Learning from the old, welcoming the new

The first time I heard “fail fast to learn fast,” I felt a gut-level absolute rejection of the phrase. As a brown, immigrant woman, I live in a world where failure is not an option. It took me years to get beyond the “fail” to the second part of the phrase, “to learn fast.” While failure is still charged with fear and shame, I know if I sit with these feelings I can find the lessons and an invitation to a next iteration.

The transition of CoreAlign into The New School, and now to this iteration of Social Movements + Innovation Lab has been a series of moments of chagrin and humility. There was so much important work we did at CoreAlign, there were some big hopes for The New School, and there have been some real struggles and challenges in this last year.

Through a series of convenings and conversations, we asked more than 1,300 people in the CoreAlign network and The New School community what they would like to see at a Center for Social Movements + Innovation. In true CoreAlign fashion, we pulled out the post-its, laid out the concept, and asked you to tell us what inspired you and made you anxious. What we found was that most people were somewhat ambivalent about the idea of SM+I existing as an academic center. Many activists and movement leaders felt leery of an academic host, while many in the New School community voiced an interest in social justice work but not necessarily in social movement work. This was an unnerving and humbling revelation. The idea of SM+I as an academic center was a good hypothesis, and when we tested that hypothesis, I found that I was wrong. Cue embarrassment and some shame—feelings that have taken me some time to work through.

The needs that folks in our network did want SM+I to prioritize were space and resources, support for innovation, and community and learning. So, we went back to the drawing board. We refreshed our CoreAlign programs and designed the next iterations: labs to support the generating and testing of innovative ideas and a fellowship that would be more accessible to people as they continued working in their local communities. Building on our most successful DNA, we will continue to support movement leaders to do innovative, imaginative, and disruptive work.  

So, what does this mean? Moving forward, Social Movements + Innovation Lab will offer a series of labs and place-based fellowships that will bring tools, coaching, and transformative spaces to you in your community. We are building a robust website where we will collect and share stories, tools, and resources to support your innovative work. We will also offer strategic consulting and facilitation for movement-level conversations and initiatives.

While still housed at The New School, we phased out the Executive Director position (Judy, we still miss you!) and are building a lean team consisting of a Program Manager—Charlene Darko—and a bunch of super-smart and enthusiastic graduate students like Abi Velasco, Meghana Srinivasan, and Abby Wang. Additionally, we are working with CoreAlign alums Katrina Anderson and Nik Zaleski to document social movement innovation stories from our past as CoreAlign and moving forward as SM+I Lab.

We tried, failed, learned, and iterated, and we hope this next iteration meets your needs and supports you in generating the kinds of innovative ideas and organizational cultures that our movement so desperately needs in this moment.

I hope we have not lost your interest and connection to this work as we’ve reinvented ourselves—it has been a tough journey for all of us. I look forward to the lessons I have yet to learn in this next phase and I hope to see you in a lab or fellowship soon.

Check out our Call for Applications for the Ideas Lab. We will announce the fellowships in the fall.

Onward on this path of failure, humility, and learning, and on to the next iteration.