Rockwood Leadership Institute

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Rockwood Leadership Institute is based in Oakland California, and is closely affiliated with the Social Transformation Project, the Ford Foundation and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.


2000 ROCKWOOD LEADERSHIP PROGRAM CREATED Along with a dedicated group of environmental activists, Robert Gass and Andre Carothers co-founded Rockwood Leadership Program from a kitchen table in Berkeley, CA.

2003 FIRST COHORT OF THE LEADING FROM THE INSIDE OUT NATIONAL YEARLONG Rockwood’s first cohort of the Leading From The Inside Out national yearlong fellowship included 20 leaders from environmental and social justice movements. Since then, the fellowship has grown, averaging 24 fellows per every year, and led to the creation of other nationally-focused yearlong programs, like the Cross-Movement Fellowship.

2005 ROCKWOOD LAUNCHES SECTOR-BASED FELLOWSHIPS Created in partnership with the Ford Foundation, the Fellowship in Media, Communications and Information Policy was Rockwood’s first sector-based program. Since then, we’ve offered fellowships in the areas of LGBTQ advocacy, human rights and national security reform, death penalty abolition, and many others.

2008 AKAYA WINDWOOD BECOMES PRESIDENT & CEO After several years as a trainer and Director of Programs, Akaya is named President & CEO. Under her leadership, the organization changes its name to Rockwood Leadership Institute.

SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION PROJECT FOUNDED A strong partner to Rockwood, Social Transformation Project was founded by Robert Gass and Jodie Tonita to help leaders explore transformative ideas and practices, and apply them to their organizations and movements.

2015 15 YEARS & 5,000 ALUMS Rockwood’s 15th birthday was also a celebration of a huge milestone: our network grew to over 5,000 alums! Of those 5,000, over 50% are people of color, and over 60% are women.

2016 DARLENE NIPPER BECOMES CEO Having joined the staff the previous year as Chief Impact Officer, Darlene now partner-leads Rockwood with President Akaya Windwood.[1]

From Akaya Windwood, 2015;

From an intrepid few, we are now over 5,000 alumni strong. 52% of us are people of color, women comprise 70%, and our alums lead all over the world. We work in small rural communities and huge global organizations; some are in one-person shops, and others are organizing thousands. We are civil rights leaders, community organizers, artists, unionists, dreamers, planners, and visionaries[2]

Theory of Change


Social Transformation Project

Robert Gass and Jodie Tonita are co-founders of the Social Transformation Project, a "strong partner" of the Rockwood Leadership Institute.[3],[4]

Couch Conversations

In September 2018, the Rockwood Leadership Institute featured a podcast featuring Transgender Law Center’s Kris Hayashi and Darlene Nipper:[5]

"This month’s Couch Conversations with Transgender Law Center’s Kris Hayashi and Darlene Nipper was all about partnership, purpose, and protest. Watch the video above for the full conversation, and mark your calendar for October 25 at 1 PM PT / 4 PM ET when Akaya will be joined by Kierra Johnson of The National LGBTQ Task Force.

Alums in the News

In October 2018, the Rockwood Leadership Institute posted "Alums in the News:"[6]

Board members

Rockwood Leadership Institute board members, as of December 2017;[7]


As of December 2017;[8]


As of December 2017;[9]

Rockwood JustFilms Fellowship

Rockwood is proud to announce the 2017 cohort of the Rockwood JustFilms Fellowship!

This fellowship brings together 12 leaders working at the intersection of storytelling, film, and social change to learn powerful skills that will shift their capacity for leadership and collaboration. This cohort represents a wide range of established leaders in the film and digital storytelling sectors including: organizational leaders, media impact producers, filmmakers, thought leaders, curators, archivists, and critics. Through two residential retreats, peer coaching sessions, and additional leadership support, they will develop stronger working partnerships with each other, and with leaders of other social movements.[10]

Fellowship for Techquity

Rockwood is proud to announce the 2017 inaugural cohort of the Fellowship for Techquity!

The purpose of this fellowship is to build the leadership capacity of organizations to put technology and equity at the center of their approach. The intention is to create a learning community to strategize about effective technology platforms for their work towards an increased understanding of emerging tech resources.

Returning Citizens Fellowship

Rockwood is proud to announce the 2017 cohort of the Returning Citizens Fellowship!

Through the generous support of the Agnes Varis Trust, Rockwood was able to launch the second year of this program to provide leadership development opportunities to formerly incarcerated, emerging leaders to transform the stigma of incarceration while upholding the dignity and humanity of all people, regardless of relationship to the criminal justice system.

Leadership Now: Ohio Fellowship!

Rockwood is proud to announce the 2017 inaugural cohort of the Leadership Now: Ohio Fellowship!

Rockwood has partnered with the Ohio Transformation Fund to offer an eight-month cross-sector fellowship program for 24 social change leaders in Ohio designed to create dramatic shifts in leaders’ capacity to engage their organizations and communities to build networks to drive statewide strategy. Participants will develop leadership practices within a diverse cohort that is committed to building long-term civic capacity, and to driving the vision of systematic change in Ohio.

Lead Now: Pittsburgh

In 2018 Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. has launched a major new initiative to develop and cultivate the region’s ranks of transformational community leaders to help meet the social and economic opportunities and challenges arising from the region’s ongoing resurgence.

The program, known as Lead Now: Pittsburgh, will advance the leadership capacity of a diverse group nonprofit leaders in southwestern Pennsylvania who embody potential for even greater impact. Curated by Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. in partnership with the California-based Rockwood Leadership Institute, the program will engage participants in a yearlong fellowship designed to deepen their community impact and connect them with leaders facing similar challenges across the region and the country.

“Pittsburgh is at a critical stage in its development as a region of the future and as a community for all, and these high-stakes transformational times call for highly effective transformational leaders,” said Aradhna Oliphant, President and CEO with Leadership Pittsburgh. “Lead Now: Pittsburgh (LnP) will help equip a growing cadre of civic-sector leaders to become even more effective advocates for social change and equity at a time when those issues have never been more important.”

Funding for the initiative was provided with a $500,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments. “Our nonprofit leaders carry immense responsibility for the health and success of Pittsburgh and the region, yet they are often challenged in advancing their work due to limited resources, guidance, and recognition,” said Janet Sarbaugh, the Endowments’ Vice President for Creativity. “The Endowments is proud to support this investment in the future of our region.”

For more than 30 years, Leadership Pittsburgh has cultivated a graduate network of more than 2,400 civic leaders who work to maximize the potential of the region. Rockwood Leadership Institute has produced leadership programs for over 6,000 social change makers worldwide during its 17-year history.

The Lead Now: Pittsburgh concept was originally devised in Pittsburgh two years ago after the Endowments and several other area foundations identified the critical role of nonprofit sector leadership in Pittsburgh’s continued successful revitalization. The Endowments invited Leadership Pittsburgh to design a program that would fill the gap in advanced development opportunities for a new generation of established and emerging nonprofit leaders.

The 25 inaugural Lead Now Fellows and their affiliated organizations are:

2019 Rockwood California cohort

Jean-Huy Tran November 14 2019.

Last Friday was the conclusion of my leadership institute with Rockwood Leadership Institute. It was emotionally drained and powerful, as the journey has been transformative. Everyone in the activism and political world already know that I came into these circles not too long ago. A lot of my leadership style was pretty much by trial and errors, and often mimicking other leaders whom I admired. And to finally have some formal training, I am shaped into a better leader.


With Anna Gonzalez, Marissa Munzing, Rebecca Miranda, Amanda Cheyney, Jesus Reachingback Toouryouth, Patty Ramirez, Hatem Mohtaseb, Kirin Kumar, Daniel Silva, Palvinder Kaur, Tere Flores Onofre, Lex Aavillanueva, Ryan McClinton, Rosa Olascoaga Vidal, Jasmin Aleman, Katrina Simmons, Kula Koenig.

Lead Now: California!

In 2018 Rockwood Leadership Institute is pleased to announce the inaugural cohort of Lead Now: California!

With the support and partnership of the California Endowment, and the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Lead Now: California was created in response to the urgent political moment facing our nation that is calling forth a new era of leadership, activism, and alignment among progressive leaders.

Lead Now: California brings together 24 leaders from across California representing issue areas of immigrant rights, Muslim rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, workers’ rights, agriculture, economic justice, arts & culture, health, and education. It is a bold, intersectional initiative to dramatically shift the sustainability, effectiveness, and connection of communities across the state.

National Leading From the Inside Out Alums