Misty is a community curator, facilitator, and nonprofit capacity builder. She currently serves as the Chief Administrative Officer for UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education. Misty is on the Board of Directors for Aspiration, which supports mission-driven organizations and movements in using tech for social good. Misty is also a proud mom and Latin Dance Grooves Carnaval dancer in San Francisco.
This is the first in a series of stories using “Your StoryEngine” to help individuals define their purpose and advance their career story. Facilitator and community development strategist Misty Avila shares how a pivotal moment involving bees helped to illuminate her gifts, passion, and purpose in the world.
Back to Bees
My family is a restaurant family. My grandparents had restaurants, my parents owned a restaurant. My father’s side is from Zacatecas, Mexico. My mom was a waitress from Sacramento’s Oak Park. The story of my family was not only food but also being a community hub. In our restaurant business, we were doing more than feeding people. I was the first person in my family to get a college degree. I know now that observing and experiencing my parents provide a living for our family while bringing people together was my training ground. This was my introduction to understanding the meaning of creating space for fellowship and shared purpose. My family’s experience and stories initiated me in community work.
My career began building culturally competent and body positive educational materials in community nutrition and health. I wanted to have local impact on young people. A theme emerged within my work: a desire to change systems rather than just surviving them. Helping others find the agency to affect the systems they are in became the bedrock value in my work.
As I gained insight, it elevated my ability to help communities communicate and organize. I found myself having to become a technology capacity builder and I was excited about the potential of using tech and communications as a pathway to support social change work and practitioners. As a program director serving social change movements in rural California, I started to seek and gain technology skills for myself because I understood there was a gap between rural communities and the adoption of technology even with Silicon Valley just on the other side of the freeway. I wanted to connect these communities to the opportunities and collective power in their own region. By helping to facilitate greater understanding and use of new technologies, we were uplifting voices and connecting people with diverse backgrounds to each other and a broader social justice ecosystem.
I’ve been able to apply participatory methodologies, leadership development, and a framework of listening as tools to support movements and the development of emerging leaders working at the intersection of tech and social justice in rural and urban communities. I identify key people and themes in order to foster collaboration, bring voices to the table and curate solutions. I’m very intentional about listening to the people and figuring out what they hope to achieve. This has served me well and given me a people-first approach to everything I do.
As a facilitator, bringing people together for a purpose is the core of what I do. Throughout the years, this work has taken me around the world, developing a participation-based facilitation process that forges connection, surfaces common understanding, and moves communities and organizations forward.
It’s an ongoing learning journey, where I get to build relationships, identify emerging leaders, and foster collaboration. I am most effective as a facilitator when combining my values, preparation, and improvisation — and being comfortable in my own skin.
In 2016, I had a memorable moment in my career. It involved bees. With Greenpeace International, I led the design and facilitation of a week-long global strategy convening of nearly 100 people in Italy. This group of folks represented people from around the globe, with all kinds of expertise they brought to the table — and strong opinions on facilitation processes. It took a lot of work to lead with the participatory model. This event challenged me on new levels; my hands hurt from gripping permanent markers so tightly and writing so much! I soon realized that everything in my life to that point prepared me for that moment. My confidence in the methodology, combined with the trust in my experience and skills, came full circle.
Once the workshop was done, the Greenpeace International staff surprised me with a thank-you book containing all of their names, and presented me with my first bee signature. I learned that environmentalists tracking and translating the flight patterns of hundreds of thousands of bees convert those patterns into unique “signatures” that highlight the important role bees have in our ecosystem. That gift and that moment represented the voice of participants advocating for this approach to strategy retreats. I will never forget that moment.
The success in the work I do is defined by the communities I serve. It is driven by a desire to help people create opportunities for themselves, to be what they desire to be – changemakers who are shifting power dynamics in communities or personal transformations to become the change that they hope to see in the world. My current work helps communities of non-traditional learners transform their careers and lives through education. I’m privileged and grateful to have found the tools, frameworks and personal learning network to shape experiences for people all over the world.
This story is copyright Misty Avila and is published on the StoryEngine website under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.