“The most meaningful part of the conference was learning that relational advocacy is not only a process, it's a mindset - it takes time and patience.”
- Bella Wishnivetski, RBI participant, Sophomore at University of Michigan
Empower: v. to equip or supply with an ability; to enable.
Dictionary.com really nailed it with this definition because it’s exactly what the Relationship Building Institute did; it empowered us as campus leaders. The Institute equipped us with the proper tools and knowledge to be confident in our relational advocacy. It enabled us to gain first-hand experience of practicing the relationship building process. It supplied us with the ability to see how relationships can shape someone's opinion on a particular issue, and how they can push an organization’s initiatives, even on a national level.
I would certainly say that the overarching take-away from the Relationship Building Institute was that it was practical. We had the experience of learning, then immediately putting our skills into action. Not in many situations can a large group of college students learn insanely important leadership skills one day then be given the opportunity to immediately act upon those skills the following day.
For example, an integral part of the conference was focused on how to ask questions, and what types of questions to ask in a relational advocacy conversation. In one workshop, we did an exercise in which we listened to a staff member’s personal story and had to come up with a thought-provoking question to ask them when they were finished. The staff member then listened to each of our questions and said which they felt was the most powerful and why. The next day when we went into downtown D.C., we applied what we learned by asking leaders of national organizations about why they do what they do, and how they got involved with their particular organization.
In these meetings, we also got to speak to the interns of each organization. Speaking to the interns at the Urban League proved to the students that relational advocacy is a two-way street. The interns gave a presentation about why they’re working with the Urban League and then opened up a Q&A session. Practicing our “ask meaningful questions” exercise, the students asked what is it about their work that they find personally meaningful.
After answering my peers’ questions, the interns flipped the tables by asking us, “Why are you all participating in this conference? What about this work is meaningful to you?”
These questions to the participants were the most tangible pieces of evidence that when you genuinely listen to what a person is passionate about, he/she will in-turn be interested in who you are and what you are passionate about.
Gaining this practical experience at the Relationship Building Institute for me further proved exactly what Bella Wishnivetski feels as quoted at the beginning of this post; relational advocacy is in fact a new way of thinking that requires you to be genuine and patient, but will ultimately prove to be the most successful.