Changing Minds and Hearts: Innovation in Asset Mapping

Asset mapping is not new. If you’re a sociologist, anthropologist, urban planner, or social scientist, you use some form of asset mapping to capture qualitative data. The application of asset mapping, in collaboration with indigenous leadership, can build the trust needed to produce new results. At Rivera Consulting, Inc. and NextShift, Inc., with the ongoing partnership from the MIT Co-Lab, we have co-developed an innovative asset mapping curriculum that combines best practices from the Bronx Community Development Initiative’s Economic Democracy Learning Center, popular education, social science, and participatory action research that supports social change agency, self-determination, sustainable community engagement and cross sector collaboration.  

As activist academics at Rivera Consulting Inc., asset mapping serves as an instrument for individual capacity building of a community to develop the collective agency, identifying and developing their community's assets and their own solutions. Our strategists serve the community through strategic planning, project discovery, development, and coaching to co-develop asset mapping tools that supports indigenous community leadership to co-develop and co-pursue their shared vision and tools. Even more important, it builds the physical and figurative space required for the cultivation of trust among people. If we want the work to live beyond reports, to replicate and sustain the work, it needs to live in the hands of communities and stakeholders with decision-making authorities. 


Our recent and current clients, Community Care Brooklyn and Asociación de Vecinos y Amigos del Casco Antiguo (AVACA) are all living examples the of how asset mapping can be leveraged to change minds and hearts to impact policy and/or system transformation and change. Influenced by deep democracy, the asset mapping curriculum developed for each initiative uses mindfulness and popular education to reveal how our hearts contain knowledge that can incrementally unearth new ideas and approaches to complex social issues while simultaneously supporting the co-creation and co-development of community-led people centered research. For more information on both projects, visit Community Care Brooklyn and  Santa Ana Lidera

At Rivera Consulting Inc., asset mapping is an example of decolonizing social science for communities to lead their own change. We develop sustainable learning hubs, where the tougher work of relationship building, mistakes, and iteration manifest - cyclically at best. Ultimately, it’s about taking the asset mapping tool and infusing it with pedagogy, a heart, and an action plan. 

Movement Builders, Donors, and Philanthropists: Taking Over the Wheel and Flipping the Playbook!

The emergence and existence of white nationalism in our country signals a backwards turn to the right more abruptly than most of us want to admit to ourselves. But here we are. Aquí estamos. From my lived and professional experience, I know there is hope. Millennials, people of color, and unmarried women - the American Rising Electorate (ARE) - are the majority of the likely Democratic base at 59.2 percent. This movement at the ballot box  can usher a new era of civic participation and governance to rewrite the American social contract. Without this movement, we will not effectively address the current political climate or the tilted electoral map.

March 2018, Rivera Consulting Inc., at Groundswell Fund, talk and handout by Wilnelia Rivera lists federal (democratic primaries + red to blue) and governor’s races with women and people of color running in midterm elections. 

March 2018, Rivera Consulting Inc., at Groundswell Fund, talk and handout by Wilnelia Rivera lists federal (democratic primaries + red to blue) and governor’s races with women and people of color running in midterm elections. 

Deep democracy is the inherent belief that those at the margins should be at center and that the inclusion of all voices allows for a more complete view of the system. This inclusion takes the radical redistribution of power and privilege. It takes resisting cultural hegemony, taking over the ballot box, and winning governance power. This takes developing the political application of deep democracy.

Too often work in this space is often separate from discussions and plans to build political power. At Rivera Consulting, Inc., deep democracy opportunities exist in places across the country where you have the following synergy of factors: 501c3 and 501c4 organizations leading integrated voter engagement efforts, progressive ballot questions, coordinated donor and field coordination, exciting women and people of color running at all levels.

To me, it is clear that the breakdown in our democracy, its undemocratically distorted electoral maps and the emergence of Trump, require that we re-prioritize the political giving and spending that has contributed to this current landscape. Donor and philanthropists invest early and directly in organizations, operatives and strategists that work directly with the ARE we can increase its turnout. This also requires supporting and electing bold progressive candidates while transforming public debate, the electoral landscape, policy and the economy.

In order for deep democracy to be real, it also requires the professional development of the bench of director, strategists, experts, operatives, and justice warriors that will do this work. This is why, we must deepen relationship and partnerships with donors and philanthropists to explore, how we can co-build this infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 12.54.10 PM.png

For Maria’s List, we conducted national candidate outreach and campaign analysis, identifying ten states where new investments can be made in the 2018 midterm elections: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Texas. For Groundswell Education and Action Fund, we aligned their current 501c3 and 501c grantmaking funds for integrated voter engagement with deep democracy opportunities across the country.

The next four years will be pivotal to us as a country. The mainstream media has us believing that if Democrats do not obtain a supermajority in Congress that we may not see our way out of this. The supermajority should not come at the further cost of our values or at the loss for the vulnerable and the ARE.

The rules of engagement in D.C. area different. We need a crop of fresh Democrats to be elected to work alongside seasoned members of Congress. That is why we are the senior campaign advisor to elect Ayanna Pressley for Congress (MA-07). Because as her campaign tagline states, change cannot wait.

Ultimately, if we are going to take the keys aways from the people that currently are driving us into deeper and darker ditches, we need to resist and rebirth a new political paradigm and landscape. To prepare to take over the wheel also requires and demands choosing equity by sharing power. That is the potential and possibility of deep democracy.

'Unbought and Unbossed': Creating New Opportunities and Getting Results

Six years ago, I walked away from professional politics. I was feeling burned out and tokenized. It was time to take a leap of faith and create the opportunities that the parochial underbelly of Massachusetts often designates for the establishment. I took my talents and vision as both a political strategist and urban planner to focus on policy intervention, planning, and social change education. 2017 was a culmination point in this journey and a successful year for our clients.

In Santa Ana, Panama, the agent curriculum developed developed for Conservatorio  and AVACA (called “Convocatorias para el aprendizaje del cambio social) was funded by the United States Embassy, unleashing a new sustainability initiative, Santa Ana Lidera. This initiative is anchored by my clients in addition to Voces Vitales, Futbol con Corazon, FXB and Fundacion Esparanza de San Felipe. 

In Brooklyn, we successfully completed a second asset mapping and participatory action research led by 50 high school and undergraduate students from Central Brooklyn for Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, with a final report coming soon. What began as an experiment for Community Care Brooklyn in community-based research, has now become a permanent community engagement and cross sector collaboration strategy.

In Boston, we led the first all fare boarding pilot on the SL4/SL5 in coordination with the MBTA. (see Boston Globe: “All-door boarding made Silver Line buses move a little quicker.") In a matter of six weeks, Barr Foundation and our team of consultants hired outreach workers and designed a qualitative survey – supported by an integrated social media and communication campaign. Simultaneously, we launched a new pilot partnership program that will witness additional Gold Standard bus rapid transit pilots in Greater Boston while making the public policy case from the MBTA.

In Manhattan, we successfully designed a union dues campaign for the largest health care workers union in the country, 1199 Service Employees International Union.

In addition to watching my clients succeed, I also witnessed, along with other Americans of all stripes, mass youth-based and women of color led movements, a complicit Congress and an authoritarian President attack the fundamental values and institutions of our democracy. This unsettled me and brought me back to professional politics. The emergence of Trump did not begin in 2016, it is connected to decades of lost Democratic seats at the local, legislative, judicial and state level. This I know is true.

  • Democratic control of state legislative and governor’s offices is the lowest since the 1900s;

  • In 2008, Democrats controlled 59 percent of state legislatures, while now they control only 31 percent;

  • Looking at the same time period, Democrats held 29 governor’s offices, and now we only have 16;

  • Be wary of those that want to hold the Electoral College solely responsible. Democrats lost over 1,000 seats over the course of the Obama Administration, most of which did not involve the Electoral College;

  • Finally, by successfully redrawing districts, Republicans have tilted the electoral map to their benefit;

The good news, is that the work is underway to transform our country and Rivera Consulting, Inc. is at the forefront, emerging as leaders that will support this generation of change agents – whether it’s changing hearts, helping elect more Democratic women and people of color, or transformative policy change to create a more sustainable earth.

Invest in Your Team, If We Want To Win ....

Let's go in to my time capsule, the year is 2004. I am in a hotel conference room with dozens of other would be union organizers from across the country being taught labor history and the mastery of a one-on-one.  That week, in retrospect, ushered me into the movement. 

Early on in my organizing journey, I made two observations about the culture of the movement: professional development pipelines are limited overall and for women of color it's almost non-existent. 

If we want to make progress and win on social justice, we must invest in our team members.  This is my way and the Groundswell Fund (GF) way.  Through regularly scheduled coaching calls, I focus on skill building and IVE prep, planning, and execution for key staff members from New Voices (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Cleveland), Mothering Justice (Detroit), and Women With A Vision (New Orleans). 

GF hosted it's bi-annual IVE convening, which brings together all organizations with coaches and  GF staff, in Petaluma, California. This year, I co-created a workshop training series, The Power of the One-on-One and Building a Strong Volunteer Program, for the most recent convening. The first helps IVE staff understand the strategic role of 1:1 beyond the "ask" and develop new skills in preparing, planning, and conducting a 1:1. The latter engages staff to reflect on challenges and opportunities related to traditional electoral and movement building campaigns. In doing so, the session is designed to help participants identify the best practices, systems and procedures that should be in place to support building a volunteer program.  

As a result, Women With A Vision and Mothering Justice have created a base definition that is now allowing them to put in place new procedures to support volunteer recruitment and data management. All organizations have revamped their scripts, incorporating best practices from the convening. Lastly, they also developed nine campaigns ranging from health care, criminal justice, affordable child care,  earned sick time, and local municipal elections. Two of these campaign are well underway and the next one kicks off next month. 

Now that we have returned to present day, the course of my time capsule, comes full circle. Yes, my role in the movement has evolved. Instead of running campaigns, I share my tactical, managerial, and emotional experience to invest in the leadership of women and women of color.   

Stay tuned for brief client updates this Fall!

People, Planning, and Politics: From Subscriber to Feature

Over the last few months, my clients have reached key milestones in the advancement of their work. This means that  I have logged many miles on foot, bus, train, taxis, and planes taking me from Petaluma, CA, Santa Ana and San Felipe, Panama, and now back again in Brooklyn.  My conference call line takes me to Detroit, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans while Boston, in fact, is the home base.

When I launched Rivera Consulting, Inc, two years ago, I believed steadfastly that my approach to people, planning, and politics is exactly what is needed and necessary to produce the results we need to achieve. Over the next two weeks, I will be highlighting interesting, important, and innovating stories from my clients that range from integrated voter engagement capacity building, learning hubs, tactical urbanism, and cross-sector driven innovations on issued related to bus rapid transit and sustainable development.

Spring rolled out with an invitation to be featured in the Boston Spirit Magazine's May/June issue in an annual piece called "Let Us Introduce You, ” which highlights LGTBQ people and allies making a splash in their respective industry and career. To think, that my work took me from a long time subscriber to a feature in New England’s largest and most prominent LGBTQ magazine - May/June issue. The article talks about my background and highlights my sources of inspiration.  In the interview, I shared the following when asked:  How do you view your role as a leader? 

“For a whole new generation of leaders...our view of leadership is different than traditional models. We don’t need to be the big boss to lead. I don’t need to be the CEO or president.You don’t even need to see my face! People are breaking things apart and finding different forms of leadership: decentralized models where people step up and step back depending on when you need to lead. That’s different than previous generations and cult-of-personality leaders. There’s a higher consciousness.”

I share this, yes, as a shameless plug for my work, but more importantly, as a reminder that leadership and collaboration in this century, must look, feel, and talk vastly different. As I publish the upcoming body of work, this is the thread that ties and frames my clients and my approach.

Why urban planning, engagement, and politics matter?

Gov. Cuomo’s $1.4 Billion Plan Targets Brooklyn in Fight Against Poor Health and Poverty

Too often as technocrats, organizers, and elected officials, we easily miss the strategic points of collaboration. My work with Next Shift's Collaborative focuses on identifying and leverage these points to enable transformative change. Last summer, Community Care Brooklyn (CCB), hired us to assemble a team of 28 young adults to engage in a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project to understand the community’s priorities for health creation, guided by a core question: “How do we mobilize the Brownsville and East New York communities to address the social, physical and environmental inequalities that affect health?Through a survey of 525 residents, the team explored the physical, mental, social, environmental and financial dimensions of health and developed a number of recommendations to lay the foundation for collective action.

The final report, titled, Healthy Brooklyn, Community Centered Study: Proposed Health and Wellness Interventions in Brownsville and East New York set the policy framework for Governor Cuomo's recent announcement. The recent announcement by Gover Cuomo is a result of CCB through our research coming to understand the impacts of social determinants of health and how to most effectively capture local community knowledge stakeholders and champions from the community, community-based and intuitional health providers, labor unions, the NYC Mayor's Office to the state capital chambers in Albany. "For too long investment in underserved communities has lacked the strategy necessary to end systemic social and economic disparity, but in Central Brooklyn those failed approaches stop today,” Governor Cuomo said. “We are going to employ a new holistic plan that will bring health and wellness to one of the most disadvantaged parts of the state."


We look forward to continuing our work with CCB as they look to implement near-term projects and as we launch a similar study with Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, key providers in Central Brooklyn and CCB.

Stay tuned for more updates this summer! 




How does #Boston become a "just" sustainable city? @ WGBH Forum

How does #Boston become a "just" sustainable city?

This talk is part of the 2016 StreetTalks 10-in-1, where some of the best and brightest in Boston’s transportation world present their ideas for making Boston streets better. Presented by Livable Streets Boston in the Old South Meeting House. As the City of Boston releases its GoBoston 2030 Action plan my message is more relevant today than ever. 

BostonBRT Campaign: Roll out begins.

With 3 weeks into the new calendar year, Barr Foundation and transit advocates, are preparing for the next phase of the BostonBRT campaign. Two recent articles published in the Boston Globe ("Can buses be cool? Transit advocates hope so.") and Commonwealth Magazine ("Buses are what’s next in transportation: But only if streets are reprogrammed for bus rapid transit.") are setting the stage for what is expected to be a robust transoprtation debate in 2017.  

My professional and practical experience have taught me that to make the transportation and resiliency investments we have seen emerge from current citywide and grassroots planning efforts will take sustained and relentless organizing and advocacy to activate the political will and courage to make it happen. As technocrats, decision-makers, strategists, and agitators we must become fully aware that to win we must lead with the spirit and leadership of those most affected. To make change happen at the street level from Beacon Hill we must be accountable to the past to lean into the future. 

Whether its Gold Standard Bus Rapid Transit, pedestrian and bicycle lanes, or increased social and climate resiliency, we have a unique moment to either retreat or resist. If history is an indicator we will resist and act boldly into our future. as we complete current mobility and resiliency planning efforts, that Boston becomes a “just” sustainable city.  Just sustainability is “the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.” As we continue to forge a new collective vision and master plan for our city, we can leverage transportation to transform communities. But who wins and who loses is the responsibility of all us – everyday folks, organizers, planners, and decision-makers.  

We do this by leveraging downtown development and economic growth to increase connectivity and access for communities of color by leveraging public transit to become a just sustainable city. This, I argue, would strengthen Boston’s social resiliency at a time of historic levels of income inequality. 

We cannot be afraid to navigate this nor shortsighted to think that we can ignore it. Whether you live, work, or play here, the story of change in an era of resistance must be one that leverages social justice and sustainability to lean in and shape the future of Boston.  Moving forward, therefore, when we talk about public transit, we must talk about the context it serves.