Image of Build the bench group photo

The Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) is leading and facilitating a dynamic project to “build the bench” of leaders from worker and community based organizing networks. This innovative leadership and organizational development program was launched to address the new challenges and complexities that have emerged in recent years for leaders within economic justice networks. The Build the Bench (BTB) initiatives seeks to sharpen individual and organizational effectiveness while deepening cross-organizational networks to advance shared economic justice goals. 


  1. Get smarter with others faster to win bigger. Create trusting communit(y/ies) that provide a well of knowledge, experience, and practices that senior staff of power building organizations can draw from and contribute to.
  2. Build and deepen relationships. Create relationships of mutual trust and respect that foster individual growth, support organizational strength, and deepen interdependence in the movement ecosystem.
  3. Collective Innovation. Utilize collective brainpower and organizational resources to innovate solutions to shared organizational and movement challenges.

BTB Leadership Network

Build the Bench Advisory Committee:

Build the Bench Fellows: Kathleen Gaspard, Felicia Griffin and Maria Elva Maldonado – learn more about our incredible fellows here.

Staff: Kasi Perreira, Director of Leadership and Organizational Change Programs at CIWO. Contact Kasi to learn more about Build the Bench and upcoming events for our network:

Founding Bench-Builder: Marilyn Sneiderman, Executive Director, Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) and Distinguished Professor of Professional Practice, Labor Studies and Employment Relations (LSER)


Latest Updates

  • Build the Bench 9th Annual Retreat: CIWO’s Build the Bench program convened over 30 participants, guests and friends from organizations across the country on February 20-23, 2024 near Baltimore, MD. The 9th Annual Build the Bench Retreat was our first in person gathering since 2019 and could not have come at a more crucial time. Build the Bench was developed by and for organizations focused on racial and economic justice in order to support staff leaders who hold the #2 role within their respective organizations (Chiefs of Staff, Deputy Directors, or Operating or Staff Directors). These positions are critical for an organization’s success in supporting the Executive Director(s), but are also responsible for making sure organizations run smoothly and effectively internally as many organizations are going through complex times. We compiled feedback from participants, facilitators, staff and our Advisory Committee into a summary for our broader CIWO community! Checkout the Build the Bench 9th Annual Retreat Digital Zine: featuring senior staff from powerhouse social justice organizations from around the world through photos, videos and shared learnings.

Image of Build the Bench 9th Annual Retreat Digital Zine Cover

  • New Logo: Clara Mejía Orta is working with Build the Bench on a visual identity project to better communicate the values of the program to our diverse network. Examples of her previous work include Labor of Love, the President’s Organizing Initiative at MLK Labor, AFL-CIO and WSLC Racial Equity and Policy Toolkit. Clara is a fourth-year student in the History PhD program at Yale University. Originally from Mexico and currently living in East Los Angeles, her research examines the lives and lived experiences of Latinx, immigrant, and refugee meatpacking workers in the United States and their efforts to gain collective bargaining rights through labor unions. During the pandemic Clara began conducting oral histories from meatpacking workers and labor leaders to center and highlight their perspectives. Prior to her graduate studies, she was a labor organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers in Los Angeles—organizing meatpacking plants, grocery stores, and cannabis businesses, to win or ratify their contracts.

  • WINS Series “Co-Directors Building the Bench”: Co-hosted by the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) Workers Innovating New Strategies (WINS) Series and CIWO’s Build the Bench program, this virtual event focused on co-leadership models in the worker justice movement. Participants engaged with a panel of the following leaders: Javier Valdés, former Co-Director of Make the Road NY; Deb Axt, former Co-Director of Make the Road NY; Candace Johnson, Deputy Director for Organizational Strength of Jobs with Justice; Mackenzie Baris, Deputy Director of Program & Base Building Jobs with Justice; Denise Diaz, Deputy Director for Institutional Advancement of Jobs with Justice. Joined by CIWO directors Dr. Sheri Davis (Co-Director of CIWO and Co-Director of WILL Empower), Marilyn Sneiderman (Co-Director of CIWO and Rutgers Distinguished Professor), MaryGrace DiMaria (Director of Innovative Programs) and Kasi Perreira (Director of Leadership and Organizational Change), panelists and participants shared the challenges and opportunities of co-leadership models, including how they utilized this leadership structure to share and build power with their base of working class people.
    > Click Here to View the Recorded Event

  • Build the Bench Web Event "The Call of Leadership Now: BIPOC Leaders in a Syndemic Era": Leaders with Build the Bench gathered virtually on October 10, 2023 with co-authors of "The Call of Leadership Now: BIPOC Leaders in a Syndemic Era" Neha Mahajan and Felicia Griffin, co-EDs of Transformative Leadership for Change. Participants discussed TLC’s theory of change, which includes transformation on individual, organizational, collaborative and ecosystemic levels. Through examples, a Q&A led by Kathleen Gaspard (BTB Fellow and Deputy Director of the Institute for Policy Studies), and breakout groups led by Kasi Perreira (BTB Director), we learned how #2 leaders can shift organizational culture towards “a foundation of deep inner work and healing - both individually and in community.” Thank you Neha, Felicia and everyone who joined us! Watch a recap on our YouTube Channel.

  • CIWO welcomes new director: Kasi Perreira (she/they) joins us as the Director of Leadership and Organizational Change Programs, where she will be spearheading new initiatives for Build the Bench and Women Innovating Labor Leadership (WILL Empower). Kasi joins us from the West Coast, where she was the first Director of Racial and Gender Justice at the Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO, building on her nearly 20 years of experience in local, regional, national, and international labor organizing and championing equity.

  • Conversation on Building Resilient Organization hosted by Build the Bench
    Build the Bench hosted Maurice Mitchell, the National Director of the Working Families Party to have a conversation about his recent article "Building Resilient Organizations: Toward Joy and Durable Power in a Time of Crisis, which addresses many of the issues our Build the Bench leaders are grappling with. On March 1st, 60+ participants gathered and we discussed how leadership teams across our network are using this article as a launching point for internal conversations to build strategies to strengthen and focus their organizations. We really appreciated sharing space with Maurice and look forward to continuing this vital conversation within Build the Bench.

  • BTB Advisory CommitteeMembers of the Build the Bench Advisory Committee and CIWO gathered on Friday, September 9, 2022 in Washington, DC to strategize the future of Build the Bench. It was the first in person meeting for the Build the Bench program since the Annual Convening in July 2019. The half-day meeting was held at the Institute for Policy Studies, where CIWO Fellow and Build the Bench participant Kathleen Gaspard is Deputy Director. Others at the meeting included: Felicia Griffin (Formerly of PowerSwitch Action), Mackenzie Baris (Jobs with Justice), Sha Grogan-Brown (Grassroots Global Justice), Aisha Satterwhite (, Jenny Freedman (Center for Popular Democracy), Robin Katcher (Katcher Consulting), and CIWO’s Executive Director Marilyn Sneiderman, Associate Director Sheri Davis, Senior CIWO Fellow Maria Elva Maldonado, and Program Coordinator Mary Kate Marasco. Read more about the Meeting.

  • On May 19-20, 2022, participants from over 20 organizations came together virtually for our eighth annual Build the Bench Convening. This was our third time convening virtually, due to the ongoingImage of CIWO BTB Annual Convening COVID-19 pandemic. Convening on Zoom has its challenges, but Build the Bench participants give it their all whenever they are together, and this event was no exception. Participants gathered from 12-5:30pm EST on both days, which involved 4 main sessions and a cocktail/mocktail hour after the first day to just spend time talking and getting to know each other better (special thanks to Mackenzie Baris of Jobs with Justice  and Aisha Satterwhite of Co-worker for hosting spaces during this time). This year’s convening welcomed many new faces into our ever-growing community; participants enthusiastically built new connections and strengthened their existing relationships.  Read more about the Event.
  • CIWO's Build the Bench community of learning and practice for managing directors in worker justice movements held its seventh annual convening on November 9 and 10, 2021.  Read more about the event.
  • Build the Bench has welcomed two CIWO Fellows for 2021:  Felicia Griffin (Partnership for Working Families) and Kathleen Gaspard (Institute for Policy Studies), who will also serve on the program's new Advisory Committee with Mackenzie Baris (Jobs with Justice), Aisha Satterwhite (, Chevalier Lovett (Florida Rising), Renata Pumarol (ACRE), Vivian Huang (APEN), and Beth Shipp (Caring Across Generations).
  • Build the Bench hosted its 6th annual convening virtually on July 28-29, 2020.  Over 20 movement leaders come together to share their successes & challenges with supportive peers. Sessions included: Building Team Resilience & Re-imagining Productivity, Leading in Disruption, Exploring Habits of White Supremacy Culture in Ourselves and Our Organizations, Racial Equity and Justice Values in Practice Within Our Organizational Structures and Operations, and Peer Coaching. Read more here.
  • BTB Webinar Series: Peer Coaching (April 23, 2020).  Build the Bench participants & CIWO Fellows Denise Collazo (Faith in Action) and Felicia Griffin (Partnership for Working Families) led a refresher on peer coaching, followed by time for BTB leaders in groups of 3 to take turns listening and coaching each other through a challenge they are experiencing in their role. Participants told us that this time with their peers was "insightful," "super helpful," and "very refreshing," even "a welcome break from the usual!"  The CIWO team is glad to be able to provide a space for you and your fellow BTB leaders to come together and support each other. These are unusual, complex times and Build the Bench participants continue to innovate and lead.
  • The Build the Bench community came together on March 17, 2020 to share strategies about leading during the stressful COVID-19 pandemic. Participants from around the country joined a video conference to share solidarity and insight into the balance of leading at their organizations and as caregivers in their families.  BTB leaders were eager to share their organization's resources for communication and policy in this time of upheaval, as well as personal, grounding sources for keeping mentally and emotionally well when there is so much out of our control.  Participants expressed gratitude and relief at connecting with other leaders who are persevering in a similar professional role. CIWO is glad to be able to create these spaces for leaders to connect and thrive, even in uncertainty.
  • Build the Bench 2020 Webinar Series kicked off on February 27, 2020 with Webinar #1 - "Managing Up/Leading Up in Tumultuous Times."  20 Build the Bench leaders from across the country came together to engage with each other around managing up.  BTB participants & CIWO Fellows Felicia Griffin (Partnership for Working Families) and Denise Collazo (Faith in Action) led the session. We are excited to see the BTB community grow and deepen! 

Build the Bench5th Annual Convening: On July 10, 2019, a group of 27 leaders from regional, and national worker center and community organizing networks gathered at the Tommy Douglas Conference Center in Silver Spring, MD for the fifth annual Build the Bench Convening.  Hosted by the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO), Build the Bench Convening brought together creative, passionate, and inspiring managing directors from across the country to support their growth as organizational and movement leaders through connection with CIWO and others in similar roles. Read more

Community of Learning and Practice

Build the Bench creates peer networks and communities of practice through convenings and periodic webinars that foster multiple connections across staff in similar roles from different organizations. 

Participating organizations include:

Jobs with Justice, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Partnership for Working Families, Center for Popular Democracy, People’s Action, Interfaith Worker Justice, Restaurant Opportunities Center United, Grassroots Collaborative, Organization United Respect Walmart, USAS, PICO National Network, Gamaliel, United We Dream, Enlace, Right to the City, Center for Community Change, Food Chain Workers, Institute of Policy Studies, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, LA Black Worker Center Network, Workers Dignity Project, New York Communities for Change, Raise the Floor Alliance, National Black Workers Center Project, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

Convenings and Webinars