Developing Leaders through Relaxation and Friendship

As one of WNY’s largest funders, we have the privilege of meeting and getting to know a wide array of nonprofit and community leaders. These interactions often take place in the context of shared work, professional development forums, or networking events that have a set objective and agenda. While all of these are welcome and necessary, they typically leave little time for unstructured time that can allow people to simply get to know one another. These events also add to the already hectic and frenetic schedules nonprofit leaders are trying to balance along with managing their organizations, fundraising, and a myriad of other activities.

What do young leaders need? 

Since we believe strongly in our role as convener and capacity builder for the local nonprofit ecosystem, we gave some thought a few years back on what young leaders need most and how we could facilitate it. Our conclusion? That these professionals needed time to connect and to have permission to relax and unwind while sharing their experiences, frustrations, hopes and whatever else might be on their minds with like-minded colleagues. With this in mind, the Oishei Leaders program was born.

Unstructured time to relax and connect 

We began to invite young, energetic leaders to participate and then left it up to them as to how they wanted to spend their time together. Each year we host a 24-hour overnight retreat with no agenda, no speakers, no facilitators and no expectations other than that the group kick back and get to know each other better. We also host additional get-togethers throughout the year to keep conversations going, also without any type of structure or measure of success. We choose peaceful, natural settings that feel far away from the demands of the city. In this atmosphere, we believe creativity and cross-sector collaboration can take root. Taking the time to recharge also helps to better take on the next challenge.

Collaboration rooted in friendship

According to Nila Lampman, Executive Director of Ashford Hollow Foundation, Griffis Sculpture Park and Essex Arts Center and an Oishei Leader since 2015, “Many of us are so used to juggling so many things at once that at first it feels a little uncomfortable to not have a completely scheduled event. The real beauty is that the setting and the open schedule allows you to put your to-do list aside and spend time getting to know other people and share common issues. Unlike many networking events that can feel transactional, these gatherings are really all about friendships that then lead to sharing and working together, sometimes in unexpected ways.”
The only things scheduled are the meals. No one is designated as the “leader,” no specific outcomes are expected and Foundation staff keeps a low profile to encourage the participants to determine how they spend their time together. It is up to the group to decide what they talk about, to focus on their work or not, to move around or to take advantage of the location’s amenities.

“Buffalo is already a fairly tight knit community so participating in the Oishei Leaders program gives you the opportunity to connect with old friends, to meet face to face with others you may have been hoping to get to know and to build relationships with those working in different organizations but that have similar challenges. It is so different than other networking or leadership programs and has so much value,” added Nila