InquiryCase de Esperanza’s organizational strategy was originally to combat domestic violence against Latinas by providing those who faced abuse with shelter. It became clear over time this strategy was ineffective in bringing about the change the organization hoped for. Over the years, Casa moved away from its shelter system and evolved to provide more robust programming through intervention, community services, and program support. Most notably, Casa changed to a safe house structure and provided more short-term stays for Latina women, which was more conducive to their culture. Casa eventually came to realize it would be the Latinx community itself, not the organization, who had the power to stop domestic violence.
Embracing this theory of change meant a complete overhaul of its structure and work to create significant cultural change not only within the organization, but within the community as well. Casa set out to make three major changes: restructure their current system of operation and programs, outreach and work more directly with the community, and diversify its financial portfolio to be less dependent on government funding. To develop its goals, Casa formed teams among staff to formulate work plans to strategize how to reconstruct their current system of operation to more suitably serve the Latinx community. Casa also hired more organizational consultants. Staff were told to begin documenting their work and integrating work plans into their daily tasks to build organizational records.
The organization is structured with board of directors, executive leadership, paid staff, and volunteers. However, the lines between board of directors and paid staff were often blurred. Staff would attend board meetings and offered their own opinions, which produced a murky work environment and made it difficult to create change. Casa’s culture of obscuring the lines between leadership and paid staff generated a confusing lack of hierarchy, producing an atmosphere of disjointed efforts from the organization.
The lack of leadership and defined roles generated division between those who wanted to stay a Latina serving organization and those who wanted to serve women more generally. After committing to its proposed changes, the culture started to change. Administrative and programmatic staff moved into traditional office space, leadership stepped up and began to lead more effectively, and more Latinx and bilingual staff were hired.Casa’s relationship with stakeholders was oftentimes tense. It’s most important relationship was with it’s staff, but it wasn’t always positive. Many staff were forced to work another job to make ends meet, because salaries at Casa were minimal. Additionally, many staff were let go after the changes eliminated some of their roles and responsibilities.
It’s relationship to the government was harmfully codependent and contributed a tense work atmosphere. Yet, after diversifying their financial portfolio and hiring more development minded staff to gain more individual contributions and foundational grants, Casa no longer depended on the government to keep the lights on. This also allowed it to begin paying staff better salaries and benefits, which created a much better working environment. The organization did not work extensively with the community early on, which limited their ability to accurately serve Latinas. However, once Casa overhauled its mission and structure this changed drastically. Casa formed an alliance with 18 other Latinx serving organizations to conduct qualitative interviews with Latinx community members to better understand how to more impactfully combat domestic violence.
This paved the way to develop and implement the organizational changes, which more effectively served Latinas impacted by domestic violence.Cultural competency plays a vital role in Casa’s development. Without it Casa would never achieve their mission.
Much of the staff were women and later the staff became more predominantly Latinx and bilingual. Although in some ways, cultural competency hurt the organization early on. Other shelters in the area would frequently refer women of color to Casa, because they felt Casa were more culturally competent to support these women. This put a enormous burden on the organization, diverting them from fulfilling their vision.Leadership has also played a major but complicated role in Casa’s development. Turnover for the Executive Director was high in its early years.
By 1998, 11 years after the founding of the organization, the role had switched hands five times. This was emblematic of Casa’s lack of cohesion and contributed to disagreement among leadership about the organization’s ultimate goal. With the entrance of the organization’s fifth Executive Director, Lupe Serrano, things began to get better.
Lupe embraced her role, and drove the organization with forward with strategic planning to implement and achieve it’s new founded mission and vision. InventoryCasa de Esperanza’s mission is to mobilize the Latinx community to end domestic violence. Casa is dedicated to working with and in the Latinx community to develop strategic ways to strengthen the community through leadership, entrepreneurship, and advocacy to create the community driven solutions to domestic violence it envisions. Staff and board members utilized a slew of tools to analyze organizational context and plan strategically.
First, the board developed a set of directives, which served as scaffolding for the organization’s reconstruction to be a Latina serving and community driven organization. These later developed into the work plans developed by the staff and was fleshed out by organizational consultants. These work plans were used to strategically drive staff with actionable ways to implement the changes the board envisioned. Casa also leaned heavily on the qualitative data collected by volunteers of Latinx alliance to learn how to more strategically engage with the community about domestic violence. Moreover, Casa leveraged these alliances to push the needle in policy and politics.
Finally, by requiring staff to create records of their work and experiences, the organization was able to create a database of information which could help inform program evaluation.Throughout my personal, academic, and professional life, I have developed a diverse toolkit that would help me define the problem and lead the organization as an executive or board member. In my youth, I got involved with school government, and learned quickly how to stand in front of a group of people and speak influentially and compellingly. During my undergrad education in Communications and Public Relations, I learned how to be an effective written communicator. Throughout my coursework, I was taught how to write persuasively and concisely, which is a skill I have found absolutely invaluable in my time as a graduate student.
I pride myself on being an effective oral and written communicator, and I think these two skills have shaped me into being a strong leader. In my graduate studies at Mills, I have had the chance to massively build upon my analytical skills. Through quantitative and qualitative analyses, I have learned how to aggregate huge quantities of data and parse out important pieces of information from datasets, which has made my writing much more compelling. Additionally, in my final semester and through my internships with local government, I have gained more practical skills in research and policy analysis.
This has taught me how to define a problem, research and gather evidence, and develop recommendations and solutions to policy problems. Most notably, this has taught me how to be iterative and to be comfortable with not always having the “right” answer. Still, this is an area I wish to develop more. I especially want to learn how to navigate organizational structures to understand the intricacies of balancing the organization’s mission and work within communities to solve powerful policy problems that plague them. Besides learning how to more effectively navigate and work within an organization, I want to learn how to be a better strategic planner.
I think this may be one of my greatest weaknesses as I tend to be a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of person. In some ways this frees me to more quickly respond and re-adjust my work, but it leaves me with no scaffolding to truly ensure I am being an effective policy analyst and/or leader. Casa de Esperanza has grown substantially as an organization. More recently, Casa has created more robust programming. It’s now doing work nationally as well as locally in Minnesota. While it’s still doing plenty of work to support families and individuals exposed to domestic violence, Casa has beefed up the community driven aspect of their organization.
It has expanded into working with youth in the Latinx community to develop leadership and public speaker skills at younger ages. Nationally, it has developed a research institute in Atlanta, GA which helps inform how to continually build upon its strategic plans to help end domestic violence in the Latinx community. Additionally, the organization is doing work in DC to push policy initiatives to help support Latinx families and help fulfill their mission