We are pleased to introduce Jenna Ringelheim as the newest member of our Board of Directors. Jenna’s connection to the Whidbey Institute threads through Environmental Leadership Program (ELP), whose Pacific Northwest Regional Fellows gathered here as a cohort, and through Bainbridge Graduate Institute, where she obtained an MBA in Sustainable Systems alongside fellow board members Casey Dilloway and Hilary Wilson.
As part of her stewardship of the Environmental Leadership Program, Jenna connected with Whidbey Institute staff member Heather Johnson to learn more about new governance processes that the Whidbey Institute was exploring. Having read Frederick Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations and other books on organizational transformation, she was curious about non-hierarchical structures that center equity and inclusion. At the time, the Whidbey Institute was transitioning to Holacracy, and Jenna really appreciated all the insights of our journey. Today she finds it incredible to witness all that’s happened for us in that space as the Whidbey Institute lives more fully into our unique expression of distributed leadership.
“The Whidbey Institute and the land have so many lovely places that can truly hold people, and that can hold those intimate conversations that often arrive in the spaces in-between.”
“I think my fondest memories of the Whidbey Institute are in the Farmhouse, in pre-COVID times, where people would pile into the living room after a full day of facilitated activities,” Jenna said. “The Whidbey Institute and the land have so many lovely places that can truly hold people, and that can hold those intimate conversations that often arrive in the spaces in-between.” Jenna is excited about being part of the team at this moment, and brings to the Whidbey Institute a deep wealth of experience with organizational transformation and leadership transitions, a commitment to equity, and joyful curiosity around growing human-centered workplaces.
“As the organizational integrator at ELP, much of my work focused on people and culture,” she said. “I was on parental leave for the early days of COVID, and I came back after being in a very intense period of social isolation and personal transformation.” Jenna said she found herself questioning what she had been holding onto, both in terms of her personal identity and as a leader. What still served? What needed to change?
“It was a meta-experience of returning to the breath, or meditation, in a way I hadn’t experienced before in my personal and professional journey. When I returned to work, my commitment to human-centered organizational design and shared leadership was front and center.”
Jenna describes this as a moment when ELP was experiencing a great change, initiated by the transitions from in-person to virtual gatherings and organizational growth. She notes that one of her favorite parts of the job was connecting to staff members one-on-one—learning what they needed to right-size the work, to feel good role-fit, and to take care of what was before them needing to be done.
With hosting disruption, leadership changes, and a shifting landscape of COVID-19, the Whidbey Institute team is experiencing similar transitions, and Jenna has chosen this moment to offer her passion and gifts to this team. “There are a lot of unknowns,” she said, “and lots of opportunity. How can we work together to meet everybody’s individual and collective needs? It isn’t easy work, but it’s exciting to have a new community of people to practice together with.” She added that she’s drawn not only to organizations going through organizational transformation, leadership transitions, and evolution toward equity, but also organizations where she has a strong mission-alignment and can work alongside people she loves. Whidbey Institute fits the bill on all counts.
“How can we come together and imagine incredible things, go after those things, and also make sure we’re in the right relationship with our bodies, our families, and our communities?”
Jenna also reflects that becoming a mother later in life has shifted her perspectives on work, and how those lessons might apply to her board service here. “Having been such a career-driven individual,” she said, “I’m trying to reimagine my relationship to productivity and work. How can we come together and imagine incredible things, go after those things, and also make sure we’re in the right relationship with our bodies, our families, and our communities?” Jenna expressed a hope and dream that Whidbey can continue to be a place that reminds people to seek balance, and to be in that right relationship even after they get back to the city, back to their homes and families and jobs. “ I hope people can tap into that feeling later,” she said. “That feeling they experience when they’re in the forest, listening to the birds, deeply nourished and held by a special place.”