In a recent article, Dr. Danielle Moss Lee shared her experience as newly elected President of the YWCA of the City of New York (YW):
One of the things you’re expected to do when you assume executive leadership in the social sector is to create, define, and promote an individual platform that aligns with the organization’s mission and your unique leadership assets.
As the second woman of color to head one of the nation’s oldest women’s organizations, I immediately came to understand the need for balancing the time honored perspectives of long-time supporters of our 157-year-old legacy, and giving way to the emerging voices of today’s girls and younger women whose views are decidedly more feminist-centered and politically sophisticated than I was at their age. If we weren’t clear about who we were, I saw the potential of alienating legacy YW friends and of making us irrelevant to a new generation of young woman who hold the YW’s commitment to eliminating racism and empowering women equally dear.
I articulated the much-needed balance as an exercise in “intergenerational generosity.” I even came up with a formal definition:
“Intergenerational generosity is defined as the process of courageously making room for multi-generational, multi-dimensional points of view as demonstrated by a commitment to a co-created and mutually beneficialagenda rooted in values of empathy and kindness, and the releasing of privilege. It means I have to give something and risk something. Intergenerational generosity allows us to glance at the rearview mirror of our past, but requires us to face forward and keep moving in the direction of possibility and future impact. It means the conversation is most valuable when everyone has an authentic seat at the table; when folks are holding themselves accountable for making sure that everyone is heard; when young folks leave their tendency to be patronizing and resistant at the door; and, when sages let go of their tendency toward condescension and proselytizing.”
As an organization committed to intergenerational generosity, the YW has launched its unique Potential to Power Symposium, where established women come to hear from teen speakers and discussants. We’ve launched our YWCA NYC Fire Council, to create a vehicle that supports the economic, educational, and political advancement of young women. And, we’re continuing our outreach to traditional communities of women with longstanding relationships with the YW via our YWCEO Salon Series.
Intergenerational generosity isn’t free. It means that sometimes I have to release the stories of my past about how people and systems operate, and give people the benefit of the doubt. It means filtering out gossip long enough to gain my own sense of who people are, and what they have to offer. It means understanding that the “return on investment” isn’t always immediately apparent — sometimes you give of yourself, share contacts, share information, offer advice, make job referrals, pass on opportunities you can’t use in the moment, and provide services, all without agenda and without attachment to payback.
We are inviting all women to share their stories about intergenerational generosity on social media with us @ywcanyc and via the hashtag #YWWomanKind. We understand that intergenerational generosity needs to be conscious and intentional, and we are determined to get it right to ensure our future success.