Your donation has a significant impact in supporting programs, place and people at the Whidbey Institute. These times call upon us to embrace wild ideas, to seek profound and enduring changes within ourselves, our relationships, and our institutions.


“There’s something bubbling up, something capturing people’s attention and imagination. We’re dreaming new dreams.”

—Chris Clark, former board member
Photo © Alex Garland

Learning, Sharing, Growing

For over four decades, the Whidbey Institute has been dedicated to learning in community. Aligning our internal organizational practices with our values and goals, we strive to live into a compassionate culture on our campus and beyond.

Evolving Our Culture

“All the work [we’ve] been doing has a foundation of connecting with yourself, connecting with each other, and connecting with the Earth.”

—Maggie Mahle, former Land Steward

Empowering individuals to act on behalf of the needs of the whole has been an informal part of our culture since the beginning, and has recently been formally integrated as part of our constitutional governance system.

Wilma (1)

“Back at the very beginning, when we didn’t have a clue about what we were doing at all, I got a letter from this woman who wanted to know what she could do to help. I didn’t even know how to answer it, so I didn’t. It was one of the only letters to which I didn’t even write back. Just a few weeks later, this VW bug drove down the road. It was Wilma. She said, ‘you didn’t answer when I wrote, so I figured you needed secretarial help.’”

—Vivienne Hull, on the arrival of Wilma O’Nan

Wilma O’Nan, pictured with her goat Clover, arrived in the early 1970s and worked here as an employee in varied roles (including secretarial) for the next six years. They are memorialized with a copper beech tree, planted in honor of Wilma and Clover by Wilma’s daughter Cathi in 2016.

“We cannot change the world or seek transformation if we don’t start with ourselves. If we change the way we perceive the world, the world will change. We are all interconnected—not only to other people, but to every living being on Earth.”


“Life, in all its evolutionary wisdom, manages ecosystems of unfathomable beauty, ever evolving toward more wholeness, complexity, and consciousness.”


Our Institute board and staff pursue the principles of self-management and distributed authority based on peer relationships. With resources and tools such as Reinventing Organizations, by Frederic LaLoux, and Holacracy, a peer-to-peer “operating system” for distributed authority, we take responsibility to sense and respond to the needs and opportunities of the organization with full accountability, transparency, and commitment.

Self-management in practice

  • Sense & respond rather than predict & control
  • Welcome wholeness—be fully ourselves at work
  • Build on our strengths
  • Treat our organization as a living system
  • Model adaptive leadership
  • Recognize tensions as the gap between where we are and where we long to be

Chris“When people are engaged to bring their intelligence to work, to take responsibility, and to step forward, organizations become more creative.”

—Chris Clark, former board member

me_chewach_river“It makes me feel proud to be a part this organization that is an engaging, creative presence in the world. You’ve gotten really good at talking about things that are on the cusp of our cultural understanding, and still hard to describe.”

—Jill Sheldon, board member


Lessons in Leadership

“We have the opportunity to really take responsibility—to find the edges where we’re interested, excited, and passionate. For an organization to take shape around those edges, and to change with time in relation to what is relevant and alive to all those people within the organization. From my perspective, that’s an integral part of what you might call a living economy, or an ecological society.”

—Robert Mellinger, Land Steward


“One of the most exciting things about the Intersectional Justice work is that I’m seeing the conversations continuing, the work growing in impact, and the community continuing to expand in size and influence. In fact, I feel I’ve been liberated from leadership, in the traditional sense, by the incredible leadership-richness of the community that heeded my call to gather last spring.”

—Marnie Jackson, Communications Manager & Intersectional Justice program facilitator
Photo © Pax ahimsa gethen

“Leadership is not a neutral skill or stance. A leader stands FOR something, and clarifying what that is for oneself is a continual process. The pace of our lives and the way we work and interact in our society, along with the expectations people have about what work is and should be is constantly changing and so what we pay attention to as leaders needs to be open to change.”

—Craig Fleck, POL Facilitator


Leadership today requires the ability to see patterns in complex systems, the interdependence of diverse communities, and morally ambiguous challenges.

In traditional societies, a village was often built around a “commons,” a public space in which the shared life of the community took place.

In today’s interdependent and complex world, the new commons includes diverse cultures and a wide variety of distinct institutions, as well as the oceans, the air, seeds, forests, water, and cyberspace. It is global in scope, yet personal in impact.

We can no longer survive by functioning as separate individuals or independent organizations. The art of leadership requires a connective imagination, an informed conscience, and practiced competence.

The Whidbey Institute’s Powers of Leadership retreat series is one example of how we nurture the capacity for adaptive leadership in ourselves and those we serve.



While we come to the Whidbey Institute for many reasons, we each hold the hope that our experiences here will help us engage more effectively in the work we care most about. Finding the leverage points, where we see how to effect change on behalf of what we love most, is one of the gifts we receive by learning together in this place of shared optimism, courage, and commitment.


“After I left the Governor’s office, I realized my work is in being a bridge and interpreter between the world of wide-open possibility—the world of the Whidbey Institute—and the world of policy-making. How can we bring what we learn here to bear on the quality of the decisions we make for our collective future? This is ground I’m eager to cover.”

—Ted Sturdevant, Board Member

“We come together at the Whidbey Institute because we need each other. The work of maturing ourselves, our structures, and the cultures into which we invite new generations is urgent and ongoing.”

“As much as I’ve worked on the Institute, the Institute has worked on me. It has been exactly the learning I’ve needed in these years.”

—Heather Johnson, Executive Director