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The Humphrey School of Public Affairs is the University of
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One-to-one: Local literary leaders swap stories of their Humphrey School experiences

One-to-one is a section of News + Views where alumni interview each other and current students. Everyone has a story to tell, from their personal interests or advocacy to professional pathways and passions. And who better to tell that story than alumni? Each article is as different as the graduates who write them. If you would like to interview a fellow alum for a future edition, please e-mail barr0396@umn.edu.

In early November, two leaders—and friends—in the Twin Cities nonprofit literary community sat down to talk about their experiences at the Humphrey School. Arleta Little (MPA '06) is the executive director of the Givens Foundation for African American Literature; the Givens Foundation is committed to advancing and celebrating black literature and writers. Jocelyn (Jocey) Hale (MPA '06) is the executive director of The Loft Literary Center, which is dedicated to providing resources to writers and fostering a thriving literary community.

Arleta: How you came into your position at The Loft is a really interesting Humphrey story because it involves a project you were working on as part of your studies.

Jocey: Yes. I was working for the Best Buy Children Foundation, where I was in charge of giving for Minnesota, when I started at the Humphrey School, and I also served on the board of The Loft. For an independent study, I worked with John Bryon for a year building the Loft’s strategic plan. During that year, the organization’s executive director retired. At that point, I was supposed to be board chair but I had gotten so deeply involved with the strategic plan that I decided to apply for the job. I don’t think it would’ve happened if I hadn’t been at the Humphrey School.

Arleta: I started at the Humphrey School a year after I began working at the Givens Foundation. I was in this new executive director position in the arts community and very much interested in public and nonprofit leadership. I had a Master of Social Work degree already, and I wanted get more in depth in terms of being a leader in the nonprofit sector. The Master’s of Public Affairs program was a really great place to start.

Jocey: The piece that comes back to me all the time that I learned from the Humphrey is really understanding the role of stakeholders and what can happen if you do not make sure everybody has had the opportunity to weigh in. The strength of the strategic planning process is stakeholder engagement. The process is so powerful, and it’s really something that I think about constantly.

Arleta: The peer relationships I fostered at the Humphrey continue to be influential and significant. Many of the folks who I collaborate with through my work at the Givens Foundation are folks who I either met while I was at the Humphrey or who have also been through the Humphrey. When we get together, we have a common point of reference in terms of creatively exploring how we might collaborate together.

Let’s switch gears: Jocey, what are some of the challenges The Loft is facing as a literary nonprofit?

Jocey: It’s been a really interesting five years for any organization that deals with the literary arts—for nonprofits and for-profit organizations, both. The digital revolution and e-books have changed our relationship to reading. Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter have changed our relationships to writing. To adjust, we run the online learning programs with the same value set as our in-person classes, and that was really important. At the Humphrey I began to really understand that online learning is not a new program—it’s just a new tool—and we want to do it with the same quality as we’ve always done.

Arleta: I would say that one of the biggest changes to the way that we do business [at the Givens Foundation] is an emphasis on working with multiple organizations or stakeholders to talk about an activity that is a common interest. With changes in the funding environment, as well as what makes for effective work, we have to think about how we build relationships and networks with other organizations.

Jocey: I completely agree. A culture of collaboration is a core value—both, internally, for our organization, and for the sector. We try to mentor as much as we can. Coming from Humphrey, we are able to understand from a theoretic point of view how some of these systems work. We have the worldview that when the tide comes in, all the boats in the bay rise. I think you and I both feel that really, really deeply and that ties into our experiences at the Humphrey School.