Entering into the last phase of our Fellowship experience in mid-April, the 63rd class of Coro Fellows in Public Affairs embarked on our first independently organized, longer-term work experience of the year: our Spring Projects. The Spring Project experience for Fellows was meant to be a culmination of our learnings and placements throughout the past eight months, allowing us to implement and operationalize the skills and knowledge we had gained. Spring Projects involved the Fellows reaching out to organizations on our own to secure an agreement for a five-week work period, as well as payment, and decide upon a deliverable that would bring considerable value to the host organization and its mission. Fellows leaned into contacts we had made throughout the Fellowship through interviews and networking, made pitches to organizations based upon our interests, and ended up landing a diverse array of project placements that offered us the opportunity to utilize and showcase all that Coro has taught us.
The Fellows worked at a range of host organizations, from government entities like LA Metro and the Office of Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, to business associations like the Western States Petroleum Association and the BizFed Institute, to nonprofits like the LA Coalition for Excellent Public Schools and the LA Alliance for Human Rights. Fellows pursued their interests in law, education, policy, coalition building, research, and organizing. Most Fellows produced work products that their organizations are hoping to build off of moving forward. For example, Philine Qian worked with the Glendale Arts and Culture Commission to write a draft ordinance related to the creation of murals within Glendale, which will be reviewed by ordinance experts and eventually go into a public process to hopefully become fully approved by the city. Angel Lira worked with the BizFed Institute to compile contacts and do outreach for a coalition they are building, the Los Angeles/Orange County Regional Broadband Consortia, which will help BizFed broaden the coalition’s reach and diversify its ranks moving forward.
In delivering on all of these final projects, Fellows relied heavily upon the Coro tools and frameworks we had learned throughout the year. Fellow James Crisafulli, who wrote a report on mental health and homelessness for the LA Alliance for Human Rights, remarked, “This project allowed me to fully exercise the systems thinking skills I have gained through Coro. Stakeholder mapping and systems analysis proved invaluable for my ability to gain insight into the elaborate world of mental health care in California.” Jenna Karic and Marissa Mota, who provided research and recommendations for the LA Coalition for Excellent Public Schools in the wake of the pandemic, found Coro skills helpful in navigating their project together as a duo. Jenna relayed that “utilizing the tools to examine a step-by-step game plan and then execute our desired outcomes has increased efficiency and improved our ability to work as a team.”
Many Fellows saw their seminar learnings play out in real-time before them and had to put into practice what they had studied. Dylan Gray, working on economic development and homelessness initiatives for Councilmember Ridley-Thomas, felt that way: “I operationalized my learnings by assisting with stakeholder management and community outreach through connecting and improving public-private partnerships with business improvement districts and city government to produce a community benefit.” Stakeholder management and public-private partnerships were consistently subjects of conversation in our interviews throughout the year, and Fellows like Dylan found themselves now being in the position of spearheading those efforts, which spawned real chances to grow for all of us.
This Spring Project period was not all about implementing previous learnings, though. Fellows were extremely curious about the issue areas they got to work on and learned a tremendous amount from working in fast-paced, high-stakes environments. Jamie Lam, who researched racial inequities in Westlake for Trifiletti Consulting, found that “The stakeholder management and project management lessons from this period have been immense. There is a delicate balance between hounding someone and getting them to follow through, and it is an art I am still learning.” Jamie’s research also speaks to other Fellows’ learnings about inequality in LA. Victor Pacheco, who worked with Liberty Hill to solicit feedback from community organizations on LA’s new proposed housing element, offered that his project “was a sobering reminder of how Black and Brown communities can be treated as an afterthought when it comes to municipal decision-making. Because community engagement efforts by the city are often inaccessible to residents who are younger, Blacker, and lower-income, the voices who are indeed heard are overwhelmingly older, Whiter, and more affluent.”
Matthew Rafeedie came into his project with very specific ideas and preconceptions about the industry in which he would be working, but over the course of his time with the Western States Petroleum Association, his views shifted: “The nuances and challenges of the fossil fuel industry are lightly understood. I believe the motivations of those in the field are equally misunderstood. I misunderstood a great deal as well prior to the placement but learned the most when exposed to different stakeholders.” Those kinds of assumptions and misunderstandings provided challenges for the Fellows, among the many difficulties in navigating such complex issues with such limited time. Aditi Shenoy, who worked at LA Metro, summarized a crucial challenge in public affairs work in LA as dealing with ‘messiness.’ Aditi commented that “The people I interviewed all held different narratives about events and other things that had happened. Many had different visions of the future. Capturing patterns in subjective understanding was a real challenge.”
The Coro Fellows all submitted their deliverables successfully and even got to present them to each other, ensuring that our learnings were somewhat shared and that our understanding of Los Angeles’ public affairs landscape was deepened as much as possible. The Fellows truly relished the chance during this Spring Project period to have added responsibility, exercise some creativity in our approaches to our work products, collaborate with incredible organizations and supervisors, and (we hope) contribute significantly to the work being done to make Los Angeles a better place. Those five weeks were the last work opportunity the Fellows will have had before we conclude the Fellowship with one more Focus Week and then some final reflection. Stay tuned for more and thank you to all of you who have supported us along this journey!