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Wildacres reaches out

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By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — The Wildacres Leadership Initiative is working to broaden the impact of its 10-year-old effort to create a statewide community of diverse leaders who can continue to work together.

Created in 1995 by the Charlotte-based Blumenthal Foundation, which provides 60 percent of its $400,000 annual budget, the initiative administers the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations, named for the long-time president of the University of North Carolina system.

Now, the initiative is reducing the size of each two-year class, while expanding its support for alumni, promoting their ideas and offering leadership training throughout the state that focuses on “integrity, intention and inclusion,” says Sterling Freeman, executive director.

With the state becoming more diverse, says Freeman, a former banker and Friday Fellow, “those skills are important to put us in a place to experience things that are very different from what we’ve experienced before.”

The program has graduated 130 fellows, who typically are from their mid-to-late 20s to their mid-40s and represent a broad cross-section of North Carolinians based on religion, race, political ideology, sexual orientation and profession.

Wherever they live or work, says Freeman, individuals selected as Friday Fellows typically “have the ability to influence their communities.”

The leadership-development program, he says, focuses on human relations, or “a way of being in which individuals invest themselves in sharing their experiences and beliefs, challenging their assumptions and perspectives, and exploring and learning from the reality of others.”

The next Wildacres class will begin in October, and be limited to 15 to 20 fellows, down from 25 in past years.

And starting next year, Wildacres plans to increase its annual budget by $75,000 to $100,000, and to diversify its funding base.

It also is expanding efforts by its alumni to reinforce and spread what they have learned through the program, and to provide them with new skills and knowledge.

The fellows network, for example, has teamed up with other groups to sponsor “community conversations,” including one in Raleigh in November on “acting for the public good,” and another in Charlotte in January on “stewardship for the common good.”

The network also is planning a statewide conference on philanthropy later this year that will focus on “giver and receiver relationships,” and on “power and privilege” in the philanthropic world, Freeman says.

Through its new Center for Excellence in Leadership, Freeman says, Wildacres also aims to promote its model of “integrity, intention and inclusion.”

That will include providing the news media with opinion columns written by fellows and former fellows on topics involving leadership and social issues.

And it will develop and package a leadership curriculum for use by other organizations, and will hold an annual “leadership caucus” at which participants can share information about their leadership styles and challenges, and how to use leadership to address critical issues in the state.

“The challenge,” says Freeman, “is how to deal with the sort of diverse, multi-cultural leadership that is ever growing in this state, how to network that pool of leadership such that, when we make major decisions in the state, when we begin to set the course, we can have all voices at the table.”

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