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Innovative Leadership in Community-Based Programs for Young Children and Families

Crissie McMullan, Eric Lucas, and Hindolo Pokawa


Child- and family-serving programs in community-based settings wield tremendous power for improving the lives of infants and toddlers. In this article, three authors, from Ohio, Montana, and Sierra Leone, describe the principles of adaptive leadership and will share their real-world applications. Their stories explore critical questions for leading community-based organizations: How do leaders of community-based efforts build leadership among families and other program participants? How do they incorporate equity, diversity, and social justice into both their programs and their process? How do they extend their influence and impact beyond the local? And, perhaps most important, how do they sustain themselves amid competing pressures and priorities?

Young children and their families are valuable members of the community. When needs arise in these families, community-based programs are poised to respond with appropriate resources and support. In order to effectively leverage the potential of community programs, adaptive leaders are needed who have a deep understanding of the populations served, who have the capacity to build trust and partnership with participants, and who can visualize longer-term goals and visions that sustain initiatives. Leaders in community-based settings also have the power to address issues of equity and access by building programs that value inclusiveness and cultivate staff who affirm the value of diversity and difference in the families served.

This article examines three examples that highlight the power of community-based programs. Each program is impacting local communities with a level of breadth and innovation that has garnered local and national (even global) attention. Moreover, each program example highlights the role of adaptive leadership; emphasis on equity, diversity, and inclusion; and sustaining innovation in the face of continuous external pressure from funders and competing priorities. In reviewing these examples, readers are encouraged to see the potential in their respective settings and the opportunities to also leverage community-based programs in service of infants and toddlers.

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