One of the many defining characteristics of a thriving community is the presence of civic leadership, particularly civic leadership that is representative of the people living and working in the community. Civic leaders are instrumental in developing healthy, just, and equitable communities, and efforts to cultivate their presence would be inherently beneficial for all members of the community. In recognition of this inextricable relationship between civic leaders and community health, the Barr Foundation has sought to develop civic leaders in hopes of improving the quality of life in Greater Boston. The Foundation has created a Fellowship program that serves to achieve this goal by (a) recognizing and supporting individual leadership, (b) enhancing organizational capacity, and (c) strengthening connections and cross-sector collaborative capacity. Community Science has been selected to evaluate the success of the program, learn from the evaluation, and provide insights for ongoing program improvement. We worked with the Barr Foundation to refine the program theory of change and used a mixed methods approach to collect quantitative and qualitative data about the experiences of the fellows, interim leaders, and partners.

Supporting individual leadership. Selected for their leadership and significant contributions to Greater Boston, 12 to 15 Barr fellows from various fields within the civic sector participate in a two-year fellowship program that serves to strengthen their leadership skills. Once selected, fellows complete an orientation process that acquaints them with the requirements and expectations of the fellowship and prepares them and their organizations to fully engage with the process. Shortly after orientation, Barr fellows participate in a learning journey to a location outside the U.S., designed to support reflection, connection, and inspiration as they learn from civic leaders working in other parts of the world. Additionally, fellows participate in a three-month sabbatical intended to facilitate personal and professional reflection and rejuvenation. Fellows are also required to participate in four retreats to help bridge silos of experience, develop new skills and perspectives and deepen existing ones, and cultivate authentic relationships, which enriches their ongoing leadership and are essential elements for collaborations across sectors. Fellows are also encouraged to engage with an executive coach to support their personal and professional development.

Enhancing organizational capacity. In addition to supporting fellows, Barr also provides supports for their organizations, beginning with the interim leaders— staff within the fellows’ organizations (usually one to three people per organization) who are selected to take on the fellows’ day-to-day responsibilities during the sabbatical. Interim leaders assume the responsibilities of their executive, thereby enhancing their knowledge, skill set, and leadership abilities. Similarly, other members within the organization may take on other responsibilities, often leading to wide-scale leadership development and growth. To prepare interim leaders and teams for the sabbatical, three workshops are organized to enhance their individual leadership abilities and ensure effective engagement before, during, and after the sabbatical. These workshops also offer an opportunity for interim leaders across the participating organizations to form authentic personal and professional relationships. Organizations also receive significant funding from the Barr Foundation to support leadership development, organizational development, and exploratory projects. In addition, the fellows and their leadership teams are provided an organizational coach who provides strategic advice and guidance as they develop customized plans to strengthen and support their organizations during the Fellowship period.

Strengthening connections and cross-sector collaborative capacity. In addition to supporting individual fellows and their organizations, an essential element of the Fellowship is the nurturing of relationships among the fellows. All of the activities, from the orientation, to the learning journey, to the class retreats, are designed to promote personal growth and reflection, and to foster authentic, trusting, boundary-crossing relationships among the fellows in each cohort. Barr fellows are also part of a larger network of alumni that includes all those who have participated in the program. Participants represent nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, school leaders and, more recently, may also represent public agencies and social enterprises. Connections across sectors are facilitated throughout the program with the hope of establishing strong relationships that may result in future collaborations among fellows and their organizations.