Yvonne Martínez Brathwaite “We were able to create a space where people could safely share their struggles, while also giving them concrete strategies and space to think about how to make these collaborations work.”

Yvonne Martínez Brathwaite, Director of Programs at Global Kids, develops, supports and oversees over 20 school and center-based programs as well as special domestic and international initiatives, ensuring high program quality. She is committed to GK’s mission to develop youth in underserved communities to become global citizens. Prior to GK  she managed and provided professional development and capacity building services for 19 years at Partnership for After School Education (PASE). Yvonne earned a BA from Wesleyan University and an MPA from NYU. In 2013 she received the Adam Solomon Award for Excellence from Tanenbaum Center for her commitment to fostering and creating equitable and inclusive learning environments.


Yvonne’s Story

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your work? You can start with a broad overview of your career in the last five years and then zero in on how that’s intersecting with Hive NYC.

My name is Yvonne Brathwaite and I am the director of programs at Global Kids. I oversee all of our global education programs that we offer at 21 different schools around the city as well as our city-wide programs. I’ve been here now for a year and a half. Prior to this, I was at PASE, the Partnership for After School Education, for 19 years. During those years, I was the associate executive director overseeing the programs that PASE was providing. At PASE I intersected with Hive in a few different ways. It started off as a connection to incorporate a digital learning piece to our PASE Explorers program, which was a community exploration program that infused making local and global connections. We then connected with Hive through The Pinkerton Foundation to add a component in which kids would create websites using the information that they learned from their community explorations. We worked really closely with Hive on creating the curriculum for that component and Hive served as the trainers for all of the after school professionals participating in the program. Over the next few years of that partnership, Hive also trained PASE staff, including myself, about how to turn-key that training so that we could build our own capacity to continue doing that work on our own. In addition to that, I attended some of the meetups. Being able to connect with other people who are doing DML work was really interesting. Through funding from the DML Fund at the Community Trust, we (PASE) also provided training support for organizations that were funded to scale or spread their work (through the same funding stream). I was the lead project manager, so I got to intersect with Hive member organizations through these capacity building efforts. There were definitely lots of different layers with that work. In my current role at Global Kids, I’m still attending Hive meetings. I was serving on the network structures sub-committee to really think about some ways that Hive can continue to live on once PASE’s transitional time is done.

Considering that Global Kids has such a long history with Hive and people with various versions of your position have as well, maybe talk a little bit about coming into that history, but from your own perspective.

What’s interesting is that despite the fact that Global Kids has been involved with Hive for so many years, and with so many staff, by the time I came on, those staff were no longer here. So it was almost like a restart in some ways. Coming in at a time when Hive going through transition coupled with staff transitions at Global Kids, I’d say it’s mostly just re-imagining the role for Global Kids with Hive.

Going back to your time at PASE, specifically with the Explorers program, you had a unique perspective because you dealt with Hive NYC itself as a program delivery service and consultancy. It was the central headquarters of Hive giving programs and then also running the network. Sometimes those things felt at odds. What experience did you have participating both as a collaborative partner on a project and as a member of the broad network?

I think saying that it was at odds accurately captures how I felt sometimes. There were times as a collaborative partner when it felt really collaborative. It felt like a true partnership. It felt like there was a real exchange of information and a real openness to teaching and learning from both ends. We were all really open to teaching and learning and really figuring out how to do our work better. As a participant in the Hive network, there were many moments when I felt that there were great ideas being shared. What I always enjoyed the most was hearing from other organizations and what they were doing. I would learn about their work, their unique perspective, and their way of doing things with young people. When it came to working together and collaborating, I didn’t always feel like everyone was truly open to that or able to engage in that way. I felt some wanted to keep a really close, tight knit group so it was hard to figure out how to actually begin collaborations. A lot of the groups were smaller organizations and so funding is always a driving factor and they likely saw others as competitors, making it difficult to figure out how collaboration could work. There were moments when I kind of felt like, “Do I really belong in this room right now?” But I felt there was always a greater good and that I had something to offer and things to learn, which is what kept bringing me back. There was a moment when there was a Hive  strategic planning process going on. It might’ve been when we knew there was going to be a transition of the funding going from the DML Fund to Mozilla. During that time, I really appreciated being included and having my thoughts and my voice heard in that process. It felt like an exciting opportunity for Hive to broaden their scope (and membership). But I also felt like some groups were not open to the change so I wasn’t really quite sure where it would all end up.

Thinking about your involvement with Hive NYC, tell me about a moment where you felt a sense of pride or success in being part of the network.

I’m torn between two things. One of them is that collaboration with Hive staff on the Explorers project because I felt like we were able to move it from just having someone else come in and do something for us to teaching us how to do it and creating something that was incredible. The other one is running the spread and scale institutes. We were able to really create a space where people could safely share their struggles, while also giving them some concrete strategies and space to really think about how to make these collaborations work. We encouraged them and helped them figure out ways to be successful, and we received a lot of verbal appreciation from the participants. I felt like that was something that was really successful and I’m particularly proud of that.

What surprised you about the spread and scale institute? What surprised you about the issues that were being raised? Where do you think Hive was and maybe in the future can be effective in helping to solve or be a space to solve this problem?

What surprised me most was how much people didn’t know about what systems needed to be in place in order to spread or scale. People were trying to get a partner and move quickly to share their curriculum or program model. There were many structural pieces that were missing in order for them to be successful. For example, some didn’t have written agreements with their partners, and some didn’t know what part of their project they wanted to spread or scale. It was multiple components, so in some ways I felt overwhelmed for them. I think the organizations definitely needed the institute before starting to spread or scale in order to help them determine if they had the systems and capacity to do it and allow them to enter into collaborations thoughtfully and carefully. Another issue that came up was whether or not the people in the room were the right people to be there. They were largely the program people, but may not have necessarily been the decision makers who could say, “What does this mean for us as an organization? Are we okay with having this kind of open source model where it’s fine for anybody to just use what we have? Or if we’re going to share this out, should we expect people to use it a certain way? Then what does that mean for us as an organization to be able to support that and monitor it?” These are big questions some organizations had to answer first and then equip the participants with the information so that they could move forward.

Thinking again about your inner connections and work within Hive, can you tell me about a moment where you faced a challenge or felt frustrated by the network?

It was during that strategic planning when suddenly I had first reality check that not all of the organizations had the same views of a network that I had. We were talking about what membership at the Hive means. How do people join the Hive? What are the prerequisites? The conversation made me wonder if I actually belonged in the room. It was really a weird moment for me when people expressed that they felt Hive shouldn’t grow. There were also some who felt that members don’t need to come to all the meetings, while others were saying members should come to everything. It felt like an all or nothing mindset, and after being involved in so many different networks and working at an organization that was a network, I was coming in with a whole different perspective.

So what elements from that experience would you roll forward into thinking about the network in 2019? You obviously have a sense, being on the working group, about where that’s headed. What’s a lesson from that that you’d want to make sure is thought about and maybe actioned differently in 2019 and beyond?

This has been on my mind since we started all of these working group meetings. I think a lot of people are working off of this fear of losing something. That was my sense about the Hive strategic planning meeting, which is why I persisted anyway. I feel like there was a fear of losing something that people really believed in. I think there’s a lot of that fear going on right now. The biggest takeaway for me as I think about 2019 is that we are losing something, but that’s just normal whenever there is drastic change and transition. But we also have to think about how open we can be to allow that change to come into the room. Because if you don’t have those new and fresh voices and ideas with a reset, then you kind of get stuck in the past. We are starting something new; we can learn from a lot of things that we had in place and build from that foundation, but it’s still a new thing. Being open to what other people might want to bring to the table is something that we have to really think seriously about.

Can you tell me about a moment when you experienced Hive working unlike other community or network based programs you’ve been a part of?

I wouldn’t say it’s a single moment. The process of the Hive meetups was really unlike other networks or group that I have been part of. That idea of spotlighting a couple of organizations to share their work in a substantive way — beyond a quick update about what’s going on at that organization. You don’t really learn much from the quick update. Instead Hive spends 15 or 20 minutes on an organization so they can really share what they’re doing. This combined with two different ways to network within those meetings. There was always time for individual conversations and time to respond to specific questions on chart paper about updates,  opportunities and needs. I haven’t seen that anywhere else. And that’s pretty cool.

Was there anything practical that you took away from those meetups or an example of something that you were inspired by or learned that you then flipped into your own practice?

Wow, now we’re going back. I want to say yes. Because I was at PASE, the things I heard wouldn’t necessarily impact my day to day at work because we weren’t direct service providers. But I think hearing about what somebody was doing always kept me open to think about whether we could engage that person or their organization in another way. There probably were times when we went back to groups to invite them to come lead a presentation. I can’t think of specific instances because now we’re reaching into my memory banks where it’s kind of fuzzy! And then the other thing which I’m sure I would have done, but again, I can’t think of a specific example, is whenever people share in these kinds of settings, I’d listen for trends or challenges so that we (PASE) could figure out how to respond to them. This is how we  always approached this kind of work. So if there people were pointing out a challenge they faced, we would bring that information back to the rest of the team and ask if it were this something we should be addressing through training or another means.

Can you tell me about a moment when your organization, either PASE or Global Kids, benefited because of the network?

Well, you know, I can talk about PASE Explorers forever. That was probably by far one of the greatest benefits I can ever imagine. None of us had the skills to support digital learning. None of us knew how to create a website. None of us were even familiar or had ever heard of any of the Webmaker and coding tools that you introduced us to. So even just learning the practical ways to do it and being able to bring that to a bunch of after school youth workers who also had never heard of these things and oftentimes felt like they couldn’t do it, was great. And then they could teach the kids to do it! So that whole digital learning capacity building for PASE and for after school programs was enormous. Being able to build it into the curriculum the way we did it was incredible, as was our ability to continue expanding on it and strengthening the curriculum. A lot of what we’ve worked on with Julia really transformed how PASE implemented the digital learning piece. By having Julia train PASE staff on the tools and giving us real practice with it, the PASE staff could then go out and provide the technical assistance support to the after school programs. We  had staff who had a much better understanding of how this all worked, and who could then revise the curriculum each year so that it didn’t stay static. Whenever the tools changed, our staff weren’t afraid to learn how to use them, and learn how to use other digital learning tools. This was a direct result of Julia’s work with us. That was probably the biggest leap in building PASE’s internal capacity. It was really incredible.

Hive experienced that often where the success metric is that you marginalize yourself.

Truly. I mean, look at what they’re doing now. There are impacts I can still see. PASE was selected at least in that first year by CS4ALL to provide trainings that came from incorporating digital learning with community exploration. That was actually one of the last things I did before I left. I helped to write the proposal for CS4ALL based on that program. It’s so hard to capture those network effects. It’s something we did, we are, and we will continue to struggle with. You probably know that a little bit from your PASE experience. We understand that those results from the network effect can be so impactful, but they’re so hard to measure and talk about. I think part of the challenge is that you need people who also know the history so they can piece it together. Even though I’m not there anymore, I still know that there were other effects. You could go back and dig into this piece a bit more to find out what else has PASE been doing related to digital learning? I’m sure there’s more. And that’s a long history, almost 8 years. It’s serious impact.

I know, it’s very hard to capture. We’re trying to lift some of that up to see where those nodes in the network and those connections continued to have impact after the initial program was gone or what the results of training were.

I think this is why my mind keeps running. With an organization like PASE, which is not a direct service provider, the fact that Hive could have that kind of impact on that kind of organization, when most of the other organizations are direct service providers, is huge.

Can you tell me about a significant relationship or connection that emerged for you personally from your involvement in Hive?

I’d say you. Seriously. I think you’ve been an amazing colleague and being able to connect with you and learn from your experiences. I’m always interested in hearing your perspective. I think you have such a nice way of looking at things. So I always enjoy our conversations. We should have more of them. Connecting with Julia also was really special to me. I personally learned a lot from her by watching her present digital learning and how effortlessly she always did it. She didn’t get frazzled when things went wrong with technology. I knew I would have been stressed in those moments and she just normalized it. I was really impressed by her. I take that away too. The two of you were a great team to work with.

Can you share something that you learned from being involved in Hive, that you’ve now incorporated into your personal practice? In the transition from PASE to Global Kids, was there anything you would identify?

Within the first year at Global Kids I led a training for some of our staff on PASE Explorers. And on my own I led a training on the Webmaker tools even though I wasn’t sure that I could do it. But I did and it went well. It’s a little harder for people to implement it and we’ve had some staff transitions, but that was something that I brought in immediately. The other thing is trying to keep our involvement in the Hive going as much as possible because we have several new staff. We brought Bishop into the mix because she oversees our Digital Leadership and Learning program. In terms of other practices, I don’t know yet.

Would you say you consider yourself now a more competent educator with digital tools than three or five years ago?

Yes. I’m a little bit out of practice, but I am more confident in teaching it. Well, I’m not completely confident because I’m a little rusty, but certainly I’m more confident in exploring it and being willing to say, “Let’s look at all this and try to figure it out.” We have other digital learning programs at Global Kids, so I’m able to learn about those other programs and think to myself, “Oh yes, I know that, so I can figure this other part out.”

When we did the Loup and PASE workshop where we looked at our first batch of stories with network members and facilitated some meaning making and some ideation from that, one of the interesting quotes that came up from that conversation was that Hive needs to figure out how it wants to be in the world that it helped create.

Oh wow. That’s deep.

What’s your reaction to that kind of statement about how it actually did help that fertile soil for digital learning in New York City? And then how do you think it should think about itself now that many of these things and practices and funding streams are more prevalent?

You know, that’s a really interesting statement. I think part of me agrees. We are at that point where we do have to figure out where do we belong in this space now as a network. What’s the next step in that? We’ve created these systems, we’ve really helped to drive conversations, and raise awareness. And so what is next in that? Because it is ever changing, so we’ve got to move to the next thing and see which envelopes we have to push next. There’s going to be a struggle with that a bit because I think oftentimes when people say, Hive, they meant you and Leah, they meant the staff and participating in something that the staff were doing. But now there is a mentality shift that Hive is all of us. What are we doing as a collective and how do we push that message out? And it’s hard without knowing if there is going to be a leader or a group of us who will be the leaders, who will be responsible for that message.

If you think about the reconstituted network — volunteer, probably more distributed — what are the big ideas and big problems it should be working on or trying to find elected solutions?

I think there is a level of formal education trying to catch up with what informal education has already been doing. And so there’s always a danger when formal ed starts to catch up that CBOs don’t get credited for laying the foundation. I do think that all the CBOs who have been doing this work need to be really vocal about impact that they’ve been having. I don’t know that there is much information already out there as a collective about what the impact has been on kids because of this work that’s been happening now for years before formal education started introducing digital learning  system wide. If there’s some way to collectively capture true impact data, with the understanding that people are also doing slightly different things, it would be nice to try to capture that, as a field. That would be tremendous to show the impact we’ve had on kids. I’m sure there are many other things, but that one’s the big one.

People always wanted a lot of this work to be very focused on youth outcomes directly and I understand that. But it sometimes misses how a robust, resilient, connected and informed group of educators, broadly defined, is actually a key driver of that. And if you acknowledge and invest in that then you must trust them to do what’s best in their own wildly different contexts for the youth that they serve. And I know that is hard to measure it effectively,

I agree. I don’t think we need to start creating outcome measures that everybody should be benchmarking against, but much in the same way that these stories are being collected, I think there are stories to be told about the impact that digital learning has had on kids and to show that it’s been coming from the CBO world, not formal education.

I agree completely. Legitimization, professionalization, and respect maybe of the informal sector has been a driving philosophy of my whole career, so I love that. Is there anything that you want to tell me about your involvement with Hive or anything that you just want to make sure you get on the record before we stop?

As I’m looking forward, this is kind of a big thing on my mind. Even though it’s been a year and a half since I started at Global Kids, it’s still a new position compared to my 19 years prior. So I would say that since I’m in a new position and still working out my priorities in my day to day job, while we’re going through this sometimes painful transition with Hive, I go back and forth wondering what’s my role and how much I can really commit to right now. Going back to our discussion about some of the fear of loss that’s going on, I have to think realistically about whether I have time to spend two hours going through that process  when I have 1800 emails that have been unread. So it’s a tug of war I’m playing with myself right now. I really believe in this and I really want to be involved. But do I have the time, capacity and mental strength to go through the transition pains? And I don’t have an answer right now.

So where do you see the future of Hive heading in 2019 and beyond?

I’m not sure. I think we have to just get through the next few months  until we’ve reached the new iteration. This is the difficult part for me because my time is feeling so crunched right now. There are some moments when I’m all about process and could live in that space for a while, and there’s other moments when I’m all about making a decision so that we can get back to figuring out  what we’re going to do in our new form. So how do I feel that we are on the other side of the transition? Super excited! I’m thankful that Bishop was able to bring the Global Kids voice to the table through the working group. It allowed me to deal with what I needed to do for my job while also staying connected through her regular updates. I was absolutely re-energized at the launch event. It felt like Hive because it was content-based and we got to dig into the knowledge that everyone brings to the table, I’m all for that. And there were so many new people to Hive so I’m excited by the potential to grow the number of voices at the table. I’m feeling confident in the structure that the working group put so much effort into building. It’s incredible and I’m appreciative because I wasn’t in a space where I could devote the time and energy that they all did to bring new life to Hive.


This content is copyright Yvonne Brathwaite and is licensed for use by others under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.