Andrea Prebys-Williams
Welcome Andrea Prebys-Williams

We’re very happy to welcome Andrea Prebys-Williams as a new Adjunct Professor teaching the Civil Leadership, Diversity and Systems Thinking course this spring term. Throughout her life, Andrea has advocated for social justice, worker power, and community organizing. She has proudly helped to train and develop many incredible organizers for worker justice.

In addition to teaching with PGS, Andrea works to advance understanding of the issues that workers face. She is working with the City of San Francisco, University of Santa Cruz, and Jobs with Justice San Francisco on a research study of gig workers. As a Co-Program Manager, Worker Initiative at Tides, she conducted a landscape analysis of the California worker ecosystem and executed on $1.6M in grants to California worker organizations.

As a student at PGS, Andrea was one of four recipients of the John Spiekhout Fellowship for Civic Leadership & Social Justice Scholarship. Andrea knows how to take a systems approach to complex issues – she holds a dual MBA and MPA from PGS

I was able to reach Andrea for an interview to gain some insight into her views on the sustainability movement, her work outside of PGS, and the impact she envisions having at PGS and beyond.

Interview conducted February 28, 2020. Edited for clarity.

How do you see diversity, equity, and inclusion affecting the sustainability movement?

When considering how DEI relates to the sustainability movement – I think they are inextricably linked.

Much of the work I have been a part of is about showcasing how deeply integral workers’ rights are to environmental sustainability, that we cannot have one without the other. In many spaces, there is an emphasis to focus on issues or movements separately or prioritize one over others, which I believe is detrimental to all of us and our broader movement work. It keeps changemakers working in silos, and we fail to realize the potential power we have by building collectively.

For example, it is projected that by 2040 the United States will be a majority-minority country, California crossed this threshold in the 1990s. Within the low-wage workforce, the majority are people of color and rates of foreign-born workers are higher among the low-wage workforce (40 percent) compared to all workers (33 percent). (UC Berkeley Labor Center, n.d.). Black, Indigenous, and people of color experience the highest likelihood of poverty and unemployment. If those of us in the worker rights space are exclusively focused on improving working conditions, without centering how much race and white supremacy impact the lives of working people or if workers cannot afford to live in the city or pay to commute and we are not talking about housing and transportation, we are leaving big pieces of the puzzle out.

What broader impacts do you think can arise from more organizations embracing civic leadership and social responsibility?

One of the questions we consider in Civic Leadership, Diversity and Systems Thinking (MSS6200) is our personal working definition of civic leadership. It is thought-provoking and inspiring to see how these ideas evolve over the semester. Here are a few of the working definitions from students in the class:

  • “Civic leadership is intentionally co-creating a community that is just, prosperous, and sustainable in pursuit of the common good.” – Katie Teare
  • “Civic leadership is a process for engaging as many actors as possible in collective work and processes for problem-solving and action. The goals can change and shift but the approach to working collectively and freely should stay constant.” – Amelia Ahl
  • “When you volunteer time, skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to promote the quality of life in your community, or when you find ways to positively impact individuals, organizations and issues and contribute to the common good of a community — that is civic engagement, and when you are civically engaged, you are a LEADER! That is CIVIC LEADERSHIP!” – Elise Schultheis
  • “Civic leadership is anticipating and adapting to situations that will benefit your community in a way that transforms them for the better. It is being able to read situations so that intervening is impactful and helpful in reaching the agreed-upon goal.” – Tobi Shannon

Our conception of civic leadership reflects the way we believe change happens. It is not only about being an elected official, it is also about how democratized our decision making is and how involved all people are in the process. As I mentioned earlier, I am concerned about how often our movements are myopic and don’t examine the interrelationship of systems. Going even further, I think the primary force we are fighting against is disconnection – to our land, to our communities, our neighbors, our bodies, and within our movements. Organizing (and civic leadership) is about connection, building relationships, and working with one another to shape and reshape our structures and systems to better redistribute our resources for collective power. This requires mending the tears we have in our society and with each other, ultimately moving us from a world of extraction to one that is regenerative.

Broader impacts will be experienced at all levels of society, such as: how we relate to one another, how we choose to spend our time, and who we build with. The more we see it as our shared responsibility to fight for the humanity of everyone because we are connected, the closer we are to living our social responsibility and creating a movement for change that works for all not a few.

This idea of civic leadership (or leadership more generally), requires questioning the mainstream leadership paradigm and the ways it supports individualism and even reinforces our current systems of domination (whether that is patriarchy and/or white supremacy, etc.). For example, charisma alone can be equated with leader status, yet when it is, we may fail to uplift those most impacted or not acknowledge those doing much of the invisible work.

What is an organization that’s caught your attention that could be a role model in civic leadership and DEI?

There is definitely no shortage of incredible organizations doing groundbreaking work. On the other hand, there is a serious lack of resources going to these organizations. (I will save it for another day, but anyone who wants to talk about funding strategies in philanthropy, let’s discuss). If you have some extra dollars or time, these groups would appreciate it. These are some of the organizations, I have a major crush on right now.

I am working on a collaborative project between the City of San Francisco, the University of Santa Cruz, and Jobs with Justice San Francisco on a research study for app-based ride-sharing and delivery workers. Through this project, I am involved with folks from Critical Resistance, an abolitionist organization fighting the Prison Industrial Complex and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC). I deeply admire all of these organizations.

Recently, I was doing fieldwork on the California worker ecosystem and had the pleasure of meeting with several organizations throughout the Central Valley. The Central Valley ranks last or near-last among California’s twelve regions in education, employment, household income, immigrant naturalization, and a number of other key indicators. Using the California Foundation Center 2015 data for “all publishable grants, foundation administered programs, program-related investments, and grants to individuals,” there is a significant disparity in giving between regions. The Central Valley only received 1.15% total giving. That means regionally, those with the greatest problems are getting the least support. These are a few organizations I want to uplift for doing incredible work around DEI and civic leadership: UC Merced- Civic Capacity Research Initiative (CCRI), Central Valley Partnership (CVP), Líderes Campesinas, and Communities for a New California (CNC) Education Fund.

How do you envision your work with Presidio Graduate School creating an impact?

I have worked in the worker justice movement for over a decade – from grassroots organizing to strategic development and management of special projects for economic and social justice. This work has centered how we think about power – who has it, how it is controlled, and ways to redistribute it. Through teaching, I want to help people explore their own capacity for power and potential for leveraging change, whether or not that power is currently being exercised. One of our first readings in CLDS is Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, where we discuss our traditional educational system and students take an active role in designing the course and the learnings.

I am both proud to be an alumna and happy to be a faculty member. Having an organizer among the faculty at a business school not only brings a unique perspective but doing so honors diverse expertise. PGS has a beautiful mixture of both trained academics and experienced practitioners. I present other tools for taking movement work out of the classroom and into our communities.

What is an accomplishment you’re especially proud of – in or outside of work?

An important part of organizing is recruitment, training, and leadership development. When I was a young organizer, I was taught that developing other organizers was the way for us to grow our movements and leverage power for positive change. I took this to heart and am proud to have worked alongside several powerful leaders and to have helped train and develop many incredible organizers.

I don’t know if pride is the correct sentiment, and some might be surprised by this, but I have a serious spreadsheet game. Be warned, if you ask, I will definitely show you my well-formatted, visually captivating, long formula spreadsheets.