Thriving Leaders and Communities

A ProInspire Research Initiative

The social sector has a knowledge gap when it comes to Black, Brown, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), and Indigenous Leadership. For too long, funders and others with access to resources have assessed leaders of color by standards entrenched in white dominant norms. Rather than focus on the distinctive strengths, strategic decision-making, and intentional behaviors that already allow leaders of color to thrive and create bold and transformational change in their organizations and communities, philanthropy has turned to efforts that focus on identifying “gaps” or “deficiencies.” By doing so, we’ve lost knowledge around what’s working well. And, as a result, deserving grassroots and community-based organizations have been excluded from funding and decision making. 

We want to hear from Black, Brown, AAPI, and Indigenous leaders within grassroots and community-based organizations on what thriving means to you. Brown includes those who identify as Latino/Latina/Latinx American, Hispanic American, Middle Eastern American and/or South Asian American.

That’s the Thriving Leaders and Communities Initiative

In partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ProInspire is thrilled to announce the Thriving Leaders and Communities research initiative — a project dedicated to understanding what strengths allow leaders of color to thrive as individuals, and in their organizations and communities. 

This year, we launched a national survey for Black, Brown, AAPI, and Indigenous leaders within grassroots and community-based organizations to surface what thriving means to them, followed by in-depth interviews and 3 intimate convenings.


The social sector organizations of the future will be places where Black, Brown, AAPI, Indigenous, and other leaders of color thrive, the organizations they lead succeed, and the communities they serve flourish. But to get there, we have to start by understanding the genius, wisdom, and successes that have gotten us this far. To consistently pull from a place of lack dims the light of possibility for illuminating what’s going right.  

Give Light and People Will Find the Way

– Ella Josephine Baker


The TLC Initiative is a two-year project with two key phases: 1) A national survey and 2) Follow-up interviews and in-person convenings with those respondents who may be interested and have availability. Data from the survey will be used to lift up what’s working well and increase knowledge about the conditions for thriving for the social sector. 

We’re also looking for this project to be an opportunity to build an extended community with Black, Brown, AAPI, and Indigenous leaders across the country who could benefit from hearing and sharing with each other just how their organizations, communities, and selves are thriving. 

Through this research, our biggest hope is to center, affirm, and celebrate the strengths and visions of leaders of color so that we can expand and reimagine the definition of leadership itself—outside of white dominant norms. 


This research initiative is intentionally centering grassroots and community-based organizations because we believe it can help us surface innovative leadership practices, given that these groups often don’t have as much access to traditional nonprofit funding models (especially multi-year unrestricted grants). We’re holding a hypothesis that if we can see what supports thriving with these groups, we can better know how to support leaders of color across all types of organizations and work.

We see grassroots and community-based organizations as ones that are place-based, changing policy or creating economic movement, and focused on collective action. We use “organization” broadly, and invite participation from those who might be a part of a chapter, collective, or group. 


We are seeking leaders of color from grassroots and community-based organizations to participate in this project. Leaders can be located anywhere in the United States. While we recognize that leadership happens at all levels, for this survey we’re seeking respondents from senior leaders and executives with decision-making or positional power within their organizations. Those who identify as Founders, Directors, CEOs, Presidents, Movement (Chapter) Leaders, Lead Organizers, etc. are all welcome and encouraged to participate!

At the same time, we also acknowledge that many grassroots and community-based organizations may have distributed or shared leadership models, in which positional authority is not hierarchical. At the end of the day, we’re looking for leaders who have a strong sense of their organization’s strengths and can speak to their work and thriving from a macro perspective (i.e., answer questions about themself, their organization, and their community). If that is you, please take our survey.


Ashley Bernal, Director of Research and Impact

Ashley is a sociologist with over a decade of experience in anti-racist program-policy research and analysis, policy recommendation, sociological academic instruction, and direct advocacy work in addressing racialized disparities in a myriad of institutions. Although an academic by trade, Ashley is an artist at heart. Merging her passion for the Arts with academic rigor, Ashley continues to develop creative ways that translate complex theories through artistic mediums. Whether it’s creating content, curating exhibits grounded in sociological concepts, or serving as a content consultant on various projects, her goal is to make valuable information accessible to communities that would otherwise be excluded.

Bianca Casanova Anderson, co-CEO 

Bianca supports nonprofit organizations and foundations by providing services that center race equity and leadership development. Bianca has a background in education, nonprofit leadership, and social change, with expertise in interpersonal communication, racial equity facilitation, and human centered design. Most importantly, Bianca loves people. She lives and leads through a lens of radical love, deep inquiry, and transformative justice. She is committed to creating spaces where every person feels safe, smart, and significant.

Rosie Aquila, Manager

Rosie supports the management of year 1 of this research project. She entered social movements through Resource Generation, where she discovered a community of peers committed to deconstructing white capitalism, making collective decisions, centering BIPOC and working-class leadership, and moving money to movements while practicing the world we want. She has organized with community groups fighting for housing, food, climate, and economic justice. Rosie strives to listen to understand, co-share and co-produce knowledge, and interrupt dynamics of oppression and white supremacy culture.

Ha’Na Muhammad, Manager

Ha’Na supports the management of year 2 of this research project. She is a dedicated program manager and former educator with a decade of experience serving systemically excluded communities. She thrives at the intersection of social activism, creativity, and business, letting her passion for fostering racial equity, access, and opportunity drive her on her mission as a social change agent. Ha’Na brings her experience in project management, community engagement, and virtual program implementation to the team.


Founded in 2009, ProInspire activates leaders at all levels to accelerate racial equity. Recognizing that leadership and equity are the keys to systems change, we strive to impact change by designing and delivering workshops, facilitating racial equity change processes, convening communities of practice, and conducting research focused on equitable leadership practices in the social sector.

Read more about us.


For more information, please contact [email protected].To stay up-to-date on our research findings and get notifications on when our findings will be published, please join our mailing list.

Support for this research was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

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