Gary Community Ventures

Designing a fellowship to change the face of leadership in Denver


The Problem

Organizations often overlook local talent for leadership roles, favoring external hires. In Denver,  homegrown talent – especially BIPOC leaders –  don’t have as many opportunities to lead the city’s most influential organizations. There is an untapped opportunity to grow BIPOC leaders who know, love, and care about making a difference in Denver. 

The Work

Together with Gary’s Design Team, we designed the Piton Mid-Career Fellowship: a community for mostly BIPOC leaders to learn alongside each other, expand their local networks, and build the skills and confidence they need to lead Denver’s most impactful organizations. We started by crafting learning aims and design principles and then built a syllabus to guide the fellowship. We designed and facilitated key moments of the fellowship focused on design thinking and distributed decision-making and led a multi-day retreat in New Orleans where fellows explored the power of history, art, and community activism. 

The Learning

Design with intention

We began with a rigorous design process, asking Gary’s design team to envision the ideal fellowship experience and create the conditions to bring that vision to life. We asked the team: What do we want participants to feel and experience at the end of their 9-month experience? How are we showing up in this space? What are elements of learning design that people take for granted when they aren’t being intentional about the experience they hope the participants have?

Facilitation coaching

Guiding a group of 24 mid-career leaders requires finesse and preparation to ensure each fellow leaves each workshop feeling like they were able to gain new perspectives. We worked with the design team to practice and prepare for each session with their unique fellows in mind.

Create an unforgettable experience

We designed experiences to encourage fellows to get outside of their comfort zones. We took participants outside of Denver to Colorado Springs and New Orleans to be immersed in environments that pushed their thinking and see how leaders in other communities approach their work.

The Impact

Fellows are still tightly connected and lean on each other for ongoing professional and personal support. Some fellows made meaningful career changes as a result of what they learned. Two fellows shared: 

  • “When we had the business leaders roundtable in New Orleans, that SINGLE-HANDEDLY shaped my future. Before then, I was trying to escape Denver. After hearing them talk about what it means to be a community member, I’ve decided I want to be a leader in Denver and it helped frame my decision to pursue my new role.”

  • “My staff commented just today that they love how many resources and strategies I've brought back to them throughout the fellowship. They've let me know that they see a change in the ideas I bring and how we problem solve.”