After three years serving as a catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, and two years serving as program director, our dear friend Paul Hackenmueller is leaving Southeast and heading to Vermont to start a new chapter. During his time here, Paul has been a steady and supportive leader, encouraging us to go deeper in our collective work, make room for the messiness of collaboration, and to continually put relationships first.
We talked with Paul about the friendships he has formed, the growth he has witnessed, and his vision for the future of the SSP.
What will be the hardest part of leaving?
There’s family here in this network and that makes it harder to leave. If you think about family… there are good times, easy times, and there are hard times and difficult work. But with your family, you keep showing up, and that’s what we’re doing here: we keep showing up. From the very start of the SSP, it felt like a place that I belonged, and it felt like home and I think that a lot of the people who keep showing up feel that way too.
I’ve learned about this place, the people, culture, and myself (personally and professionally) in ways that I never could have or would have without being a part of this network. I’m so grateful to all of those who impacted me during my time here.
How has the SSP transformed during your time as director?
As the network has grown, a real shift has been that participants, catalysts, and steering committee members have increasingly seen themselves as leaders in this collective movement, which is what we have always tried to foster: ownership of the approach.
If this way of working together is really going to take hold, it’s not going to be about one person directing things in a traditional, hierarchical structure. It’s about shifting the patterns of relationships and how this work happens across all levels, from leaders to those working on the ground. It is important to decentralize and distribute ownership and leadership within the SSP, while retaining a cohesive and unified approach. That is the work.
How has the growth of this network influenced your own personal and professional growth?
I have become more comfortable and confident bringing people together and holding space for the conversations that build relationships and move this work forward. I have become more patient and forgiving with myself and others. I have learned that the more that you facilitate these conversations, the more you realize they never go how you think they will, but if you create the right space, people will feel comfortable voicing their ideas and concerns, and the conversations go where they need to go.
How is the SSP growing as a network and where do you think we are headed?
A lot of the future work of the SSP will be spent thinking about colonization, decolonization, healing from generational and historical trauma, and the historical impacts that the organizations that are part of this network have had on our communities. We need to decide how we can really take this to heart and embody practices that contribute to healing through our collaboration.
We will find ways to welcome new partners to the network in a way that creates a sense of belonging, even if those people and organizations aren’t ready to fully embrace this approach. We must include people as they are ready, as deeply as they are ready. As this network grows, we must also find ways to maintain the depths and strengths of relationships and our practice of collaboration.
Any advice or words of encouragement?
What makes it easy to leave is that people keep showing up. I started two and a half years ago at a SSP retreat and the questions we were wrestling with at the time were : “Should we keep doing this? Should the SSP even exist anymore?.” And it turned out that the answer was a resounding yes.
Now, as I step away and look to the next phase, it’s not a question of whether this continues. It’s a different question. We’re here with our eyes open, continuing to show up, being conscious and deliberate about building this region into a place we want to live in and be proud of, rooted in equity and based on the place, the people, and the community.
I have tremendous confidence in and respect for (incoming director) Ralph’s ability to carry this work forward, in the steering committee’s ability to support Ralph, and everyone here to create this future that we’re moving towards.
There are people around the world looking at what we’re doing as a model of how things can be done differently and I’m really proud and honored to be a part of this. I wish you all the best and will always consider myself a strong supporter of this partnership. Haw’aa, gunalchéesh, thank you all so much.