Portraits of Leadership

Cultural Vistas Confronts COVID-19

3 min readJun 2, 2020

Hyperakt’s interview series hands the mic to nonprofit and cultural leaders around the nation as they guide their organizations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today we’re talking with Jennifer Clinton, CEO of Cultural Vistas. Cultural Vistas facilitates dialogue and the sharing of ideas and promotes global understanding through the lens of career exploration, civic engagement, leadership development, and professional training.

From your vantage point, what stories are not being told about the impact of the Coronavirus?

I don’t think there is enough focus on the psychological impacts COVID-19. The reporting of massive layoffs, economic hardship, changes in how we work, learn and interact dominate the news cycles. But I think it would be incredibly helpful to qualitatively and quantitatively understand how we as individuals and societies are processing these changes.

How is our human psyche evolving with respect to how we think about the world, our role in it to what our priorities are and what makes us happy or not?

It’s been my experience to date that everyone is experiencing this in incredibly different and unique ways — both positively and negatively. If we were paying more attention to this psychological shift on a wider scale, we could more quickly adapt business models, we could spend government dollars in a more targeted and effective way, we could design educational models around this emerging human consciousness — that may frankly last for decades.

Given that I am in the arena of international exchange, studying differences in how human consciousness is evolving in different nations and regions of the world is also critically important given how interconnected we are to one another.

How have you needed to change how your staff works or the way you deliver services in order to meet the new reality?

There are two levels of adjustment we are pursuing right now as an organization that are totally interconnected. Cultural Vistas facilitates international exchange programs that ultimately help individuals build global skills and networks. Right now, our services rely almost entirely on moving people to international locations to achieve these goals.

We recognize the need to aggressively embrace the tenets of the agile mindset — and apply the iterative and incremental-development methodology traditionally utilized in the product development space — to achieve these broader goals in a world where travel will be limited for an unknown period of time.

In order for us to be successful applying an agile mindset, we have to foster an agile way of leading and working together. This does not come naturally, particularly when an organization has been operating successfully in a fairly hierarchical and rigid manner.

The challenge for us is how to make both of these shifts occur successfully at the same time. We are being very intentional about it and are having wide-ranging conversations of what it will take for us to be a more agile organization that is able to develop new programs using this methodology.

What gives you hope in this moment?

From an organizational standpoint, I’m not sure we would have moved as quickly into the realm of agile development and organizational identity. It has been a mantra I have been encouraging for several years, but this situation has fast-tracked the need for us to commit to fostering this mindset. It’s very exciting to see it unfold so quickly across the organization.

From a personal standpoint, it gives me hope that what I referred to in the first question –that our human consciousness is shifting — for what I think the better. We are seeing a greater spirit of helping one another out, increased compassion and empathy, finding happiness in non-material things, appreciating the positive impact to the environment to name a few. I hope we find ways to organize ourselves, our communities and the world that can help these priorities outlive COVID-19.

Explore Cultural Vistas at CulturalVistas.org and on Twitter. Read more interviews in the Portraits of Leadership series.

Hyperakt is a purpose-driven design and innovation studio that elevates human dignity and ignites curiosity. We believe in design’s power to build a future filled with courage, optimism, and honesty.

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