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EQT's Steve Gilchrist speaks on his journey, equity, and well-being

When we think of equity, what do we think about it? Is it just a measurement of how well marginalized people are doing? Is it a process? What is equity? According to Steve Gilchrist, EQT By Design's newest team member as of mid-2023, equity is well-being. 


How did Gilchrist come to this idea, and what does it mean to his work, to EQTs work, and to our community? Gilchrist was born in Japan to an American father and a Japanese mother, and after some early years back and forth, he spent most of his youth in San Francisco. 


Growing up in the Bay Area and being bi-racial drove Gilchrist to work for community well-being. His time as the only bi-racial student attending a Japanese school showed him in- and outgroup dynamics, at times not Japanese enough and at other times not white enough. In Gilchrist's words, “As I grew older, I wanted to bridge groups and heal relationships between different groups and to try to erase or lessen those divisions. Divisions, in their worst case, are hatred and violence toward others different from ourselves.” 


Gilchrist studied business in college and ended up in Tokyo for work after an impressionable senior year around environmental work. It was during this time, in such a dense urban environment, that the importance of environmental responsibility became clear. His experience in Tokyo led Gilchrist to return to school, where he worked on sustainable forestry from a social and organism perspective at Oregon State University. Here, he applied his ideas of healing divides, working to find ways for entities like the World Bank, Federal Government Forest Service, Universities, small business owners, large corporations, and NGOs to figure out if there was a way they could all work all together on issues of sustainability. 


From this work, Gilchrist ended up pursuing a sustainability education doctorate at Portland State University (PSU) graduate school. As he was taking his courses, he obtained a master's in Conflict Resolution, “I loved it; it helped me understand in a more profound way than I'd had previously this idea of, how do you bring groups together? How do you heal these relationships in a structured way to be interpersonally, but, at the intergroup level, at the systemic level,” says Gilchrist, continuing, “or as PSU called it, ‘structural level.’”


In this program, Gilchrist did his research and dissertation on interethnic conflict and conflict resolution. Within his work was a community-based process called “Intergroup Dialogue,” where he posted upon this idea of conflict, transformation, and healing. This academic work launched him on his professional path, first working as the Director of Institutional Diversity at a small Liberal Arts college in upstate New York. From there, he ended up in a similar role at UW Colleges and Extension, and then at Edgewood College. As he made this transition, Gilchrist asked himself, “What's the goal of equity? Like, what do we believe is equity in of itself?” 


As he kept thinking, his thought process led him to a possible answer: well-being. “We are all, in one way, or one form or another, and it will look different, wanting this deeper sense of well-being for ourselves, for our families, for those around us, our community. So whether it's infant mortality, access to fair pay, jobs or health care, or finding deeper meaning in our work or ability to reach our full potential, at work, or in whatever capacity, all those components of well-being are not just physical well being,” says Gilchrist. 


This revelation led Gilchrist to help start the “Institute for Collective Well-Being.” Still, after a couple of years, for personal reasons, Gilchrist needed to move on, and during that time, he had breakfast with Annette Miller, EQT By Designs founder and CEO. At EQT By Design, we work to ensure outcomes in systems that produce community well-being, so bringing Steve on as a consultant was a natural fit.


At EQT, Gilchrist found that “a unique aspect of EQT By Design is the connection between community engagement and organizational change, and that they're interconnected,” and he’s working to strengthen those connections. To Gilchrist, the “systems change process starts with understanding what's happening in the system currently.” The work is to collect data, do community engagement, see what's happening, and what are the voices that are often traditionally underrepresented or intentionally excluded from these conversations in the past?” This helps EQT understand what is or isn’t happening within the current system. 


How does this work out in the world? Gilchrist and EQT look at this work and think about what organizational changes need to happen within their own organizations as part of this work of well-being. Data and information are excellent, but organizations must know what to do with them afterward. The work must start internally; if organizations work for external well-being, internal well-being must be the first step. The beginning of the process, the first goal, is to work with organizations to co-create well-being for employees and their clients. 


As you move forward, you have to start connecting issues, such as environmental sustainability, health care, mental health, and economics; these are all well-being issues. Gilchrist asks, “What if we said the ultimate purpose of education was this idea around collective and individual well-being? What would it be if you had a clearer sense of purpose? Then you could start thinking; this is how we would shift education. Same with the economy,  what if the goal of the economy was to support the well-being of humans and nature?” Instead of thinking about GDP, production, growth, or test scores, we center people, our lived environments, and how we can create well-being. Everything else grows and branches out of that. 


When we start approaching our social problems by asking questions about well-being, we end up with beautiful answers of flourishing communities. Steve Gilchrist brings a perspective of seeing the issues connect, a sense of connected humanity, pushing for this collective well-being as the end goal of equity. This perspective and approach fits well within EQT By Design in our people-centered approach of equity:  not platitudes and data, but people. 


As you think about equity in your work, organization, or community, perhaps add that end goal of “What would well-being look like here?”

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