Celebrating and Connecting Extraordinary Leaders

Every few years since 2005, 12 Boston heroes have been surprised by a phone call from the Barr Foundation. Chosen from among hundreds of leaders of area nonprofits, these 12 receive a unique offer – to become Barr Fellows. This means a three-month sabbatical, group travel to the global south, and the opportunity to join a remarkably diverse network of leaders.

Collaboration across boundaries - geographic, cultural, or otherwise - is not exactly what the city of Boston has a reputation for. While there are signs of progress everywhere, it was not long ago that few stepped across neighborhood lines. The social sector is sometimes equally divided. With one of the highest concentrations of nonprofits in the country, Boston’s nonprofit leaders are more often competing for dollars than they are working together. After years of leading organizations, and the constant fight for resources, many of these leaders are near burnout. With neither time nor dollars for reflection or rejuvenation, they are not able to maximize their gifts. The Barr Fellowship is an effort to change that.

Since 2005, the Barr Foundation has been quietly surprising extraordinary nonprofit leaders – over half of whom are people of color – with these phone calls. Through the “creative disruption” of their trip and sabbatical, and the deep bonds of trust that Fellows form with one another, they move to new levels of leadership. The parochial, turf-bound competition to which they’ve grown accustomed gives way. In its place, a powerful spirit of inspiration, hope, and collaboration takes hold. “21st century cities are global,” says Pat Brandes, Barr’s Executive Director. “We increasingly depend on boundary crossers like the Barr Fellows to overcome cultural, racial, gender, class, and generational divisions to deal with the complex issues facing cities.

We created this 90-second animation to give the 10,000 foot view of the ideas and impact of the fellowship:

And here is just one of many photos worth 1,000 words about this network. It is from a fellows alumni learning journey to Haiti in March, 2012.

Barr Fellows March 2012 Learning Journey to Haiti

The Barr Fellowship

Details on the fellowship experience, the selection process, measures of success, and additional resources

The Barr Fellows

Photos and bios of Barr Fellows