Staff Spotlight Podcast: A conversation with Consuela Greene
Listen, watch, or read a conversation between Root Cause’s Executive Director, Erin Rodriguez, and Principal Consultant, Consuela Greene. Learn why Consuela is driven to do this work, where her special ability to bring people together and facilitate groups comes from, and what excites her about the future of Root Cause and the social sector.
Listen on Spotify.
Erin Rodriguez: Hi everybody. My name is Erin Rodriguez. I am the Executive Director at Root Cause, and I am talking today with you, Consuela Greene, hello! Consuela has been at Root Cause for almost as long as I have, almost four years. First to come be a consultant on a continuous quality improvement project, and then to come on board full time and be a part of our team and we’re really glad you’re here. Today we’re going to just make you super uncomfortable and make you talk about what you do and why you love your work, but before you talk about that, I want to talk a little bit about why I love your work. We’ve known each other for several years, having worked together in a previous context, and when I came to Root Cause, I knew pretty quickly that I wanted you to be part of this team of people. And you know, at that time it was particularly to focus on this project that we were working on in North Carolina. And after not long at all, your ability to kind of upend how people are thinking about things to in particular, bring a kind of like, let’s get real about this quality, to how the project was being approached, was really valuable to the team. And the, you know, the other thing that I think that you brought to the team that we did not have in depth at the time was an ability to get in a room with people and really hold the space for them. To make sure that folks are heard. To understand how to sort of thread together all the disparate points of view that are coming in into ideas about how to move things forward. And you have been doing that both internally with us as a team and on projects for as long as you’ve been here, and you’re really good at it, and I’m curious where that comes from.
Consuela Greene: If I had to be honest, it probably first came from being part of a big family. I’m only one of two children, but in my family, cousins are like siblings, and there’s like waves of cousins based on age groups. And I was in an age group of about six of us, and ultimately, I tended to want to know enough about what we wanted to do so we could get ready for the next adventure, so I could listen to everybody and I could figure out a way to get us on the same page so we could take off and go have some fun. So, I really think it comes from way back then, like little Consuela has been sort of a facilitator and organizer of thought to help people get on the same page for a long time. And then how that translated into, I think my journey professionally, has been that I’ve had a lot of real opportunities to work with sort of really dynamic cross-sector stakeholders from like when I started as a researcher at a research institute, but doing community based research and participatory action work with that first job, it allowed me to really understand that like, some people may not see the issue or the challenge that everyone’s trying to address exactly the same way, but often if you make enough space for people to share their perspective, you can figure out where there’s some common understanding and common purpose, and then really figure out what you do with that so you don’t lose people along the way, but really make room for people along the way. And I think what you get out of making that kind of space also means you get more of the best version of an idea, the best version of a strategy, and then real buy-in for folks to come along with you in the work. And I think that happens in all kinds of ways, and it’s a lesson I learned pretty early on as a research assistant, and then when I then went in to work within an education system that, you know, in my main job was like working with the school district to think about family and community engagement, and I felt really beholden to community, cause that’s where I, you know, that’s where my locus of where I think the best ideas live, and helping systems, and organizations, and other folks really understand the needs of community so that they can be a better fit partner for and with community, I think is the undercurrent of my work and how that translates into what I value with facilitation and holding space. And so, what’s interesting is like, as much as you were like, oh, now that I’m here at Root Cause, I really want Consuela along for this ride with me, I would say, when you left where we previously worked, I was like, I really missed Erin, and one of the big pieces that I missed about our working relationship that I feel like really shapes our work and collaboration here at Root Cause is, you have a tremendous ability to really think about what’s the kind of internal culture and supports needed for people to really bring their sort of best into the work, and how do we continuously challenge ourselves as a team and as an organization to be the place where each of us get to do that. And I appreciate that about you. And even more importantly, I think it really is where I get to make that, like, you know what I’m good at and you make room for me to use what I’m good at, both within Root Cause, but also within the work I do externally with partners. And so, when I think about that, like the same way, you’re like, I kind of see that in you, I see your both, care, but also, ability, to think about staff support and organizational culture as an innate gift of you. And when I think, you know, each of us have sort of purpose, I operate from that and I, you know, even little Consuela’s ability to organize her cousins and friends to get the next adventure going, I really do believe it’s sort of some purpose that we’re given, that was sort of placed on the inside of me, and that’s why it translates so well professionally, and so when I think of some things that I’ve seen you bring in a variety of places, it’s really the care of people and talent, and the intersection of like that care with organizational culture and structure, so where does that come from, for you?
Erin Rodriguez: You know, it’s funny. I could probably answer a different way on any day, but it occurs to me right now that it’s because I’m a host, and, you know, tying it back to this question of family of origin, I’m an only child of a single mom, and I have other family, but we were not all close together. We were not all sort of always spending time with each other. But, my mom had a really close friend, who, through these really wonderful gatherings of people, and I remember being a kid thinking, I want to do this. And my mom never hosted a party. We were always at Cindy’s parties, but, she didn’t host a party. And so, I sort of, I don’t know what sort of grew up within the back of my mind with this idea, but I wanted to make space for people, and because that is what I love to do, I think I’ve always brought that to the work context as well. And as I was sort of learning both how to be good at, you know, the tasks of my job, as I got more responsibility, and in particular was tasked with building teams, I wanted everybody to feel like they had the space to do what they were good at, and weren’t sort of constantly banging their head against the wall to try to get better at stuff that they could get a little better at, but it was never going to become the center of what they did. So, for me, it’s really about hosting space for people to really be seen, to be who they are, and to help other people learn how to do that for the people that they care about, whether that’s in a work context, or a home context. You know, sometimes I think I should have opened a restaurant. I don’t know if I’m up for the late nights at this point, but, that’s, I would say really the origin, is about wanting to care for people and create spaces for them to be to be whole and to feel the power of their own value. Yeah. So, we’re going to talk about you a lot more than me though, and I’m glad I get to turn it back around that way. I, you know, have watched you at Root Cause work on a bunch of different projects, and you came on to be a coach in a project that was focused on continuous quality improvement, and, when you came on full time, you came on to direct a project that was about that. So, you were the leader of that project, and over the course of those two continuous quality improvement focused pieces of work, you did a ton. You were instrumental in changing the sort of first draft of how we were thinking about continuous quality improvement, and, we’ll just say that even in that work, you didn’t do it by coming in and sort of taking a red pen to what a team had already created. You did the coaching, you got in relationship with people here at Root Cause, and I would say you facilitated a team transformation of a piece of work rather than coming back with a new draft, which I just think, has been amazing, and is an example of how facilitation is at the core of what you do, even if you’re doing something that is far more sort of kind of an overarching direction of a project, you’re still facilitating people as opposed to telling them what to do. So, I’m curious what you love, especially at Root Cause, and how does that show up?
Consuela Greene: Yeah. You know, what’s so funny, is like, I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about those like, core, like the way in which I think some of my core strengths or gifts, kind of play out, whether that’s the assignment or not. I don’t know if I’ve thought about it in that way. But you’re right, I think of across each of the projects I’ve either been a team member of, and, or, have led here at Root Cause, they’ve been shaped by sort of both Root Cause’s vision and mission of really putting forward strategies, frameworks, tools, at the community level, for folks to do whatever it is that they say they want to be doing. Right? So, this idea of like, there are missions and visions all day at every organization, every foundation, any public agency we may be working with, and at times there can be a real disconnect between optimum ideal of a vision and mission and alignment with partners and community members that people are working in partnership with, and, or, in service to. And what I love about that work is it makes room for me to work across a number of social issues, cause if you were to ask Consuela, you know, what do you most want to work on? I like, I have a passion and interest in a range of social issues, partly because of the ways that they directly impact my life, my family’s life, the community that I come from, and being a black woman born in the United States with generational trauma of the ways that systemic racism has shaped who I am and what my experiences have been. I believe in work that is transforming communities. And I believe in work that is bringing systems and people and service providers together in a space to think about how you can reimagine something different, and then strategically guide work in a new and different path. And so, I love that work, and I get to do that work in a variety of ways, whether it’s on some of our work that’s directly looking at how to build capacity and support best practices with social service providers, using our program quality roadmap work and continuous quality improvement, or if it’s the work that I’ve been doing around collective action and partnering with folks like Guilford County with the Every Baby Guilford project. And really thinking about both strategy, design, implementation, and how you do that with a real collective lens and thinking about how you bring those that impact and are impacted by a social issue into not just space as a client or customer of that service, but truly as a partner and co-designer of what needs to be created to really make transformation. That’s the work I love to do, and Root Cause, because of our positionality, sort of where we’re positioned, in the social sector, it makes room for us to be guides and facilitators of that work. And that, as you see, it kind of directly links to what I think I’m supposed to do. And it is because I don’t think I have the answer for the toughest challenges facing our world and communities, but I do believe that I can be a part of sort of setting the table and guiding the knowers in a process that help them to name what they most need, and then helping to create sort of that collaborative and collective environment where there’s some mutual reinforcement of ideas and common purpose and support for change, and shifting in a new direction. And then what does it take to do that? Like, there’s a lot of ideas that get generated. You know, if I go back to when I started in the early 2000s, I have so many, you know, spiral bound books of evidence based this, best practice that, and if you get to the core of that, not a lot has changed at the core, it’s bring enough of the right people into a room to really figure out what’s going on and what’s needed, and then identify strategies and practices that may get you somewhere else. And then you’ve got to pay attention and see if it’s working, and how to track it along the way, and see where there are adjustments needed, and to not act on people, but act with people, I think is an important piece of that, and that’s what I love to do. And I get to do that every day at Root Cause across projects and in our internal work, which is fun and cool.
Erin Rodriguez: Yeah. You and one of our colleagues, Colette, have this thing that you love to say at the end of this, you know, these really sort of powerful ideas. The and is, and we get stuff done. And I think that it’s that combo of, you know, really having a deep understanding of what is understood about the sector, of, you know, what some really great organizations around the country have done in terms of thinking about things like collective impact, and thinking about how nonprofits can be most effective, bringing that in and really being practitioners of those things, and testing those things and learning along with our clients.
Consuela Greene: Yeah, I’m a practitioner at my core, right? Like, you know, many of my other colleagues bring some other skillsets into the work, but what I’ve been able to contribute here at Root Cause and I think in direct relationship with our clients is I’ve kind of worked across a number of social issues. I’ve been a direct service provider, but then I’ve also been a capacity builder and a technical assistance provider of direct service folks. And then I’ve worked within systems and/or worked to create collective impact initiatives, so, because I’ve had some on the ground experience in a range of areas of that work, and I think in so many ways, there’s some interconnection of our service areas in some really meaningful ways, it’s been exciting to bring the sort of practitioner lens. So even going back to the like, let’s get real, it’s the, like, that sounds good, and that really looks good on paper, but here’s where we may run into problems or be open enough in our work when we’re working with clients to listen and learn and make adjustments along the way when we’re realizing some early idea we had may not work as well on the ground with practitioners. And so, I value bringing that to the team.
Erin Rodriguez: Yeah. I’m super curious, you know, you know this, we are almost done with a strategic plan that we did inside. It’s kind of like, I don’t know, there are all kinds of clichés about shoemakers’ children going barefoot. It took us a long time to build our own strategic plan, in part, because we do this for other people, and so, the meaning felt, you know, really important to us, but, I’m curious, and it’s kind of a two parter, you and I are relative newbies to Root Cause, which has been around for, you know, 15 years, I’m curious, you know, based on what you know about Root Cause’s long history, first of all, what are you really proud to be bringing into the future of Root Cause? What are we carrying with us from sort of the beginning of the organization, and then, you know, just in, you’ve named a lot about the depth of how we are doing our work, but if you do just have sort of one thing that you’re also excited about that is new to what we’re doing, that we’re going to also pull into the future.
Consuela Greene: Yeah. So, way back, some time ago, I was a sort of full-time consultant out here, an independent consultant. And I remember I had gone to one small business workshop, and they were like, you need to understand your market. And Root Cause literally was like on a list of places where I’m like, oh, I don’t like working by myself, I actually like working in groups and teams, cause I think, I like, that’s where I get my best and I get to give my best. And so, I was like, man, I would love to learn how they created Root Cause. Right. Cause like I wanted to have a consulting group. That was my like vision way back when I was an independent consultant. And one of the reasons Root Cause actually stood out to me back in, I’m going to say it must have been like 2014, 13, 14, or so, when Root Cause came across my radar, was it felt practical. I had been a part of a national initiative in some previous work where there was a lot of technical assistance provided to us, and there were a range of national organizations working with us, and some of the missing pieces that we had in the nonprofit I worked with at the time, we still needed some of those tactical, how to be a strong and strategic organization, and we didn’t know how to do that. And one of the things I actually really appreciate about organizational development in both strategic planning, but really supporting people to make the practice changes necessary to kind of live into whatever you plan, in your strategic plan, is those nuts and bolts of how to be a strong, sustainable, viable nonprofit organization, because you have to have certain foundational conditions in place to be strong and sustainable so what you offer to the community doesn’t go away when one funder goes away, right? And, so, I’d say the history of Root Cause as really being a part of occupying some real space and being able to do that with partners in really practical ways, in ways that people can understand, not these like really complicated ways. That’s really appealing to me for what we have brought to the social sector in the past, and that I really am and excited to continue to build on, and modify, adapt, and grow into our future work, and that piece being really important. How do we support organizations to build some of those real foundational conditions? Things like, are you engaged enough with your community to really make sure what you’re offering really meets the need of community and that that may shift and change over time, and do you have some sustainable ways to stay connected in dialogue and in right relationship with community to make those adjustments, and then really grounding your organization in its mission and vision, does it, are you staying in, you know, are you staying attune to that or are you mission drifting based on funding? And then one of the other core foundational conditions really is how is your work advancing racial and economic equity in the communities that you serve, and thinking about that both inside of an organization and the way in which an organization engages externally. So being a part of helping to strategically shape that for organizations and then supporting them in a variety of different ways to strengthen their foundational conditions and really building on that for how service looks sort of community facing, is powerful. And I think we’re building off of the groundwork of early Root Cause, kind of staking a claim in the need for stronger organization, infrastructure, and culture, to do that. The thing I’m excited that we are being way more intentional about in our work really does tie back to, you know, the pandemic, the dual pandemic that we are operating in right now, has created a lot of performative acts where folks are talking about racism and racial equity and all of the ways that you just never know, like, is there something that’s going along with that statement that many companies and corporations and agencies, folks, have been putting out in the world since, since 2000, summer of 2000 and beyond. I’m really excited for the work Root Cause could contribute to helping people go from statement to strong strategy and then support for practice, change, and improvement, with a lens towards racial and economic equity. If I think about where I most want to impact the social sector, there’s an intersection for the most marginalized folks in our community, and that intersection typically is systemic racism and economic inequities that drive and are rooted in sort of the history of what created systemic racism itself. And so, us, Root Cause, being able to bring some of those tactical organizational development and strategic planning and thinking into space, with folks that are trying to really activate on some of the promises people have been putting out in their diversity, equity, and inclusion statements, feel like some really important work for us to be a part of, and I’m excited to be a part of helping to shape it.
Erin Rodriguez: Yeah, and you’re the one who is always reminding us that we are doing work that has not yet come to fruition anywhere, right. We’re really, really, trying to step into doing what we believe is right, in some cases when there aren’t any examples that it’s true, and we are testing some stuff out.
Consuela Greene: Yeah, I’ve been calling myself, I, you know, I know some other folks may be coining some other terms, like, I think about my work as a social imaginer, cause there’s some real sort of orchestrating and engineering that is necessary, but if we do that without imagination and engagement with folks that probably have better answers than any one or two people may have in a room, I think we can start to construct some new social contracts with each other and reimagine what are the necessary systems and structures that could support an equitable, just, and liberated community in society.
Erin Rodriguez: Yeah. Alright, well, we’re almost out of time, but I have some rapid-fire questions for you. I think we’re borrowing this from Brené Brown, who we both adore, so, alright, here we go. I’m going to start the sentence. You’re going to complete it. I am passionate about…
Consuela Greene: Adventure. Anyone that knows me, it’s like, what is my next adventure? And I’d say also really creating intergenerational space for healing and creativity for black families and black communities.
Erin Rodriguez: And what are you currently reading, watching, or listening to? Give us a couple of examples.
Consuela Greene: Honestly, cause they literally were sitting on my desk, so I could even show you, it is Feeding The Soul by Tabitha Brown. I just love her, and she speaks to my spirit and soul in so many ways. And true to form, I am a born facilitator, but I’m always wanting to learn and grow in that area, so, The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. So those are the two that I sort of presently catch up and read where I can, but, The Art of Gathering has been really anchoring me lately as I’ve been working with partners to really think about how we get intentional about the purpose for bringing people together, and then how do you create and host gatherings that bring that forward.
Erin Rodriguez: Yeah.
Consuela Greene: I know that wasn’t rapid-fire. I’ll be rapid for the next one.
Erin Rodriguez: In my spare time I like to…
Consuela Greene: Oh, man, I’ve been binging so much TV. So, I binge watch TV series’, and there’s a whole list of them, so I won’t name them all. And I think my favorite thing is road tripping to Baltimore to play with my grandson, Zephyr.
Erin Rodriguez: Yeah. Oh, he’s so cute. So cute! Your twin. In 10 years, this one’s going to be hard rapid-fire too, in 10 years, the change I hope to see is…
Consuela Greene: Yeah, I can’t be rapid on it, but I’ll be as succinct as I can be on it. I really hope to see people that are most impacted by some of the inequities, when I think about health, economic, and education inequities, are truly leading the way to reimagine and redesign the systems and structure, and sort of service delivery that I think is necessary to truly have transformative impact. That they’re, you know, that they’re active partners and designers and implementers at all of the levels of impact, so individual community and systems level, because I think it takes all of that, and that we anchor it in healing, and restoring, and in liberation. Like if we don’t anchor things in the things we know are most necessary, we’ll just keep creating stuff, but we won’t heal, and we won’t all be free. And I want be free, I don’t know about you. I got a couple quotes back here about my freedom, so.
Erin Rodriguez: Alright, well, we’re going to leave it here for today. I am so glad to be on a team with you, and I’m glad to be at Root Cause. And I think we’re going to let you interview some people next, so we don’t have to write bios that we feel uncomfortable with.
Consuela Greene: I know, or you can read our bios and also get to know us a little bit more. Cause I love my work here at Root Cause, cause it allows me to really live out what I think I’m divinely here to do, and do that with community across the country, which is beautiful.