Social Justice Leadership (SJL)

Social Justice Leadership (SJL)


* Seeks to transform America into a “just society” by means of “a renewed social-justice movement”
* Funded by George Soros’s Open Society Institute

Viewing the United States as a nation rife with social and political inequity, Social Justice Leadership (SJL) seeks “to help usher in the transformation [of America] to a just society by catalyzing a new generation of individuals and organizations to lead a renewed social justice movement.” This movement, SJL elaborates, must be rooted in a commitment to “social change values” that endorse “direct action organizing on racial and economic justice issues”—the overriding objective being to “transform” not only “the material conditions in which [people] live,” but “ultimately the structure of society.”

To train this “new generation” of social-justice activists and community organizers, SJL has developed a seven-month Transformative Leadership Program designed to “offer leaders and organizations a unique experience of personal transformation, organizational improvement, and movement building.” The program begins with an intensive four-day session focusing on such topics as “reconciling values and behavior,” “maintaining vision and balance during stress,” developing “performance measures,” and “managing difficult staff people.” Over the ensuing five months, the trainees attend a series of retreats designed to reinforce and build upon what was taught during the initial session; they also receive structured individual coaching to help advance “their personal leadership development and that of their organization.” Eventually, the program concludes with a three-day session that explores possible opportunities for future collaborative work among the participants.

SJL also offers a four-month fellowship called “Activate!” which introduces the methods and goals of community organizing to young people who wish to make a career of helping the “disenfranchised”—particularly “low-income communities and communities of color”—in their “fight for social justice” and wholesale societal “change.” Further, SJL helps each person who successfully completes the fellowship program to obtain a full-time position with a community or labor organization.[

According to SJL](, “a key component of transforming an organization into one that actually lives its values is a personal transformation that individuals at all levels of the organization must undergo.” This transformation, says SJL, is contingent upon each individual striving to achieve high levels of “personal awareness” as well as “honesty and fearlessness toward internal and external organizational issues.” Toward those ends, SJL encourages social-justice activists to practice meditation, yoga, and reflective writing.

SJL emphasizes that in order to be successful, social-justice groups must collaborate, in a spirit of “interdependence,” to “build alignment and power across organizations.” In addition, SJL stresses how vital it is for such organizations to achieve “significant, regular, concrete victories” that “affect broader policy change and resource allocation” to some degree. This theme is patterned on the recommendations of the famed organizer Saul Alinsky, who advised organizers to judiciously initiate only those battles which they stood a good chance of winning, so they could use such successes to “build confidence and hope” in their movement as a whole.

In 2009, George Soros‘s Open Society Institute approved $100,000 in grant money for SJL.

As of May 2011, SJL’s board of directors consisted of seven individuals, the most prominent of whom was Simon Greer, president and CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice.

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