Executive Director Update
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Whether you are familiar with this verse from the Bible, or it reminds you of Pete Seeger’s song Turn! Turn! Turn!, it is a passage that comes to mind during periods of significant transition. The full context of the verse from Ecclesiastes provides examples of transitions that occur during a lifetime (a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest). These mark the circular nature of lifecycles. In some translations this passage is to teach of the acceptance of God’s omnipotence. For me, I recognize these cycles even within the Buddhist notion of impermanence, that time flows on its own accord beyond our control. The nature of change, as author Octavia Butler reminds us, is the only lasting truth.
Over the past few months, the Board and staff have been working to prepare for a new season at the Gandhi Institute. Like many around the world, we’re identifying our role in a post-COVID world, including discovering better ways of being with each other, caring for one another, and reconciling with our history to better see each other’s humanity.
Yet for us, this new season has also required us to engage in a search for new leadership to further elevate us towards our purpose in equipping people to use nonviolence to create a sustainable and just world for all. Two years ago, our long-time director Kit Miller informed us that she felt it was time for a transition. This year we conducted a national search for a new Executive Director, in the hopes of identifying a leader who has engaged in the principles of nonviolence education, restorative practices, sustainability, and racial justice not solely as ideas, but embodied within a lived practice. What we discovered is that the leadership we were looking for was already present within the two members of our management team, Erin Thompson, our COO and Gwen Olton, our director of training and education.
The Board is thrilled to announce that Gwen Olton, the current director of training and education, will assume the Interim Executive Director role starting July 1 this year. Many of you have come to know and appreciate Erin, who has ably helped steer the Institute with Kit over the last several years. Though we asked Erin if he would like to step in, he has opted to continue serving the Institute in his current role. Kit will be taking a break over the summer, but she will be on hand part time in the fall to support this change.
If you’ve ever encountered Gwen at work, you can understand why this transition makes sense. Gwen is a life-long learner, always eager to pursue any opportunity that will strengthen her already plentiful toolkit. If you’ve experienced her facilitation you recognize the artful way she creates comfort in the learning space and is able to alleviate tension when truth needs to be spoken. In the time I’ve known Gwen she has embodied a friend of the Institute, a teacher, a treasured Board member, and then newly appointed staff member, but within all of those phases her leadership has been ever-present.
We are very excited to have you meet Gwen. Consider attending an ongoing event such as a monthly Gandhi Tea, and please join us for the 2021 Open House and 30th anniversary party Sunday, October 3, 2-5. Additionally, there are spaces available for this year’s summer Nonviolence Intensive, which starts August 9.
Whichever way you choose to engage, we are confident that you will see why Gwen’s transition to this new role makes a whole lot of sense and why we are all eager to see how the Institute will come into this new season.