Nine Questions for Joan Godoy, CEO of Radical Partners

Joan Godoy, CEO of Radical Partners. Photo: Daniel Pulgarín

With over a decade of social change experience in five countries, Joan Godoy is the chief executive officer and executive director of Miami-based social impact accelerator Radical Partners.

Radical Partners invests in leaders, mobilizes Miami locals, co-designs community solutions and builds coalitions. As a place-based intermediary, it works with grassroots leaders, nonprofits and businesses. Philanthropic funders contract it to facilitate capacity-building for nonprofit leaders. The organization’s relationships across various philanthropic arenas help it serve as a connector between funders and fundraisers looking to strengthen the Miami community.

A proud Guatemalan, Godoy is a clinical psychologist with a master of arts in international nongovernmental organizations. Prior to joining Radical Partners in 2017, where she began as a strategy and impact manager, Godoy worked for U.N. Women as a program coordinator for rural women's economic empowerment. Joan is also the cofounder of the Miami chapter of F*Up Nights, a global movement to share failure stories.

IP connected with Godoy to discuss her experience, cross-sector social impact perspective, and hopes for the philanthropic sector. Here are some excerpts from the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us more about yourself.

I was born and raised in Guatemala. It's a beautiful, tiny country in the middle of the Americas. And just like everything that lives in the in-between, so is my country. Since I was very young, I had access to the different realities in my country. Rich people are very rich and they're the minority. So that you can picture the contrast, about 30% of the country doesn't know how to read and write.

My dad is an environmentalist, so he traveled around the country and carried us around with him. That really shaped the way I think and the way I've been living because I also always lived in the in-between. My skin is very pale, and like in many diverse countries, white folks are the minority, yet they are the ones that historically have been assigned positions of power. I carry that with me because of the way that I look and my last name, but [that’s not necessarily] true in terms of the amount of resources that we had. I think that really shaped who I am as a person and professional.

I really wanted to be like my dad. He was and still is working for an international organization. He had the resources and access, but implemented them at home in the community. I started realizing what my super powers were and decided I wanted to hug people and not trees like my dad. I decided to study psychology with that social focus of working with groups and healing communities. It's been more than 15 years that I've been working with leaders that are passionately trying to advance their communities, teaching skills and bringing skills from those places with power and vice versa so that we can all accelerate social change for everybody. 

Could you share your journey into your current sector, and how would you define that sector? 

My dream at 18 years old was to work for international nongovernmental organizations. I wanted to become a social psychologist, but that wasn't a possibility back home, so I studied clinical psychology instead. 

As I was studying, I started volunteering for small nonprofits, which led from one job to another. After four years of facilitating workshops and delivering content for rural leaders, I became frustrated with what we were doing on the ground. You were kind of teaching these leaders how to scale the work in a system that wasn't really allowing them to do much more. I thought, “OK, teaching these skills is not enough. How can we start changing the arena?” So from there, I decided to study a master's and look for scholarships.

I got a full ride at Webster University to go to the Netherlands to study a master's in international NGOs. I started learning about the international landscape, the U.N. and how politics work in that arena. I traveled a bit, from Costa Rica to Chile, and I went back to work for the U.N. in Guatemala, which was my dream. I moved to Miami and someone started talking about social entrepreneurship, which I got curious about as a concept. I ended up on Radical Partners’ website and I was like, “OK, I like this concept of changing the world in a sustainable way.” I wrote an email. A week later, they interviewed me and here I am, six years later.

Was there a specific job posting that caught your attention, or were you just interested in learning more about the organization?

They had a job posting for an associate or an assistant. I didn’t care about the title. I just wanted to start doing something. I applied and they called me asking why I applied to the job when I could do more. Guatemalan people are very resilient and humble, so I was like, “Look, if you need an associate, I’ll start as an associate and then I'll show you that I can do other things.” 

They hired me as a manager. Then, two years later, I became the director of collective impact. Two years later or less after that, the founder of the organization says, “I'm leaving. Do you want the venture?” And I say “hell, no,” because I never saw myself as a business leader or the chief of running an operation.

Two weeks later, the pandemic hit. Someone needed to take care of the team and our mission, so I stepped up to the game because, as I said, Guatemalans are resilient. Six months in, I was like, “OK, I'm ready,” and ended up buying the venture from [the founder], and now I own Radical Partners since 2021.

You mentioned that you purchased Radical Partners. Could you clarify?

Previously, you asked me, “How did you get into the sector you’re in now and how would you define the sector?” The term that I like the most to describe the sector I work in is the social impact venture, because we're talking about society and humans, transforming and changing, and a venture. What does that look like? I don't care. I think that depending on what country you're in, you get to talk about those things differently.

It ties back to my personal life of always living in the hyphen, because Radical Partners is a hybrid organization. We are an LLC, a company that is fiscally sponsored by a community foundation. That means that we get to charge for some of the services that we do on the consulting side, but that we get to apply for grants for the free programs that we deliver to the community. We're hard to understand and we are deeply convinced that this model works. 

We rarely define Radical Partners as how we report to the IRS or make our money. We often talk about our mission and how we go about it. If people are curious, then we talk about our model, but we always lead with what it is that we're doing and why we're doing it instead of the how.

You say you strongly believe this hybrid organizational model works. Say more.

We know about supply and demand and that every relationship is an exchange. Therefore, it is very important to understand what I bring to the table and what the other person is willing to exchange for that. The exchange could be food for food, money for impact, money for visibility, et cetera.

I am not going to vouch for the hybrid model, but what I'm going to vouch for is to really understand who you are, identify your center, and know why your venture exists and who's willing to pay for that. When it comes to the social impact space, there are funders that are willing to give grants and organizations or companies that are willing to pay you to deliver a certain service. I vouch for understanding and acknowledging your center, the context, and then finding something in the middle that's going to allow for that to happen.

To give a concrete example, there was a point in which Radical Partners was mostly successful on the nonprofit side, meaning that most of our operations happened because of the grants that we were receiving. When the pandemic hit, that changed because people wanted to donate to hospitals and direct service organizations, so capacity-building wasn't a priority anymore. We had to ramp up our consulting because teams were having a crisis and we could help. What I love is that we get to understand our current context and adapt so we can continue to advance our mission.

Could you elaborate on the advantages of the hybrid organizational model you mentioned, as opposed to the more traditional 501(c)(3) nonprofit structure? 

We live in a nonbinary world and the same applies to ventures. If you are a for-profit organization, it doesn't mean that you can't have an impact in the world while you're making a profit. If you are a nonprofit, it doesn't mean that your staff has to be badly paid. 

This goes back to the Radical Partners mission. We are a social impact accelerator, and for that, we need to be creative, but I am also a disruptor in a way. These models that we came up with hundreds of years ago don't necessarily work right now.

I think both models have pros and cons. If you're a nonprofit, people love it, especially in the United States. They love that you’re service-oriented and mission-driven, and that you're saying basically every dollar that you're going to give me is used toward social good. And aside from that, you're going to get tax benefits. All of those are the pros.

The cons are that for you to be a nonprofit in this country, you need to have a board of volunteers that are typically not on the ground with you ruling whatever the executive director is supposed to do. That, to me, is also a pro in the sense that you have people advising you. However, I see nonprofit leaders having meetings with boards where everything needs to be consensual and it slows down what they know is the right thing to do. I see that on the nonprofit side.

On the LLC front, you have certain freedom to make decisions but also to innovate and to do things in a disruptive way because people, in a way, do expect that from the for-profit sector. There's something of a permission to be irreverent to the system and be more flexible in the way you pay for things, hire people and do things. The con is that some people don't want to give us money because we have the LLC status. Both models have good things and bad things, and what I love is that we get to grab the good things from both worlds and operate that way.

As a social impact accelerator, what role do you see your organization playing in the philanthropy ecosystem?

We get to be in the middle because we ourselves fundraise, so we understand what fundraising looks like. Most of our programs are supporting leaders who also fundraise. Because of our knowledge, we sometimes get paid by funders to do work. So we find ourselves being the translators, connectors and the galvanizers.

The organization often encourages people to bring their knowledge and core to a new context, but we also tell them it's OK for you to stay in your expertise. If you are a 501(c)(3) leader or a social impact venture leader, you know your community and how to run operations and do things on the ground. It's OK for you to understand the funder side, but keep getting better at what you're already good at.

I say the same things to funders, especially now that they not only want to give money but also build capacity. That’s great, understand what that looks like, but there’s no need for you to get into the capacity-building space or start teaching 501(c)(3)s. Stay in your lane. You have the resources to give money out and facilitate a partnership with those that do capacity-building well. 

What’s your biggest hope for philanthropy moving forward?

Collaborate! Gifts are too small and focused on putting away fires instead of figuring out where the source of the fire is. Please talk to each other and coordinate your budgets. Identify the issues that you all want to invest in and then make your budgets match so you can put those grants out. In Miami, we're seeing the same organization is being funded by the big five funders, and when I think that they're reporting on those five different grants to five different people, I’m like, “Why don't we just make that one?” 

Talk to each other, share your budgets with each other and ideally make them match. Come up with asks, like having the same reporting or indicators, to simplify the work of the nonprofit to advance that systems change. Make our lives easier so that we can focus on doing the work and not on building presentations and reports.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Yes, I would say to whomever is reading this, ask yourself what your added value is in the system, own it, share it, and let others own and share theirs, too. Grab your hands and move together.

Michelle Dominguez (they/them/elle) is a Queer and Trans professional born to Colombian immigrants on Tongva Land, known post-colonization as Los Angeles. After a decade-long career in higher education student affairs, they switched to the nonprofit and philanthropy sector in 2021. What brings Michelle joy? Quality time with loved ones, mindfulness, chocolate desserts and Disney magic.