top of page
The Democracy Collective (2160 × 1080 px) (2).png


The Democracy Collective Incubator Program is a 9-month long, experiential

leadership program designed to expand and build the participants’ capacity for,

and commitment to, equitable civic engagement. To this end, the program will

build the participants’ individual and collective power to effect change in their

communities through the development of advocacy and leadership skills.

This will create a strong foundation for their long-term work. Throughout the

program, participants will surface shared issues of concern, gain a greater

understanding of the landscape of power in Cleveland, identify levers for change,

and develop and advance projects to address their priorities.

Orange Watercolor Thank You For Purchase Card (4 × 8 in).png
_HOT0450 (1).JPG


Building a culture where equitable civic engagement is made a reality is a serious challenge. It requires overcoming decades of structural impediments, intentional barriers, systemic inequities, and a disempowering mindset that have left the marginalized residents of our community hopeless and discouraged by the lack of progress on these issues. Creating the future we all deserve requires both people + opportunities, time + investment, and drive + commitment. It will also take an understanding that breaking generational problems—and rebuilding them—is going to take at least a few years. 


Ask any Clevelander and they will tell you that civic engagement—from voting to participation in broader aspects of democracy, to community voice, to civics education in our schools, and more— has experienced decades of underinvestment, lack of commitment from some institutions. You can read more about this in our 2021 study in partnership with Policy Matters Ohio and HIT Strategies. 


Don’t get us wrong—there are innumerable dedicated Clevelanders working to keep our community engaged with the issues that matter most to them. We are fortunate to work with many of them! However, because local government apathy and hostility (as noted in the above-referenced study) has been going on for so long, one inspiring candidate, or a great teacher who registers students to vote, or a committed parent who takes their kids to city council meetings, isn’t going to be enough to fix what is now a systemic issue. And even after the success of our work over the past several years, including our most significant efforts in 2020, we recognize that we cannot fix local democracy alone.


In response to the past and current civic climate in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, we launched DemCo in September 2023 to expand our capacity and commitment to equitable civic engagement in our cities, academic + educational structures, our community organizations + neighborhood-based collectives, and our institutions + businesses. This work impacts all of us, so we’re going to need everyone’s help to get the job done.



Jump to program requirements



 Goals of this program.

The incubator model may be new to social justice nonprofits, but the practice has been in the private sector for some time.  And as the Center for Effective Philanthropy article notes, “anyone can be a leader.” We must not limit our imaginations for who in fact is a democracy builder. A person’s lack of organizational affiliation or a specific role in an organization should not dictate or limit their ability to affect change in their communities. To learn more about social justice incubator models, we encourage you to check out the Social Justice Accelerator. They elevate many reasons why we need to reimagine the ways in which we are empowering leaders in our communities.


Furthermore, we must acknowledge that “leadership is not static, and it doesn’t sit with one person. Instead, leadership is about building collective power to influence and change organizations and systems to operate in just and liberating ways that enable all individuals to thrive. Under this definition, anyone can be a leader, and leadership is expressed through the actions people take.” (see Leadership Development Programs Need an Upgrade: Five Ways to Advance Racial Equity).


Ultimately, we are asking ourselves—how can we cultivate a person’s ideas/ passion into action? We're excited to connect and learn from those leaders in Cleveland that are already doing dope work and may benefit from additional investment and resources. 


  • Build the power of individual leaders to effect change in their communities

  • Build collective power to advance advocacy strategies and influence government systems

  • Proliferate framework of “equitable civic engagement” to bolster and amplify a wide universe of civic engagement activities

  • Seed activation projects to advance equitable civic engagement

  • Pilot leadership development program 

  • Fight for a better Cleveland


  • Get grounded in social movement history of Cleveland

  • Learn about equitable civic engagement, explore different approaches to social change + map groups in Cleveland that use each approach

  • Develop a shared vision for the future of Cleveland

  • Identify priority issue areas to work on and build an Activation Project to engage and transform those issues

  • Gain an understanding of the landscape of power in the city and effective levers for change, including movement partners

  • Learn how to identify, reach + move targets

  • Strengthen their concrete advocacy skills and power as leaders

  • Strengthen connections with local movement groups


Cleveland VOTES exists, in part, because of the challenges described above and our commitment

to being part of addressing them. The Democracy Collective (DemCo) is an incubator for

community-led, community-driven leaders. We aim to invest in the cultivation of leaders

and innovative ideas to realize a more equitable democracy and stronger social fabric. 


DemCo is a 9-month long incubator that will bring up to 12 local community members into a training and action-oriented experience that will advance equitable civic engagement in their lives, their communities, their organizations + schools, and in Cleveland as a whole. This immersive experience is intended to create a co-learning experience that will serve

as an incubator to cultivate, harness +  strengthen the collective knowledge and power of our

community members. 


Our DemCo participants will be asked to commit to an estimated 11-15 hours per month, which includes our in-person sessions every other Saturday. The core tenets and time commitment of DemCo are detailed below.











DemCo logo (22)_edited.png

Please note,  the time commitment for each session is as follows: 


  • Saturday Sessions: 9:00am–12:30pm

  • Deep Dives: 9:00am–2:00pm

  • Community of Practice: 9:00am–12:30pm

  • Final Session: 9:00am–12:00pm

Session Dates

  • September 7 + 21

  • October 5 + 19 [deep dive]

  • November 16 [deep dive]

  • December 7 + 21 [deep dive]

  • January 11 + 25

  • February 8 + 22 [deep dive]

Community of Practice

  • March 8 + 22 

  • April 5 + 19

Closing Date

  • May 17 

Activation Project  Dates

  • February 23 [start] 

  • May 2 [complete]


Over the course of our 9 months, the approximate breakdown of how we will spend our time together is detailed below. 


The 6-month curriculum will invite participants to reflect deeply on their role as social change agents in Cleveland, including on the unique assets and commitments each participant brings. Sessions will include topics such as: advocacy skills and strategies such as power mapping, target research, one-to-one’s, storytelling, and power-building.


Throughout the program, our facilitator will offer best practices and models, prompt participants to reflect and develop their own strategies, and create spaces for feedback and reflection to strengthen those strategies. These exercises will serve as building blocks for the activation projects the participants will develop and implement in the last three months of the program. A critical component of DemCo is relationship building, as well as group alignment and individual leadership development. There will also be opportunities to connect with local democracy-building movement leaders and gain deeper understanding, which will complement the curriculum.


Each participant will be asked to identify an issue area to focus on throughout the incubator. Examples of issue areas may include: education, environmental justice, healthcare, housing, infant mortality, and more. The issue area must be specific to a challenge we’re facing in Cleveland. After completing 6 months of curriculum-based learning, each participant will be asked to identify an activation project. The goal of the activation project is to take what you’ve learned and apply it to an issue in our community— that is, to translate your learnings into tangible real-life action. Since we know translating theory into practice doesn’t always go smoothly, you will continue to engage with your fellow Incubator members in our Community of Practice.


We aim to engage a cohort that is intergenerational, multi-disciplinary, multi-racial, and reflective of Cleveland residents. In addition, we invite applicants to consider the following questions – are you:


  • Committed to Cleveland and its transformation?

  • Willing to learn and share in a collaborative setting?

  • Self-reflective + curious?

  • Someone with the initiative and drive to affect change?

  • A dreamer?

If this sounds like you, then you are the kind of leader that we are looking for!

Untitled design (25).png


  • Reside in the City of Cleveland or demonstrate substantial commitment/current work in the City of Cleveland. 

  • Have at least 1–3 years of related experience in the community-building and/or social justice field. This can be formal, paid positions, self-directed, or volunteer roles.

  • Be able to commit to the 16 in-person sessions. 

  • Complete homework and reflection assignments in between sessions. 

  • Able to implement an activation project that is reflective of the learnings and include some voter engagement/registration component.

  • Be willing to collaborate with fellow participants, embracing the power of the collective to enact transformational change.

  • Priority consideration will be given to those applicants who reside/work in wards with lower voter participation.



The Democracy Collective includes 11 curriculum sessions over 6 months that provide participants with the necessary tools to implement their Activation Projects. For the inaugural cohort, Cleveland VOTES partnered with Liberation in a Generation, a national movement supporting the power of people of color to transform our economy + society, to develop The DemCo curriculum. Throughout the lessons, participants learn about:

  • relationship building,

  • equitable city civic engagement + social justice issues,

  • the Cleveland political and organizing landscape,

  • examining power and points of leverage,

  • leadership development,

  • advocacy skills,

  • and more! 


Sections of the curriculum are tailored to the interests of the DemCo cohort—providing participants with the space to explore various topics in equitable civic engagement and social justice. As a member of the first DemCo cohort said, “I feel like [the curriculum] honored everyone and their experiences, more or less, regardless of their path.”


At the end of the six months of learning, participants implement an Activation Project focused on an issue of interest. They work on this project for the remaining three months of the cohort, with ongoing Community of Practice sessions and check-ins with the facilitator. 


The purpose of these Activation Projects is for participants to take the skills learned in the curriculum sessions and tangibly apply them to a community issue that interests them while receiving support from the DemCo cohort, facilitator, and CV team. We know that the ability to brainstorm, get feedback, and pivot as needed are important parts of project incubation, and we don’t want our cohort to go it alone. The curriculum, developed in partnership with Liberation in a Generation, is crucial to imparting some of the skills, tools, and strategies the cohort members will use to implement their Activation Projects and strengthen their capacity for affecting change.



Erika Anthony.png

Erika Anthony

Executive Director

Erika Anthony (she/her) co-founded Cleveland VOTES with Crystal Bryant in 2014...

Kirby Broadnax.png

Kirby Broadnax

DemCo Facilitator

Kirby Broadnax (she/her)  is a community-building facilitator raised in NE Ohio...

Lique Gates.png

Lique Gates

Senior Strategist

As the Senior Strategist, Lique Gates (she/her) has primarily focused on the finalization of our  2022-2026 Strategic Plan...

Ruben Lucio.png

Ruben Lucio

Director of Grassroots Relationships

Senior Strategist

Lique Bates

Ruben Lucio

Director of Grassroots Relationships

As an Arizona native, Rubén Lucio (he/him) grew up in the national epicenter of anti-migrant sentiment and legislation...

DemCo Team photos.png

Kathy Diaz

Facilitator + Community Organizer

Kathy is a facilitator and community organizer. She is a Latinx first-gen immigrant who has supported...

We would like to thank our funders for investing in DemCo and the leaders that will greatly benefit from this incubator!

bottom of page