W. DeWayne Wells
DeWayne Wells, president of Gleaners Community Food Bank, not only measures progress by number of meals distributed to hungry people, but also by how much the community is engaged and working from a common front. Under his leadership, Gleaners projects to distribute 45 million pounds of food in 2012.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
W. DeWayne Wells, President of Gleaners Community Food Bank:
Certainly, in this environment, being a leader means being flexible, being not only open to change, but proactively embracing change. Given all of the changes here in Detroit, from personnel leaving city positions and functions and nonprofit leaders leaving, this is important. It also means having both the foresight and the vision to move the organization forward and the ability to engage all stakeholders in that vision – your employees, your donors, your funders, and your organizational peers.
What is your dream for kids?
My specific dream for kids is that there would be no kids hungry. That our work – both our individual work at the food bank with our child feeding initiatives and the collective work of all organizations – literally would mean that there is no kid hungry in our city, region, state, or even our country.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I think we need to create more environments and more settings where real collaborative discussions can take place. I think we need to create more environments and more settings where real collaborative discussions can take place.
Whether it’s sharing best practices or trying to leverage resources to work together. We all go to a lot of meetings and we see a lot of the usual suspects at many of the same meetings, but rare is the designated time – because the focus of the meeting is around some program or some activity – for networking and collaboration and sharing of ideas. There aren’t a lot of forums for unstructured discussions around best practices or working together better. I think that would help the sector.
How do you know you’re making progress?
Organizationally, we know we are making progress when looking at some of the metrics that we developed for our strategic and operating indicators. So, we can clearly look at pounds distributed, number of people reached, meals distributed, or number of people trained through Cooking Matters. We have those organizational metrics so we can track our progress against those strategic and operating goals.
Individually, it depends on specific areas that you are making progress with. As a leader, I am part of annual evaluation and goal setting process with my board. Whether it’s organizational metrics that we’re collecting data on or personal goals that we all have through the performance management process, it’s always good to do a periodic check in against those and assess where you are.
I leave some meetings with a sense that we’re making progress. Maybe I met someone or was able to connect around an idea, thought or plan, or program collaboration so I get that instinctual feeling – where there’s a good mesh between organizations and a personal connection and relationship that’s building between me and another executive or program person. Sometimes you just get a sense leaving some meetings where you think “that was powerful” or “we’re making a lot of progress” – where the community is engaged, we’re moving forward, and we have a common understanding of what we’re trying to work toward.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of our thoughtful and comprehensive response to the dramatic increase in need in the community for emergency food. I’m most proud of our thoughtful and comprehensive response to the dramatic increase in need in the community for emergency food.
I’m particularly proud of that because it means that more hungry people are being fed and we can measure and see that.
How did you end up in the human services field and why do you continue in the field providing leadership for nonprofits?
I started my professional career in the finance area, first as a CPA working for one of the big CPA firms and then ten years in healthcare finance. I ended up in the human services field after going through the Leadership Detroit program in 1997-98 and interacting with such dynamic leaders and emerging leaders in the region and learning more about the challenges and opportunities that were present. It really spurred a need in me to want to be involved on more of a grassroots level to address what was going on in the city.
What makes me continue is that the need hasn’t been met. There is still a need for safety net and other services. And there is still, across most nonprofit organizations around the country, a need for leaders that have not only service orientation in their backgrounds, but also business skills – whether it’s in accounting, marketing, or management. Most nonprofits are really evolving into the mini businesses that they are.