engaging communities

September 28, 2023

Episode #77: Engaging Communities in Social Change with Vichi Jagannathan

In this episode,  Tobi has a fascinating discussion on engaging communities in social change with Vichi Jagannathan. Vichi shares her personal journey and experiences in working towards social change in rural communities, specifically in eastern North Carolina.

In 2017, Vichi co-founded Rural Opportunity Institute (ROI). ROI builds the capacity of rural communities to support people’s healing from generational trauma to achieve health, safety, connection, and self-determination. Based in rural Eastern North Carolina, ROI has grown from a small, grassroots effort to an influential organization that impacts more than 20,000 people in 15 states. ROI’s innovative approach has captured the interest of national state funders including New Profit and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. 

Discover how Vichi and a friend made a pact to return to their home state after feeling a disconnect between their experiences in California and the needs of eastern North Carolina. Explore their exploration of a grassroots approach to community engagement and their realization that top-down command and control strategies are ineffective in today’s context.

Engaging Communities – Concept of “zones of genius”

The concept of “zones of genius” refers to the unique skills, talents, and expertise that each individual possesses. It suggests that everyone has areas in which they excel and can make their greatest contributions. Recognizing and tapping into these zones of genius allows individuals to bring their best selves to their work and create meaningful impact. In the context of community engagement, understanding and valuing people’s zones of genius can help create opportunities for them to contribute in ways that align with their strengths and interests, ultimately leading to more effective and sustainable social change.
Delve into the concept of “zones of genius” as Vichi discusses the importance of allowing individuals the space to discover their unique strengths and talents, creating more opportunities for engagement and empowerment. Learn about their role in forming a community accountability board, funded through a multi-year grant, to ensure transparency and prevent misuse of resources.

Engaging Communities – Community Capital and Resources

Vichi highlighted the importance of understanding overwhelming stressors in communities, particularly in rural communities of color. They emphasized how certain communities experience these stressors more frequently due to systemic factors. There are compounding nature of these stressors, where challenges continuously layer on without giving people a chance to recover. They stressed the significance of not facing these challenges alone and the power of sharing these stories with systems leaders like schools, police, and social services to raise awareness. By acknowledging the impact of external factors on individuals and communities, Vichi advocated for a more compassionate and trauma-informed approach, moving away from blame and punishment towards understanding and support.

Engaging Communities – Show Highlights

04:11.5 Tobi introduced Vichi Jagannathan

05:40.8 How did Vichi  make the journey from electrical engineer to MBA to nonprofit leader

11:34.7 What does engaging communities in rural areas mean to Vichi

14:44.3 What is the birth story of ROI

19:51.3 What does it mean to do trauma informed work

26:43.0 Talk through the method of brining that voice

34:08.5 What did Vichi do next after plotting data and relaying to the community

38:50.8 Did Vichi had to make any shifts due to the energy deficit in society

47:04.9 How can organizations help connect volunteers connect with the solution or the advocacy

51:02.7 What pitfalls should organizations avoid when engaging communities for change

54:21.1 Small baby steps to share power more

58:09.1 What is Vichi most excited about in the year ahead

Engaging Communities – Quotes from the Episode

“We need to create more opportunities for individuals to discover their zone of genius and tap into their unique skills and talents.”

“Engaging the community in designing solutions is crucial for driving social change from the grassroots level.”

“Systems mapping and community mapping are effective methods for involving communities in social change efforts.”

“Creating separate spaces and requiring people to come to them is a common mistake. Barriers and hoops are often created instead of meeting people where they already are.

“Sharing stories and experiences with systems leaders can help bring awareness to the challenges faced by communities.”

“We need to shift from punishment to restorative responses when addressing trauma symptoms in our systems.”
“Traditional volunteer engagement and direct service nonprofits could improve by incorporating more traditional volunteerism to better engage volunteers and be more organized.

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