Social change leader developing capacity and alliances across North America.

Karen Mahon, Executive Director of Hollyhock Leadership Institute //
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Karen’s Story

Environmental activism in the 90s was alive with BC forestry issues—and with activists competing for scarce funding and media attention. At Greenpeace Canada, Karen Mahon was passionately leading landmark campaigns but on the verge of burnout. Invitations started arriving from a group called Hollyhock, offering Greenpeace and other environmentalists a chance for rest and renewal. “I remember being shocked by the invite. We were trying to save BC forests—who had time to retreat?” says Karen. Finally, an invitation came for a 10-day skills-training session with other environmental activists, and Karen and her colleagues agreed to attend. The training would become a signature event for the Hollyhock Leadership Institute (HLI), immersing participants in a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing. The spirit of the training struck a chord with Karen, so much so that in 1999 she became HLI’s Executive Director. “As activists it was time to raise our game, to learn from our elders, to make activism more effective as well as more sustaining and nourishing,” explains Karen. Today, HLI is integral to the Hollyhock family of initiatives, expanding its influence beyond environmental activism to all areas of social change.

Meeting Renewal

"HLI could not have been formed without support from Renewal and Endswell. They  started as our primary funder. They are now one of many partners," explains Karen. With this support, HLI has become a North American resource for nonprofit leadership development and capacity building, as well as a facilitator of pivotal cross-sector alliances. Today, core funding from Endswell enables HLI to pilot their most innovative ideas. “They understand that our work must surpass skill building and what it takes to create a community that will have impact,” says Karen. “Over the years, we have become strong collaborators, continually swapping ideas and prospects.”

Making Ripples

Each year HLI convenes over 600 participants in personal development, professional training and facilitated dialogue of the highest quality. Signature events such as the Canadian Environmental Leadership Program and the Social Change Institute (SCI) have raised the bar for nonprofits across North America, increasing political awareness, public policy literacy and strategic partnerships. Ultimately, HLI has inspired a systems-approach to social change—drawing government into dialogue with activists; activists into dialogue with corporations; leaders, artists, organizations and others into lively explorations of themselves and their missions. With these successes, HLI now also works with government services, cooperatives and companies—including Mountain Equipment Co-op, VANOC and others—to strengthen their social responsibility efforts.