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Rising Leaders Cohort


Are you a rising leader in philanthropy, someone looking for ways to expand your impact within the sector and advance your career? Are you feeling like the skills that got you to this point in your career are not the same skills required to succeed at the next level? Are you looking for ways to connect with foundation peers and create long-lasting professional relationships? Would the support and mentoring from those peers boost your professional development?  If you answered yes to these questions, the 2021 Rising Leaders Cohort offers you a unique opportunity to focus on your leadership journey within the field and build the skills that will take you to your next level.  

The future of philanthropy lies in the hands of emerging leaders. In the Rising Leaders Cohort, our intention is to support individuals who have a deep-seated passion for their own effectiveness in their work, and the effectiveness of the field as well.  

We hope you will join us. 

Our Guiding Questions

  • How do I develop as a leader from the position I hold in my foundation? 
  • How can I advance my career in philanthropy?  
  • How can I stay focused on my personal mission while balancing the always demanding to-do list? 
  • How do I build a sustainable career out of my current and past experiences? 
  • What skills do I need to build in order to be an effective philanthropy leader, in the face of our current political, environmental, and social realities?  
  • How do I manage relationships to excel in my work and take full advantage of opportunities to learn and grow?  
  • How can I deepen my personal and professional practice towards equity and social justice? 

Melissa Johnson Hewitt, MSW, Forward Movement Consulting

Melissa Johnson Hewitt is the Founder and Principal of Forward Movement Consulting, LLC. With over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, Melissa brings strong relationships, passion, and commitment to FMC’s consulting and coaching practice. Melissa focuses her coaching practice on supporting primarily women leaders of color in executive roles to fully claim their power in their workplace through aligning their personal and professional values. FMC’s consulting has developed deep expertise in the reproductive rights, health, and justice area, national civil rights organizations, education advocacy organizations, and organizations that seek to deepen their understanding, analysis, and values around racial equity. With a clear focus on organizations that support and serve communities of color, Melissa brings a thoughtful approach and grounded analysis to her work, always keeping community at the center.

A trained social worker, Melissa values openness, transparency, flexibility, and inclusivity. Former posts include Program Officer at Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, Field Director at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Executive Director of Neighborhood Funders Group, and Senior Director of Foundation Relations at NAACP national office. Melissa consistently serves as a mentor to new and emerging leaders in the philanthropy field as is former board Co-Chair of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy. Melissa holds a B.A. in English and Sociology from Wake Forest University and a Masters of Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she serves as an advisory board member. She has a masters certificate in diversity, equity, and inclusion and is a certified professional diversity coach. A proud North Carolina native, she resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her beloved husband Damon and their three children–Aminah, Avery, and Desmond.

Headshot of Chris MurchisonChris Murchison, Workplace Connection and Community Consultant

Chris Marcell Murchison is a passionate advocate for positive workplace culture. In his broad career spanning the higher education, for-profit, not-for-profit, and foundation sectors he has focused his energy on developing creative means to build community at work and practices that support an employee experience of respect, connection, joy, and generative learning.

In 2014, Chris was named the first Visiting Leader at the Center for Positive Organizations in the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where he advises, connects and convenes faculty and students to explore practical applications of Positive Organizational Scholarship. In January of 2018 Chris was additionally appointed to the Advisory Board of the International Positive Psychology Association’s Work & Organizations Division.

Chris currently works as an independent creative thought-partner, experience designer, and advisor to organizations ready to re-imagine the possibilities of their cultures.

Headshot of Kate SeelyKate Seely, Leadership, Culture, and Community Senior Director, Northern California Grantmakers

I support and encourage the leadership and cultures that are needed for communities to thrive. As leadership is about harnessing energy so that we can accomplish what we set ourselves to do, in my work I aim to create spaces that fuel co-creation, engagement, and impact, so that we are creating the future that we want to inhabit together. Those spaces also honor trust, courage, and risk-taking, allowing for innovation and creativity to emerge.

In my role at NCG, I lead our professional and leadership development work, and guide our focus on organizational culture as a leverage point for impact. Before working in philanthropy, I co-founded the nonprofit Puente a la Salud Comunitaria in Oaxaca, Mexico, a community development organization focused on public health, economic development, and sustainable agriculture. I spent a transformative year completing a Master's in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability, where I deepened my own understanding of the leadership and organizational culture that are needed to achieve both environmental and social sustainability. I am a fierce advocate for bringing our whole selves to our work environments, for awareness of self and the systems we exist in, and for slowing down.

Headshot of Adam WolpertAdam Wolpert, Co-founder and Course Instructor, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center
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Adam Wolpert is a professional facilitator, educator, fine artist and co-founder of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. He leads workshops in group process and has worked as a facilitator and organizational consultant with many institutes, organizations and small foundations for over two decades. Since its inception, Adam has been a contributing teacher in a wide array of courses at OAEC including, permaculture, facilitation, school garden teacher trainings and classes in landscape painting. Over the last 10 years in many california venues, he has designed and led trainings in creative collaborative leadership, facilitation, and systems thinking as it relates to group work. As a painter ( Wolpert employs a range of motifs that reflect a lifelong engagement with nature. Currently he is painting a cycle of portraits of ancient oak trees. His last major project focused on depicting one view of a willow tree by the OAEC pond for a year, through all the seasonal changes. What resulted was the 70 painting “Pond Series,” an exploration of change and repetition, deep observation and relationship to place.  In addition to course instruction at OAEC, Adam chairs the Exectutive Council and participates in design of new developments. He lives at OAEC with his daughter Sabine and wife Katy Mamen.

Associate | Hirsch Philanthropy Partners

Tracy Chinn

Program Officer & Grants Manager | Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation

Nilofar Gardezi

Executive Fellow | Well Being Trust

Lisa Herron

Program Associate | The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Summer Iqbal

Sr. Associate of Development | Tipping Point Community

Martha Joseph

Program and Grants Associate | Metta Fund

Mimi Kelly

Program Associate | The James Irvine Foundation

Robia Lee

Grants Manager | Just Beginnings Collaborative

Claudia Leung

GreenLight Fund | National Portfolio Senior Associate

Kenichi Nozaki

Program Coordinator | Hispanics in Philanthropy

Jennifer Paniagua

Associate | Hirsch Philanthropy Partners

Meital Rosenberg

Program Coordinator | The California Wellness Foundation

Daniel Sanjines

Program Officer | Koret Foundation

Rachel Schonwetter

Program Associate – Grants | The Health Trust

Laura Schultz

Program Manager | Blue Shield of California Foundation

Hilary Smith

Grants and Compliance Specialist | The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Linh Tran

Development Associate | East Bay Community Foundation

Ellie Young


The curriculum follows four main threads:

  • Emotional intelligence and leadership development
  • “Hard” skills development
  • Equity, inclusion, social justice, and power
  • Career development

Topics within these threads include: values (personal and organizational); facilitation, collaboration, and decision-making; self-awareness; listening and inquiry skills; conflict management; power mapping; managing up.

The Cohort features:

  • Five cohort sessions, broken into two modules (total of ten content gatherings), held every three weeks for 3 hours  
  • Four group coaching sessions between each content-based session  
  • All sessions will be held virtually via Zoom, and will incorporate state of the art engagement and connection platforms  
  • Intimate cohort experience with 15-20 participants 
  • Facilitated experience with the Reflected Best Self Exercise, a personal development tool that helps you see who you are at your best, engaging you to live and work from that powerful place daily 
  • Presentations and activities from expert faculty 
  • Opportunities to practice what you are learning in real-time and through homework assignments 
  • Access to tools, templates, resources, and shared learning 


Session 0 | Orientation and Connection  

  • Description: This first session, two hours long, meaningfully introduces and connects participants and faculty with one another against the backdrop of the content and the context within which we are hosting the Rising Leaders Cohort. We will prime participants to the design of the institute, review program curriculum and pedagogy, and get ready for our first session together.  

Session 1A and 1B | Managing Self: Building and Leveraging Self-Awareness  

  • Description: Our world is becoming increasingly complex. Philanthropy, in particular, is facing unprecedented challenges as the global community and our planet struggle to sustain resilience. Today more than ever we need leaders who consciously lead with self-awareness, integrity and skill to tackle our volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.  This first session of the Rising Leaders cohort will lay the framework for the program and launch this journey with a focus on self-awareness, a key competency of effective leadership. We will explore your career journey to date and help you claim your future narrative and identify the learning that will help get you there. 

Session 2A and 2B | Managing Relationships: Navigating and Influencing Power  

  • Description: We each have power, and this power is experienced by us and others in multi-dimensional ways. In this session we will explore the power we each hold, from the varying intersections of our identity, and learn how that power can be leveraged for greater self-awareness and to lift up the power of others. We will also explore the inherent power in hierarchy and how you can manage and influence those in higher organizational positions. We will explore concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as accountability. 

Session 3A and 3B | Managing Relationships: Working Collaboratively and Addressing Conflict 

  • Description: As you rise within your career, the requirements demanded of you don’t just scale they evolve. At higher levels of an organization your ability to see systems, create and execute strategy, rally and coach others towards collective goals, and more, will define your success. Doing all of this well requires skill and emotional intelligence. In this session we will tackle one of the most difficult dimensions of relationships, conflict. In the soup of disagreements, the capacity to understand your own story, to see and illuminate the stories of others, and the ability to co-create solutions with integrity divide average and remarkable leaders. 

Session 4A and 4B | Hard Skills: Facilitation and Collaborative Leadership with a Systems Lens  

  • Description: Skillful collaboration is facilitated by an open mind and heart, keen powers of observation of self and others, compassionate communication, a whole-systems view and a willingness to witness and experience emergence and transformation. This module will promote these qualities while seeking to enhance leadership skills, self-awareness and a capacity to contribute to positive change at any scale. By practicing presence, expanding our awareness of self and others and unlocking our creativity, we can realize our potential as inspired and skillful facilitators or participants in any group system. Participants will be introduced to a variety of group work and collaborative leadership tools which will help improve our practical facilitative tools for decision–making and conflict resolution, as well as develop the courage to imaginatively embrace emergence. 

Session 5 | Closing 

  • Description: In this last session of the Rising Leaders Cohort we will step back and reflect on the learning experience and create space for participants to finalize and share their leadership aspirations and goals. 

The application deadline has passed. 

The Rising Leaders Cohort happens every two years. If you'd like to sign up to be the first to know about the 2023 Cohort, fill out the form below.