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Our state is grappling with complex, divisive issues that impact the trajectory of this great state and demand leadership marked by reflection, dialogue, and working across differences. Wildacres Leadership Initiative (WLI) is committed to addressing this challenge through its signature program - The William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations.  

Dedicated to teaching and inspiring a new generation of courageous leaders for North Carolina, the Fellowship is both a two-year cohort experience that orients fellows and a life-long action network. Fellows model William C. Friday’s leadership style of civility, transparency, and collaboration across divergent ideas and identities. In approaching a leadership challenge, Friday Fellows practice rigorous discernment and create opportunities for dialogue that connect those in positions of influence with those most likely to be affected or marginalized. Through courageous action, vigorous, informed civil dialogue, and the ability to engage across differences, Friday Fellows are the change agents this state needs to address our most challenging issues and improve human conditions for its residents.


More about the William C. Friday Fellowship is available here

Wildacres Leadership Initiative is a program of Wildacres Retreat, located in Little Switzerland, NC, which was dedicated in 1946 to the betterment of human relations and interfaith dialogue. On its 50th anniversary, the retreat center established WLI to broaden the scope of Wildacres’ influence on North Carolina and its citizens for the next 50 years and beyond.

Our values are to:

  • Lead with courage

  • Speak your truth

  • Collaborate to solve problems

  • Engage differences with civility

  • Embrace equity and justice

As we enter our third decade we celebrate a network of more than 200 Friday Fellows who have a common experience, a shared language, and a wealth of differences to use as assets as they work to improve human relations so that all North Carolina’s residents can thrive.

WLI is governed by a 15-member Board of Advisors.  The budget is approximately $400,000, and staffing includes three full-time positions plus contracted faculty. 

The William C Friday Fellowship for Human Relations

2-year Cohort Experience

This orientation phase is implemented in two-year cycles through a series of six, experiential seminars. Twenty individuals, diverse across gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, political ideology, background, and from different sectors and regions of the state are chosen for each class of Fellows.

The entire program is offered at no cost to Fellows. Unlike many leadership programs, this is not a “pay to play” program to build one’s credentials or advance one’s professional ambitions. In most cases, nominated Fellows were not even seeking out such an opportunity. Rather, they were tapped on the shoulder because of who they are and what they are doing and a nominator’s sense of their potential for greater influence and impact. They are selected for the program because of our need, as an organization and as a state, for them to be in conversation with other diverse leaders, to deepen their leadership competencies and confidence, and to move forward in their spheres of influence with courage and conviction and the strength of a values-driven network behind them.

The program is designed on the premise that the traditional concept of the “heroic leader” who possesses unique attributes and uses his/her position of authority to solve problems doesn’t work in today’s constantly changing, complex environment. Today’s leaders must be adaptable and flexible, understand leadership as a collective practice, and critically analyze the systems at play in a given situation in order to mobilize many various stakeholders toward productive change. Further, the emphasis on the singular leader too often reflects a narrow profile in terms of identity, perspective, and style. Just as the leadership challenges we face are diverse and complex, our leaders also must reflect the depth and diversity of our state’s people.

We have designed the Fellowship curriculum with this in mind, focusing on mastering the following five competencies: (1) aligning values with action, (2) telling one’s story and hearing others’, (3) cultivating collective leadership and practice, (4) engaging difference and negotiating power and (5) leading adaptively for sustainable change.

Fellows experience personal growth and empowerment, gain a deeper understanding and respect for difference as well as the structural dynamics of power and privilege, experience a deeper historical perspective and exposure to issues across North Carolina, develop skills for leadership and working across the boundaries of differences, and build a wider and more diverse professional and civic network. Fellows note that after the fellowship they lead with more integrity and authenticity, are better able to negotiate tough conversations and facilitate decision-making processes.

Beginning with the two-year cohort experience, the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations serves as the foundation for a lifetime commitment to advancing human relations both individually and collectively to benefit North Carolina.

The Fellowship Alumni Network
As significant as the individual Friday Fellows are in making a difference in their communities, the alumni of over 200 Fellows located in some 40 NC counties is an even greater asset to the state, as it works on persistent problems that involve deep change in attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs. The state’s challenges require the amplified impact and innovative thinking of a network. The answer cannot lie in a single individual or organization. Rather, what is needed is both a new type of leader and a new way of working together that is more adaptive, collective, and inclusive. Friday Fellows leverage their relationships, resources, and differences to connect, align, collaborate and mobilize to effect sustainable change.

Currently, our work with the alumni centers around building and maintaining authentic relationships within and across classes, offering ongoing learning opportunities through various “refreshers,” and providing space for them to practice and hone the skills they learned in the Fellowship. One effort to realize the alumni network’s full potential, cultivate a sense of ownership, and support it towards collective impact is an emerging Public Deliberative Dialogue Program that will begin to move our work outward to the public sphere.

Wildacres Leadership Initiative is connected with Wildacres Retreat, Little Switzerland, NC.