Leading the Way: ProInspire launches development of a competency model for rising social sector professionals


By Monisha Kapila

I am excited to share that ProInspire has launched an initiative to define a competency model for rising social sector professionals, with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The result will be a framework that can serve as a guide for social sector professionals who want to better manage their learning and career growth, and the organizations who want to support them in driving results, impact, and overall career satisfaction.

This project will address three fundamental needs that were identified in our strategy process:

  • For rising social sector leaders: Through our Millennials research and alumni surveys, we discovered that the top two challenges facing rising social sector leaders are lack of professional development and unclear career pathways. Individuals are increasingly responsible for developing their own competencies as they move across jobs and gain responsibility, yet they do not have a clear sense of what matters as they define their own career path.
  • For social sector organizations: Organizations need resources for shared terminology and to better understand the role of equity within competencies. Discussions inside our organization and with ProInspire Alumni demonstrate widespread confusion and lack of agreement on definitions, such as competency versus skill. What’s more, many competencies lack clear markers, which can lead to evaluations being implicitly based on education, class, or other factors. For example, what does it mean to be a ‘strategic thinker?’ How much of our definition of ‘strategic thinking’ is based on dominant leadership models from the corporate sector?
  • For our work at ProInspire: As we implement our strategies in support of ProInspire’s bold goal, we recognize a demand to expand our leadership development programs to better meet the needs of rising leaders. Internally, we need clarity on which competencies we should emphasize in order to support rising leaders. For example, if we launch a leadership program for Directors (i.e. “Managing for Success 2.0”), what competencies should be the focus of such a program?

Some of the questions we hope to address in this research include:

  • What mindsets, skills, and tools do leaders at different levels need to be effective in driving results for social impact?
  • How do we define competency ‘levels?’ How do years of experience, title, or mastery of a skill connect to ‘levels?’
  • Is equity its own competency, or should it be woven into the fabric of every competency?
  • How do we identify the competencies that are truly needed for a role, a level, or an organization? How can we minimize bias that stems from dominant culture leadership models?
  • How do individuals develop competencies as they navigate their own leadership development and career paths?

Sandy Stonesifer, ProInspire’s Advisor for Leadership Development, is leading this work in consultation with the ProInspire team and external advisors. Our approach to this project will involve:

  • Secondary Research: We engaged the Advisory Board Company to conduct a pro bono review of existing literature and models in the sector. We will also review models developed by Bridgespan, EdFuel, the YMCA, Emerging Leaders Playbook, and others.
  • Primary Research: We will conduct interviews and focus groups with advisors, ProInspire partners, and Alumni to gather their feedback and insights on competencies and competency models.
  • Model Development and Testing: After synthesizing our research, we will develop a draft model and engage staff, partners, and advisors for feedback.
  • Publication: We will publish version 1.0 of the model early next year. We intend for this to be a dynamic tool on which we will iterate in coming years.

Throughout the development process, we welcome and value your input and feedback. Please reach out to Sandy Stonesifer if:

  • Your organization has a competency model you are willing and able to share
  • You use (or know of) any research or models to guide your own leadership development and career path

As the competency model takes shape, we will continue to share our thinking and progress on this important work. Look for more updates on this project in the coming months, and please reach out to us with any questions or comments.

Monisha Kapila is ProInspire’s Founder and CEO.

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