Catching Up With...Kate “Sassy” Sassoon

Merry Richter
Apr 1, 2019

Kate “Sassy” Sassoon is SU’s Senior Community Program Manager. In this role, she works to support our growing global network of SingularityU Chapters that convene their local communities for conversations about how to use exponential technologies to solve humanity’s grand challenges.

Greetings, Sassy! Thanks for taking some time to talk with us. Before we start, should I call you Kate or Sassy?

You may call me whatever you prefer! I go by both, or sometimes by other names. (Leaving that completely up to you is one of my favorite “social engineering/data gathering” hacks.)

Ok, let’s go with Kate for today. Can you tell us a bit about your role and some of your key projects?

My role is really to onboard, support, and engage our Chapter leadership teams—those amazing and inspiring groups of volunteers who hear about SU’s work, get inspired to join the effort, and decide to take the message and mission home to their own communities. It’s so exciting to work with such a diverse group of passionate people! Every month, I convene a video call and get to travel literally around the world without leaving my desk.And this year, we launched a new pilot peer learning program to connect these amazing leaders to each other and support their continued development as leaders in our global community. When I’m not running monthly calls or managing our pilot programs, I spend a lot of time talking with SU alumni who are interested in getting more involved, supporting the ongoing work of our Chapters (a large amount of which is producing an astonishing variety of engaging events where they convene community for these crucial conversations), and meeting with the rest of our ecosystem team (and other great teams at HQ) to devise better ways to weave the community into the fabric of SU.

Sounds fascinating, and extremely rewarding! So I’ve done a little digging and learned a bit more about your areas of expertise.

For one thing, you enjoy teaching diverse groups to become active Allies to each other. Can you share more about what this entails? It seems like we could all use more allies!

We sure could! This is very personal to me. My community is very mixed across many intersecting identities (race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, age—just to name a few) and we know from experience that it can be very hard to come together and have each other’s backs when you come from such different lived experiences and perspectives. I was also raised with the outlook that looking critically at “the way things are” is patriotic, that injustice is intolerable, and that you should put yourself (and your energy and action) on the line to stand up for those who are being oppressed. Combine this with a lifetime of facilitation training, and you have someone who is highly motivated and equipped to help us all have each other’s backs.Being an Ally is a verb: it is a daily action of noticing when someone is being excluded from our world and speaking up to include them. It is correcting that seemingly harmless joke by flipping it into a teachable moment. It is using what privilege and power you have to uplift those with less of it. It is a constant practice—and for me, it all starts with learning how to be an authentic communicator.I use a particular tool that I have been developing for the last 20 years to frame how I communicate with the people around me, and by leveraging this framework to change the tiny slice of the world we share, I try to create a space where everyone is safe to speak their full truth, live their full life, and express ALL their needs. This helps me to better see them, know them, and (when needed) advocate for them. I invite you all to use this tool (or your own) as well!

Such an amazing tool and practice area, particularly for SU where diversity and inclusion are so core to being able to carry out our mission. Thank you for investing so much energy in developing it and for sharing it with all of us.

And you also specialize in “cooperative communication.” What does that mean? Where did you learn it? How do you teach others to engage in this practice?

I have spent a lifetime—literally since the age of 3—in a variety of cooperatively owned and/or run endeavors. I lived in shared housing as a child, participated for a decade in a daycare cooperative (which still reconvenes every Turkey Day for a celebration), lived in the largest student housing cooperative in North America for 5 years, and have been a Worker-Owner in several worker co-ops.About 10 years ago I realized 3 things: 1) being part of this world where the burdens and benefits of owning and running the institutions of our lives is incredibly empowering and flexes one’s communication skills very hard, 2) I find the processes of having hard conversations and making complex high-stakes decisions fascinating and energizing, and 3) I should combine these 2 facts into a business! So I founded Sassy Facilitation, through which I help innovative organizations work together better—mostly through facilitation, education, and organizational design.My wife often says that I run toward meetings giggling that she would run away from screaming—and it’s true! And indicative of the gift of skill and fearlessness that being a member of so many highly functional (and several highly dysfunctional) cooperative endeavors has given me. Because when you Own it and Run it, there is no one else to blame if it fails—and everything to win when you succeed!This is what I mean by cooperative communication: I mean communicating as if you owned the if the very balance of your future (and the future of your community) weighed on your authenticity, your ability to actively listen, to discover win-win compromises, and to build consensus. Because, ultimately, it does—even if that fact is obscured from you by several layers of bureaucracy. When we all participate in conversations—and the work they support—from a place of sincerity, honesty, trust, and wholeness, not only does our work flourish, but we get to live our full authentic lives all day every day!

This is such an empowering philosophy and a wonderfully intentional way of looking at the world, communications, and relationships. We are so lucky to have you at SU!

Kate Sassoon

You work very closely with SingularityU Chapter leadership teams. For those interested in applying for Chapter licenses, what advice would you offer? What makes a good leadership team?

Good leadership teams are full of passionate people who have a little bit of spare time (or are motivated to find some), have complementary areas of expertise that are suitable to the work of a Chapter (which is 90% convening local community through a wide variety of events that stimulate conversation and connection), and who communicate well.The most successful Chapters have leadership teams who share their work equitably, who communicate efficiently and effectively, and who take joy in their work! This is a role for passionate and inspired community members...people who want to bring the message and mission of SU to their hometowns and connect their people to ours so we can build that abundant future together.On a purely practical note, I encourage every Chapter leadership team (and any other team for that matter) to always do 2 key things at the very beginning of their work together: 1) decide how they will communicate about their work (including expectations around timeliness, channels, availability, etc.) and 2) how they will decide things together (taking care to balance autonomy and accountability). If you get on the same page about these 2 things at the very start, you have all the tools you need to meet every challenge you will meet down the road. Teams that fail to agree on these things early on often find that they are working from different sets of assumptions, just when the work is getting hardest. Set yourselves up for success by co-creating these agreements at the start!

What motivates and inspires you about working at SU?

The passion and variety of the people I work with, both inside SU HQ and in the Chapter leadership teams. This is a community of people with big ideas, big hearts, and razor-sharp minds, which are my 3 favorite things in life!

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I’ve found that having one degree in Theatre and another in Ecology prepares you for a truly surprising amount of situations. So don’t listen when other folks try and draw boxes around your learning!

One last thing, Kate: I have it on good authority (your bio!) that you love researching oddball recipes, climbing tall trees, manufacturing couture clothing, and choreographing guerilla performance. I don’t think I’ve seen a more intriguing or varied list of leisure pursuits. Discuss!

I am an aspiring “Renaissance Woman.” I collect skills, perspectives, and hobbies like it’s going out of style. To explain this small list:I’ve cooked for my family since I was 12, and since then have regularly cooked 3 meals a day for 15-150 folks, and that was BEFORE I was a professional caterer or pastry maker.Tall trees are awesome! They’re living jungle gyms with the best view and a free oxygen bar.I learned to sew when I was 4, and since I grew up in a mixed-class divorced family, at my mom’s place we made gifts instead of buying them. This spiraled into a tradition where each holiday season I pick up a new craft skill and make everyone presents with it. Also, I have clothed 4 weddings to date (including my own), and never risk showing up in the same outfit at a party!Being your own costume designer is also KEY when doing guerilla theatre, which I started when I left the industry (after 20 years of training and working professionally) because I figured if there isn’t enough funding to hire all the passionate stage folk in the world, why not make the streets your stage! It's free and FUN and doubles up as your civic duty!I could go on and on, but we should probably just go to the local worker-owned cafe for a chai, climb a tree, and talk about life instead!

Deal! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and wisdom! I’d say you’ve more than earned the title of Renaissance Woman!

SU has an incredibly diverse, talented team (join us!) and extended family. Many shine on stages around the world. Some lead key departments and initiatives to keep SU moving forward fast. And others work behind the scenes in fascinating roles that we’ll also explore. In this “Catching Up With...” blog post series, we meet members of the SU ecosystem, learn about their roles and what motivates and inspires them, and give our readers rare behind-the-scenes access to Singularity University.