Deep Into Board Learning

  | BFC Newsflash, Board of Directors, Food For Thought

At our January 2020 Board meeting, our General Manager Sabine Rhyne said she was, “deep into her own learning cycle,” in response to the difficult discussion about race she facilitated with shareholders at the November Annual Meeting. I appreciate Sabine’s candor and the level of trust and respect she and BFC Board Directors have for each other. I am grateful that she shared this self-reflection with us, and thank her for providing me with a topic and a title for this article.

As Board Directors, we are also committed to deepening our learning—individually, in committee work, and in the work we undertake as a full Board on behalf of the BFC community. Recognizing we are in the early months of 2020, I am hopeful that the Board learning we undertake this year will guide our work as it has for the past 45 years. I am confident that the Board, in the best interests of the Co-op and the community, will continue to act responsibly and transparently, with clear vision towards a resilient and vibrant future.

The Board’s work is structured on policy governance— “…governing by policy clarifies the board’s job and focuses the board on leadership.” (BFC Policy Governance Manual October 7, 2019). As part of each BFC Board meeting, the business of monitoring the work of the General Manager and the Board’s job is accomplished efficiently, allowing us to take part in opportunities for Board learning—when we give ourselves precious time to discuss how we can lead more skillfully. The BFC Board embraces deliberate learning and problem-solving. When we engage in learning together, we often reflect on scholarly work we have read, practice asking questions, and observe and listen without expecting immediate answers or solutions.

With this in mind, one of the more pressing subjects the Board is taking on is the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion in our BFC community. At all levels of the organization, we have so much to learn about our personal and collective responsibility in confronting these issues. We believe the BFC should be a community grocery store where everyone is welcome, but we have a significant amount of learning to do and behaviors to change to reach that goal. In Board Director Mary Bené’s January 2020 FFT article, The Co-op Difference, she addressed the Co-op’s responsibility to be proactive in addressing the systemic underbelly where racism grows. In the same issue, Sabine, in her Self-Improvement, 2020 Edition, outlined how she is taking steps to work with her staff to address racism and unconscious bias. Sabine referenced Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Wesley Pittman, former BFC Director and involved-shareholder, discussed this book with Sabine after the Annual Meeting, and has volunteered to lead a series of three lunchtime book discussions this month. All shareholders are encouraged to participate in these conversations, and many of your BFC Board Directors will join the discussion. Each Board Director has received a copy of this book. I am a voracious reader, but this book is making me read slowly with yellow highlighter in hand. I find myself stopping and confronting my own biases in nearly every sentence. DiAngelo says, “We bring our racial histories with us, and contrary to the ideology of individualism, we represent our groups and those who have come before us. Our identities are not unique or inherent but constructed or produced through social processes. What’s more, we don’t see through clear or objective eyes—we see through racial lenses. On some level, race is always at play, even in its supposed absence.” (pp. 85-86)

In preparation for the Board Retreat in December, we were asked to read Brett Fairborn’s article, Three Strategic Concepts for the Guidance of Cooperatives—Linkage, Transparency and Cognition (2003). The article informed our discussions at the Retreat, but we agreed we should spend more time digging deeper. Jerelyn Wilson, our new Board President, asked us to reread and revisit the article for our Board learning at the January meeting. Fairborn says, “Thinking in a co-operative is also about imagination, vision, diversity, and buy-in by different groups of members. Different perspectives and thinking by different groups of members need to be seen as a source of strength; difference has to be sought after in dealing with members, in research and education as in governance and operational strategy.”(pp. 25-26)

The challenges we take on as a Board reflect the challenges our town is facing, and are in many ways a microcosm of the tumult at the national and global level. As Fairborn states, “…co-operatives must nevertheless create public spaces within themselves, where their members and employees can talk openly, learn from each other, and think creatively.” (p. 22) This period of learning and self-reflection can and should be difficult, but is necessary for us to evolve into the community center where all are welcome.

We invite you to come and learn with us!

By Judy Fink