The following is a conversation between Daisy Rosales, Executive Director of Brio, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving. 

Denver: Brio advances global mental health and wellbeing through design and collaboration with local leaders and organizations. Since 2018, Brio has worked with impact organizations in Latin America, Asia, and the United States creating innovative programs in marginalized communities. And here to tell us more about their work is Daisy Rosales, the executive director of Brio. Welcome to The Business of Giving, Daisy.

Daisy Rosales, Executive Director of Brio

Daisy: Thanks so much for having me today.

Denver: Brio founded in 2018. Tell us why you started the organization.

Daisy: There are a couple of threads that brought me to this work. First of all, my co-founder, who is also my life partner, my husband, and I were friends with a number of Latin American community leaders from our previous work and from personal connections.

And one of the biggest challenges that they shared with us was around mental health. They said: People in our communities come to us almost on a regular basis about some of the painful experiences that they’re having. And we find ourselves counseling them, supporting them, and helping them to navigate these experiences.

Community leaders work with marginalized populations. There’s a lot of pain, whether it’s from having to leave their previous community to come to an urban area, trying to survive with a family, being intercepted by oppressive forces… whether it’s government forces or local cartel violence in some cases. And so, there are a lot of things that make life quite difficult.

Denver: Yeah.

Daisy: And so, my co-founder and I were thinking: There’s this global mental health conversation. And many of them don’t seem to be thinking about community-based leaders and organizations that are, in many ways, already showing up for these communities. They already are holding all of this.

And so, how can we invite them to be a part of designing solutions that can really help communities to heal and flourish and move toward their vision of what the good life looks like? That’s one pathway as to why we got involved in this work.

And the other one’s a little bit more personal. I grew up in a family where both my parents struggled with their mental health. I’m an only child, and we grew up in Silicon Valley. It’s a place where people come to chase their dreams and be successful.

And yet, I couldn’t have named this as a young kid, but my own life experience as a child was very much shaped by how difficult it was to be an immigrant family in Silicon Valley, to be struggling with the pressures that people face here.

And I didn’t realize that until much later in life and thought it would’ve been really great if someone was looking out for my family and so many more families like ours. And so, mental health is really critical to the wellbeing and flourishing of people all over the world, whether around here or somewhere else.

“People like Alicia and her team were showing up for this community. They’re providing so many things, and their presence became a space of healing and of light and possibility for a community that was facing all kinds of oppression, marginalization.”

“What’s really at the heart of this is that there’s so much suffering in our community. And sometimes it feels like what we’re doing is just stopping the bleeding.”

Denver: No, I can just appreciate and imagine the pressures of living in Silicon Valley. That is not the easiest place to be brought up, that is for sure. Well, the model for Brio began with an organization that you work with in Ecuador. Tell us a little bit about that experience.

Daisy: Right. So, this was a community-based organization that inspired us to think about how we involve community members and community leaders in the design of mental health programming. The partners we had were a local grassroots organization called Fundación Casa Victoria.

And it was started by a woman named Alicia Duran Ballen, and her father was actually in Ecuadoran politics. She grew up in Ecuador, and she had this vision one day when she was walking through one of the most marginalized communities in Quito, the capital.

And she saw this really run-down, hundred-year-old house, and she thought: No one’s doing anything with this incredible hundred-year-old building. What if we came and restored it and just created a space for the community to come together for the kids to feel safe? She wasn’t really sure what that vision was.

And by the time we’d met her, they had been around for over 10 years, and she’s kind of the person who can walk through the community and people come up to her and call her Mama Alicia. People actually recognize her. And it was this extraordinary revelation for us. We connected with her through some mutual friends.

And we spent over a month just spending time with her and her team there. People like Alicia and her team were showing up for this community. They’re providing so many things, and their presence became a space of healing and of light and possibility for a community that was facing all kinds of oppression, marginalization.

And so, one day, Alicia told us, she was like, “What’s really at the heart of this is that there’s so much suffering in our community. And sometimes it feels like what we’re doing is just stopping the bleeding. We’re just trying to get people to the doctor, trying to help kids stay in school. Any money that comes our way, we distribute it immediately.”

It’s really kind of what it means to lead a community center or organization on the margins; everything they do feel’s very marginal. And so, what can we do that is more proactive around this bigger question of pain and also of liberation? What can we do about this big theme? Because this is what life is really about.

We want to help our participants cast a bigger vision for their lives. Even under these really difficult circumstances, how do we do that? And so, that was back in 2015. And then, I was working in the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, and my partner at the time was getting his clinical psychology PhD. And so, they knew mental health was of interest to us. Three years later, I found myself in business school, and I just thought: We’ve always wanted to see if there was a way that we could contribute to the challenges that these communities… leaders, like Alicia, were facing.

And so, we called her and just said, “You’ve talked about mental health as a challenge that you wanted to tackle with your community. Has anyone helped you?” And she said, “No. A lot of people have offered; they’ve tried different things, but nothing has really worked. What did you have in mind?”

And it was really her generosity and our friendship that started this model that Brio still uses, which is partnering with extraordinary leaders in organizations that are serving marginalized communities to design programs that build up mental health skills in this community. So, it’s a community-based and population-based approach.

Denver: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great founding story. And I guess it is women like Alicia that really have given this a community-owned approach, that you do not come in with a solution, but you do it around a woman like her that is just such a pulse and the heart of the community, because they really know.

Daisy: Yes. And one of the things that really helps us to build productive partnerships is an alignment, not just in the community leaders and their organizations reaching out to us and saying: We want to do something around mental health, and so does our community.  They’re ready for this.

And that makes a really big leap from conversations around: What even is mental health? Is it important? Do we want to talk about it?  Alll the way to: We’re experiencing these painful things, and we want to do something about it. And so, their willingness to engage us is really the beginning of the partnership.

Denver: Yeah. And we hear so much, I think, about the pressures that we have in the business community… businessmen and business women, and trying to hit quarterly goals and things of that sort. I don’t think people fully appreciate though the emotional hardships experienced by social change leaders, particularly from marginalized communities. Talk a little bit about that, if you would.

Daisy: Yeah. So, we talk about the mental health challenges of people who are facing adversity. We know that in communities that have faced violence and poverty and marginalization, experts are estimating as many as 2 in 5 people being at risk of having poor mental health at any given time.

And that’s an extraordinary number of people. And yet, it makes sense because mental health is really about how we respond to the adverse experiences, the inner experiences that we may have.

And so, when you think about a leader, someone who not only has maybe experienced some of these very same forces themselves… Maybe they’re from the community and sometimes they’re not, but they are confronting and facing these realities on a regular basis. And that can really take a toll.

It can take a toll for a number of reasons. There’s external challenges, whether it’s… they’re trying to fundraise and they know how critical these resources would be to solve some really meaningful problems.

Maybe 9 times out of 10, they get a no. That rejection is really painful because of its implications. They may also be facing challenges within the community. There could be violence, there could be conflict between community members that is really difficult to face and to adjudicate.

And so, those are some external things they might be facing. And then, there are the internalized pieces, which are what we like to talk about a lot because there’s so many external circumstances that we cannot change, at least not immediately… maybe over time.

But the inner realities that we have– the thoughts, the emotions, the worries, the assumptions, the hopes, all of the things that we hold as individuals of dynamic and vast experiences, some of those can cause really deep and painful reactions as well.

Here’s an example. In the social change sector, we have these hero narratives. This person is the face of the organization. They’re the face of the issue. They’ve got to represent everything. They’ve got to be perfect. They have to be someone we are inspired to follow.

And we have these kinds of rules about that, that we then internalize and tell ourselves, Well, I got to be that kind of person in order to make an impact. And when I fall short of that, I can feel quite terrible. And so, there’s this concept in liberation psychology that we actually build into our programs. It’s called de-idealogizing.

And that’s just a really long word that we never actually use publicly. That is just about: Imagine that all of us are carrying this backpack to and from school or work. And one day, we opened the backpack, and we realized, “Oh, it’s really heavy because someone put a brick in there.” We take it out and we’re like, “Where did this come from?”

And I think in some ways, the narratives that marginalized communities are carrying about what’s possible for them, whether they actually have capacities… We have lots of biases in our society, institutionalized racism, all kinds of different ways in which marginalized populations are carrying this burden of assumptions about what is really possible for them.

And so, the de-idealogizing part for leaders could look like “Why do I feel like I have to live up to this narrative? Why do I need to be anything other than myself? And why do I feel like I need to suffer more than my community in order to be a legitimate person in this movement?” So, there are external things and internal things that we’re all facing.

Denver: Yeah. I’ve talked to a lot of social change leaders, too, and they have said they feel guilty sometimes. They said if you’re in the business world and you don’t, let’s say, work on a Saturday or Sunday, maybe the profits will go down a little bit.

But these are people’s lives, you know, so there’s always a sense that there’s more that I could be doing, and you can really burn yourself out. If you don’t let go of that for a moment and take care of yourself, you’re not really going to be any use to anyone for a while.

Daisy: One of the things that we talk about a lot, too, with the leaders we work with is self-inclusion. So, it’s not just about you’ve got to push, push, push until you’re kind of at that peak of that stress and then pull out before you go over to the burnout side.

The other part of it is most of us have a vision that is pretty big, and it includes a lot of people, and it wouldn’t make logical sense if we didn’t include ourselves in that vision of flourishing. We’ve got to be a part of that.

Otherwise, it’s a little bit like: Oh, those people over there need my mission, they need my help, but I don’t need it. There’s something special about me. And so, I think, we’ve really got to turn this around and say, Oh, I got to go first actually in terms of experiencing some of this flourishing I’m working toward.

“But if I can actually create a little bit of healthy distance between myself and some of these inner experiences, then I have a broader range of choices available to me. I can still go to work, I can go to school, I can take care of my family in the presence of this suffering.”

“At the heart of the human spirit is this desire to live life that is meaningful and purposeful for me. And today is really all that we have. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, and we can’t change the past.”

Denver: That’s a great point. I sometimes take a look at leaders, and when they do something wrong or bad in their mind, what they say to themselves. And I’ve asked them, Daisy. I said,  “If somebody else did that, would you talk to them that way?”  And they’re like, “Well, no, of course, I would never say that to somebody.”

Well, then: Why do you say it to yourself? Why do you beat yourself up so badly? You’re human. You know, we’re all going to have an off day or something like that…and we just lose that context… that we just have to be perfect all the time.

Let me ask you a little bit about the role of human-centered design in mental health initiatives. Tell us about that.

Daisy: So, one of the key things that I think people miss about mental health is that there’s a spectrum. It’s not just about the absence of illness. Sometimes, unfortunately, when we talk about mental health, people are really talking about mental illness, mental health conditions and diagnoses. And that all is really important.

But what that misses sometimes is the possibilities that mental health makes available to us. And then what becomes important is what matters to you. What do you want to be doing more of in your life that reflects the kind of person you want to be?

And what mental health can help us do is build some of that present moment awareness and flexibility to say, Okay, I’m experiencing these difficult thoughts, these difficult emotions. This circumstance is really hard.

But if I can actually create a little bit of healthy distance between myself and some of these inner experiences, then I have a broader range of choices available to me. I can still go to work, I can go to school, I can take care of my family in the presence of this suffering, right?

And so, that’s why community-centered design is so important because, ultimately, we’re not looking to eliminate mental illness. We do think that building skills can reduce the risk, and that is really important. But what really gets people engaged in this conversation is what it will allow them to do, whether it’s just within their families or in their communities at large, the changes they want to make.

And so, we always start with that question. When we work with a group of community members, we ask this question, “What does it mean to live a good life in your community? What does that look like?”

And, I think, we’ve worked with people who are refugees, and who have no rights; they’re stateless. And, initially, they’ll say, “Well, the good life is getting out of here. The thing I want is to be relocated and to start over.”

Denver: Anywhere but here.

Daisy: Anywhere but here. Got to get out of here. Unfortunately, as you and I know, that’s not necessarily within their realm of control; that is up to the UNHCR and a number of other external figures. And so, then we ask them, “So, imagine, today, you’re going to have a really good day, and you are going to feel that you are your full self experiencing some vitality. What would that look like?”

And then they go, “Oh, it would look like speaking a kind word to my child. It would look like taking care of my neighbor. It would look like going and taking that English class that I’ve been thinking about taking because it’ll help me communicate a little bit better.”

And then we realize, “Oh, actually, these circumstances are really, really tough, and we want to see the systemic change to alleviate this. But today, you can live a life that is meaningful to you, and that is important.”

And so, that’s where when people talk about mental health kind of being a luxury, which can sometimes come at us as, “Oh, why are you working on this? People need other things.”

And we say, “You know, I think at the heart of the human spirit is this desire to live life that is meaningful and purposeful for me. And today is really all that we have. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, and we can’t change the past. But what about today? And what if we could help people who are in some of the most adverse circumstances lead lives that they’re proud of? Doesn’t that matter?”

And I think, ultimately, when we work with communities around what that vision is, then they get really excited about, “Okay, well I want to build the skills to be able to do that more because that feels great.”

Denver: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, that’s just really the heart of psychology sometimes is:  just address the issue right now. What do you need to do to make it better? And just that very act, that mindset will begin to make it a lot better. And then all of a sudden, as you sort of imply, you start stacking up one day after another after another. It’s not something way out there. It starts here. It starts now. What can you do to make today better?

Well, you know, a lot of what we’ve been talking about, I guess, if there’s a rubric that it falls under, it would be your partnership program, and that’s offered to extraordinary leaders and community organizations. Tell us a little bit about that as well, including: How do you define an extraordinary leader and an extraordinary organization?

Daisy: Yeah. So, this gets into more of the question of : How do we make this possible for a large number of people? And so, we work with organizations that see mental health and wellbeing as critical to their mission. That’s first and foremost. And we do this for a number of reasons.

One is that they’re already showing up and supporting communities that are marginalized. They have this kind of access and they’ve built this kind of trust. And that is part of what makes them extraordinary.

The second part is that they have this creative vision of developing a mental health-related program that will support their overall mission, whether it’s in education or supporting workforce development or supporting local leadership. And they see mental health as a pathway to really amplifying what they’re already doing.

And this is critical because, as you’ve probably figured out, we’re not doing mental health in a clinical setting. We’re working outside the healthcare system, in part because this is one way to go straight to communities and populations before they are necessarily “experiencing an illness.” And in many ways, community-based organizations have much more regular access to these communities.

And so, when we start the partnership, we really try to evaluate how connected, how proximate is this organization. Would they be able to gather a group of people to come together and talk about what the good life means to them and what’s getting in the way? Do they have that kind of social capital?

The other thing that makes them really extraordinary though, because there’s so many grassroots community organizations that are amazing and doing the really hard work. But we do believe that when we’ve created something that engages the community, and that really reflects who they want to be, and it’s meaningfully building these skills… after we evaluate it, that these things really should be shared and replicated.

And there are a number of reasons why. One is that, as I mentioned before, there is a massive population that experiences poor mental health at any given time. And going about it by raising awareness, just telling everybody about mental health and mental illness… or only focusing on treating people who have a diagnosable illness… that’s not going to get us to meeting the scale of this global challenge.

And so, what we really need to do is build mental health promotion programs that actually foster these skills that resonate in local context, and then go to scale in local systems. And we really rely on partners that have that same vision.

So, they’ve got the community connection; they’ve got that rootedness. And they have the systems change perspective of: We want to take this. If it’s really working and our community has vetted it and they love it, we want to take it and make it available to as many people as possible. So that’s what makes our partners extraordinary.

And honestly, Denver, we didn’t show up to create Brio with this vision of scaling. We talked so much about scale and social enterprise and social impact work. But we said, You know what?  It would be great if we just helped a few Alicias along the way, and they could do whatever they want with this.

It was our partners actually who said: This is too good for us not to share. We have a bunch of local ecosystem partners who are interested in what we’re doing. They want this program. We work with the government. They want this program. And so, it was really their ambition that encouraged us to say, “Well, okay, let’s go and do this together.”

Denver: There you go. What the heck? Yeah. Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about that scaling and replicating, because that’s so important. You mentioned the government there, civil society. How do you really begin to take one of these pilots that have worked really well and then take it to that next level?

Daisy: Yes. So, one of the things that’s really important to us is, I mentioned psychological flexibility a little bit earlier. We use an evidence-based model. It’s called ACT, which stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Training. ACT is one of the best researched, behavioral interventions for a wide range of mental health conditions.

So, it’s typically used in a clinical setting, but what it does is it builds psychological flexibility. There’s these like six mental processes that ACT entails. And so, what we’re looking to do when we design programs with community members is to center what they value, to center their lived experience. And through that, create a program that actually helps them build psychological flexibility.

So, that’s the piece that we bring together. Our partners run the program; we evaluate it to see if people are actually moving on validated scales. So, for example, recently, we’ve been doing a small scale-up of a program that we wrote about three years ago for teacher wellbeing, and it had some good early data.

And in a recent pre-post, we saw a statistically significant improvement on the WHO- 5 Wellbeing Index with nearly 70% of the participants improving, which is really amazing, because what’s happening is more than mapping some of this impact on a scale; we’re seeing the real changes, the real behavioral shifts that these participants are experiencing.

So, once we see that, then we’re able to say, Okay, who are some of the other users here? And, as you know, Denver, scaling really depends on context. There are some contexts where partnering with the local government is a really positive thing. So, for example, in India, our partners, shared this possibility with us.

It wasn’t even something we had in mind when we first started working with them, but they had built relationships with the local government, especially the education departments where they work. And they said, You know, the government is actually interested in testing this with teachers because it seems to really be helping teachers show up for their jobs and to create helpful learning environments for kids.

So, why don’t we create a model with them and run this with more teachers? So, that’s one way that works for some contexts. In other contexts, working with the government feels a lot more risky. It’s not necessarily something that people want to do. And so, there are other ways. For example, in Colombia, civil society organizations– they all know each other, and they’re kind of in the same boat.

And so, they’ll say, “Oh, you know, this person at this organization is interested in what we’re doing. Why don’t we bring them into this conversation and see why they’re interested and what they would want to see in a program like this.” And then, once the program is created, they can take it and use it with their constituents and participants.

So, it really depends on the context, but essentially, once we’ve evaluated the program, we feel really confident that this actually builds skills that are valuable to participants across the region. We’ll look for ways to help partners use it.

“It is less about getting away from it all because they just can’t stand it anymore and more about: How can I change my relationship with the things that I’m facing from day-to-day such that there’s this stability and the centeredness that I can bring to it that is less tossed around by the inevitable hardships that we face?”

Denver: Cool. You know, as you probably know, a lot of the listeners of this show are from nonprofit organizations, and pretty much everybody who works in those nonprofit organizations is a social change worker in one sense or another. I was wondering if there were any mental health practices that organizations can cultivate in their workplace to improve the wellbeing of the workplace.

Daisy: Absolutely. The first thing I want to say is sometimes when people talk about mental health and wellbeing, they see it as, well, we just need more vacation. We just need more days off. Now, I love a good vacation; everyone loves a good vacation, but there’s a challenge here. And namely, it is that vacation, in the very word, there’s this word “vacate,” right? There’s this sense of: I’ve got to get out of here. I need to vacate my reality.

And wellbeing is so much more than getting away from it all because, guess what! You take some of it with you, in your mind and sort of the stresses, right? We all know how hard it is to kind of turn off, but also when you get back, all that stuff is just waiting for you, and there’s probably more of it because you were away.

Denver: You know, that’s a really good point. And the number of people you talk to have taken a vacation, and after three days back, it’s been lost.

Daisy: Yeah.

Denver: And they need another vacation.

Daisy: Yes.

Denver: And it was like they never went away. So, that’s exactly to your point.

Daisy: Yes. And we don’t want to create a sector in which everyone is just counting down the days to their next vacation. And so, we have this other view of wellbeing as also being able to engage a reality, to engage it fully.

And so, it is less about getting away from it all because they just can’t stand it anymore and more about: How can I change my relationship with the things that I’m facing from day-to-day such that there’s this stability and the centeredness that I can bring to it that is less kind of tossed around by the inevitable hardships that we face?

And so, that is one of the things that we work on with the teams that we partner with. And so, some of those practices include having time to reflect just to notice: What is happening within me? We use lots of different metaphors. So, here’s one. Imagine your life is like a show that’s happening on stage, and there are all these different actors, these different colors, these different things that are happening.

But there’s a part of yourself that you can access that can just kind of sit back and observe all of it. And that is the observing self, right? That’s the part of you that can actually choose. If we just create a little bit of spaciousness, I can choose what I want to focus on. I don’t have to be hijacked by this one really loud and angry voice over here, or this really down and difficult emotion over here. I’m holding all of these all at once.

And so, we try to help people to create some of those spaces to say, “Okay, you know, sometimes it’s like nose to the grindstone. You wake up, and it’s like me in front of my computer for eight hours, and I don’t know what happened.” Can we create some of that awareness and spaciousness in the middle of that to reassess and say, “Okay, what’s really important here?”

And so, that’s one thing that is not a vacation, but it’s a bit more of a distance that’s created between us and our work. Another one I would say is that we also are a very cerebral branch, right? A lot of people who work in nonprofits, they have these theories of change. They have these like strategies. And it’s all really like, you know, highly cognitive work.

And so, sometimes the simple thing is just: Let’s re-inhabit the rest of our bodies because we’re not floating heads here in life. And, whether it’s just remembering to stand up, remembering to breathe through your nose, going outside, these are really simple things that everyone is aware of, but the fact is that people are still not doing it.

So, helping people to build those rhythms in and say, “Okay, I’m going to do this.” And not just teaching that, but doing it ourselves.

Denver: Yeah. Yeah. And they’re pretty much the same thing in some respects. That’s a moment of reflection that you take that moment and you just get away and you think about it. And it is so true that without reflection, no learning takes place. And I think we’ve created a culture, Daisy, that we all have to remain so busy that we go on from one thing to the next, and then what we end up doing is that our responses are automatic.

They’re reflective, and never do we stop and say, “Does that serve me well anymore? This is the way I’ve always responded in that situation. Is there something else I might do?” And all those things can change the circumstances around you and, certainly, your wellbeing.

Let me ask you about your business model. You’re a nonprofit organization, so you got earned income, I guess; you got philanthropic revenue; you got government. Tell us a little bit about how you keep this ship afloat.

Daisy: Yeah. So, we do have a revenue mix. For the most part, when we started, we were funded largely by individuals and small prizes and small family foundations, and what is really challenging is actually supporting the most critical part of our model, which is not the scaling and replication part.

That’s almost easy, because you’ve already got a program that checks all the boxes. It’s like, “Oh, great, the community was involved; there’s data. Now, I feel confident enough; let’s just pay for a bunch of people to do this program.” That part’s easy to fund.

The hard part is the community engagement part, because it’s really hard to put a value sign or dollar sign on that… of all of the conversations, the gatherings, the insights that the community is providing and what it looks like to co-create something, which is: we write parts of this. Our partner writes parts of this; the community writes parts of this program.

And, yeah, we take a really big risk there in that the results are not guaranteed. It may take multiple iterations to refine this, such that you do get that really good data, and you do get those really good testimonials. And that part has largely been funded by people who believe in this work.

Part of believing in it is believing in the agency of these communities to make their own choices, to participate in the creation of programs as we, as a sector, love expertise and love research, and love people who really “know what they’re talking about.”

And yet, the inclusion of communities is part of what we take on in the very beginning because we think that’s what makes these programs work. And so, that part is funded largely by unrestricted contributions from people who believe in this work.

And then, the grants kind of come in in the later stages when it’s sort of like, “Oh, we got this amazing program and these 2,000 teachers. They’re ready for this program; just help us scale it. Here’s what it’ll look like.” So, the scale part is where the larger grants come in. And then, in addition to that, we work on a client basis here in the United States.

As we mentioned earlier, we do work in a number of different regions, where we have personal connections or where we’ve built partnerships over time. Here in the United States, our client model is exactly the same as our partnership model, except that our scaling approach here is working with larger nonprofit clients who want to scale this within their organization across, let’s say, 21 states, for example. And so, they’ll pay us to help them build this out.

Denver: Cool. Do you think that funders are beginning to get a little bit more intrepid about taking that leap of faith, you know, as the world turns, and they realize that not everything can be documented and measured upfront, but there has to be that sense of belief? Or do you find it still to be a real, real challenge?

And there’s just that many more funders at the back end, as you say, once we have the data and once we have the proof, will chip in, but it’s hard to get that front end. I just was wondering if you’re seeing a greater receptivity of late.

Daisy: I think we’re starting to see it because more and more funders are listening to sort of progressive voices that are saying communities have to be involved. This human-centered design is really important. And so, some funders certainly are listening to that.

And, I think, additionally, more funders are excited about that co-creation model because, again, you know, I think some of the large NGOs, sort of large corporate nonprofit model has its challenges, and I think we’ve started to really see that. So, something that’s nimble and co-creative and rooted in community, I think some people are finding that attractive.

“The sooner we learn to ask really good questions, the kinds of questions that really crack things open for people, where they’re telling you the truth about their inner experiences, what they’re noticing… Creating these kinds of spaces where they can do that, I think, is one of the biggest skills that makes our work possible.”

Denver: Finally, Daisy, from all the work you’ve been doing here over the course of the past five years with different organizations from different places around the world, has there been any lesson or two that you’ve taken from all that and incorporated into the way you lead Brio on a day-to-day basis?

Daisy: I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned how to do is to ask better questions. I think, at first, we tend to kind of show up to the social change space with our sense of right and wrong and our sense of: I want to make my contribution, and this is coming out of my experience.

And that is so important. And yet, the sooner we learn to ask really good questions, the kinds of questions that really crack things open for people, where they’re telling you the truth about their inner experiences, what they’re noticing… Creating these kinds of spaces where they can do that, I think, is one of the biggest skills that makes our work possible.

It’s not something I’m perfect at. I have this struggle with asking compound questions at the end of which people are saying, “Can you repeat the question?” But asking those really good questions and being able to do that means listening really well.

Recently, one of my coaches said something about how we spend the majority of our time in our work advocating, and listening is an intervention into our systems to help us to balance all that advocacy with mutual understanding. So, I think that is one thing I’m constantly working on.

Denver: Yeah. Well, I think we all have to work on our listening because even when you’re talking to people, they get halfway through, and you’re saying, “Oh, just shut up. I know what I would need to say. I got this figured out for you.” You know what I mean? And you stop.

Daisy: Yes.

Denver: And you’re thinking about what you want. And you know, I’m an executive coach as well, and one of the big lessons that I got… I had problems with compound questions… was: ask one question at a time and then stop. And then get comfortable with the silence. And often, we can’t get comfortable with that silence.

But I’ve always kind of appreciated that that silence means that they’re thinking, and it’s good when they’re thinking. If they have that automatic response, it means it’s something they’ve said 150 times before. But when they really have to think, you know what? They’re going to be more uncomfortable with that silence than you are. So, you just keep on staying quiet, and that works every time.

Hey, for listeners who want to learn more about Brio or financially support this work, tell us a little bit about your website and the kind of information they’ll find there.

Daisy: So, our website is You can go on there to learn about all the different places where we are partnering, reading stories from those partnerships. There’s videos, there’s guides, there’s all kinds of stuff, and there’s also a link to donate to us right on the homepage.

Denver: Fantastic. Well, thanks, Daisy, for being here today. It was a real great pleasure to have you on the show.

Daisy: Thank you so much for having me.

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Share This: