on-ramp’ for folks that weren't necessarily on the ground: teachers, lawyers, doctors, mental health professionals, photographers. These were people who wanted to give back but we had to work out how to organise all this talent. In launching CLLCTIVLY in 2019, we’ve cast the net even wider, and now we have over 150 Black-led organisations mapped by area of focus and neighbourhood.

Our second phase is Amplify, our multimedia project, where we start telling the stories of these organisations. Now we’re moving into Phase Three, Connect, where we integrate with our skilled professionals, freelancers and consultants, to begin to help work alongside some of our Black-led organisations. There's also our Fund For Black Futures. We know the data: Black-led organisations only receive about 2% of the $60 billion available for foundation funding. So a large part of our work is telling the stories of Black-led organisations and their great work, and then mobilising resources.

FLA: One of the things that I really admire about you is your ability to fundraise, which is a really hard skill. I know you’ve had some very successful rounds; did it come naturally to you? Tell us more about the challenges and what advice you would give.

Jamye: It did not come naturally! I came in with the view that fundraising is about partnership and not paternalism. You can partner with us, but you cannot create strings for us. And those who get it, get it. There were some tables we had to walk away from. 

A big part of what we do is ‘no-strings attached’ grants, which is somewhat unheard of. Philanthropy is normally paperwork and you have to do a lot of reporting. But we tell folks: ‘if you need to pay your rent and you pay your rent, if you need to go to the spa, you go to a spa.’ We recognize that you’ve been serving your community often and have been pouring from an empty cup. We know the history of how our community has been disinvested. I think it's often a burden when smaller organisations get funding and all they can do is put it straight back into the program. We just launched a grant called We Got Your Back; a $2,000 a month stipend for 12 months that supports a one-Black-woman Organisation to do as she pleases. We’re coming alongside her and her organisation, and the metrics won't be: how did you scale your business? How did it grow, how it would, you know, how was this year for you? Instead, it’ll be: were you able to take a deep breath? Did you take a vacation? Were you able to hire a cook or someone to watch your children?

We're trying to be disruptive in this space. I had an individual donor say to me I know these are no-strings-attached grants, but what if somebody goes to buy a $400 pair of shoes? My answer to that question is to ask – where did that story come from? Why is there the assumption that the grantees would misuse these funds? These are change-makers who are proven in the community. This is what I mean by partnership, not paternalism. We’re investing in impact. We start with impact and then we can go back and get the data. And so that's what we've done. We've gone back and done interviews, gotten the stories of what folks are doing in the community. But I think often funders want to check the box early on but the problem with that is that you check the box but the impact on the community is not felt. So instead, we start with impact and then we walk it back, then we check the box.

FLA: This is such a radical approach. I love your metrics about wellbeing and happiness; these are so often forgotten. Without them, you might be able to have one very efficient year of something, but not a long-term change or a sustained community impact.

Do you have any advice you wish someone gave you five or ten years ago? Something that would make your life easier or get where you are more quickly.

Jamye: I would say getting advice on the legal elements, the financial elements, the accounting. We know that in the Black community and in the US 95% of the business are solopreneurs. So these are one-person shops, and often don't have this infrastructure. To small organisations, I would say: find pro-bono lawyers, accountants, right from the start. Make sure your work is as tight as possible so that you have a solid foundation.

FLA: So that leads me to my next question, about building networks. You are of course an alumnus of our Executive Programme for Design Leaders – is there anybody in the cohort that you’ve bonded with, and that you’re collaborating with now to build your organisation?

Jamye: Absolutely. We bonded right from the start, from the first reception dinner, and we stayed tight the entire time. It’s an amazing group and I didn't expect that to happen so easily, with us all coming from all over the world and from such different backgrounds. There was this great space, and in that first module we began with setting and sharing our intentions for the two weeks and what we want to get out of it. Carolyn Hallowell, one of our cohort, is the Creative Director of Advoc8 in Washington, DC. I'm here in Baltimore we’re only 45 minutes away but it took us coming to London and to Future London Academy to meet each other and connect. Now we’re collaborating on a festival here in Baltimore – we’re actually right now finalising the contract – for Carloyn’s organisation to design our festival here in Baltimore.

FLA: It brings me so much joy to see those collaborations happen; I can’t wait to see the outcome.

Regarding things that changed since you started the program, is there anything with the team or how you run the business or any kind of things that you keep using in your day-to-day life?

Jamye: It helped me slow down and make sure I'm communicating and bringing folks along and not just out there in the next space and the next thing. One huge thing was the growth model for consulting coaching. In fact, I just did a consulting project here for a local university and I had the growth framework in the background. What I learned has changed the way I negotiate, too. For example, we’re launching a platform with a subscription base and during the course I sat down with Paul Albert from FreeSpee who went through his whole pricing model which was incredibly helpful to me. Recently I had this new consultant reach out to me and I went back to all the questions that Paul did a great job of walking us through: What are they trying to get out of this? What is their sort of outcomes? And based on what their outcomes are, how are they monetizing my contribution? So that was very helpful. It’s changed the way I approached these negotiations and contract signing and it’s something I’ll carry forward in my organisation.

FLA: And from the two weeks as a whole: fun moments, memories – what would be the highlight?

Jamye: Champagne! The Halloween dinner was a blast. And the perfume-making workshop. That was a great time to bond and learn about different smells and scents and I want to go back to it. Each module is quite intense so that was a great way to slow down and give us as a cohort a chance to spend some time with each other.

FLA: Ok, so, the last question. If someone just read the interview and got inspired by what they read, what would be something they could do to get involved?

Jamye: Go to cllctivly.org. We have giving circles, right now we have individuals who join our giving circle for $300, $360 a year, and then those organisations, those individuals vote on the winner and how we disperse those particular grants. We also have our annual Day of Giving this year which will be a three-day festival – that’s the festival we’re organising with Carolyn – which will be 24 hours a day of giving. Last year, we raised over a hundred thousand dollars and this year the goal is a million dollars. Any folks out there who want to get involved, head to cllctivly.org.

Unfortunately, the browser you use is outdated and does not allow you to display the site correctly. Please install any of the modern browsers, for example:

Google Chrome Firefox Safari