Essential Partners, Inc.

Bold explorations in community.

aka Public Conversations Project   |   Cambridge, MA   |


Essential Partners strengthens relationships across difference, deepens belonging, and renews hope for whole communities. We envision a world of thriving communities, strengthened by differences and connected by trust.

Ruling year info


Co-Executive Director

Ms. Katie Hyten

Co-Executive Director

Mr. John Sarrouf

Main address

PO Box 400175

Cambridge, MA 02140 USA

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Formerly known as

Public Conversations Project



NTEE code info

Management & Technical Assistance (R02)

International Peace and Security (Q40)

Community Improvement, Capacity Building N.E.C. (S99)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Essential Partners strengthens relationships across differences, deepens belonging in community, and renews hope in the future. We teach people to facilitate courageous conversations across the most difficult differences, e.g.: * Intense polarization and the loss of trust across differences and in core democratic institutions * Racial, ethnic, and faith-based inequity, hate speech, and violence * The erosion of core democratic principles (e.g., free speech, religious tolerance, civil rights) * Inequality, injustice, and prejudices that threaten vibrant, pluralistic communities * Dysfunction and disengagement based on prejudice, "us vs. them" dynamics, fear of the other, and polarization * Lack of dedicated infrastructure and local, sustainable resources for dialogue and engagement across difference, bridge-building, and community resilience * Lack of understanding, trust, and connection across difference at the interpersonal, organizational, regional and national levels

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Dialogue in Higher Education

Colleges and universities bring people with diverse backgrounds and intersecting identities together to build strong intellectual and social communities. It is an extraordinary feat. And to make it all work in a pressurized environment, administrators, faculty, and students routinely navigate sensitive, complex, and explosive issues, including:

Race and ethnicity
Gender and sexuality
Religious differences
Economic inequality
Middle East conflicts
Climate change
Intellectual diversity
Political partisanship (and more)

For thirty years, Essential Partners has worked with campuses large and small, with institutions public and private, and with stakeholders ranging from faculty and graduate students to undergraduates and staff. We have helped create more inclusive and resilient campuses that better prepare the next generation of leaders for a diverse, interconnected world.

To learn more about our network of higher education institutions and support organizations, or to learn about our Dialogic Classrooms model and the way EP can transform classrooms, campuses, and surrounding communities through our higher education partnerships, please visit:

Population(s) Served
Multiracial people

Imagine a school where conversations about tough topics are robust but respectful, where different views are not only accepted but invited, where strong cohesion bolsters resilience in the midst of conflict, and students excel academically while learning vital 21st Century leadership skills.

For 30 years, we have worked with communities around the globe to build trust, understanding, and relationships across differences. With public and private schools, districts, educators, students, administrators, and parents, we have helped to create more inclusive and resilient school cultures that prepare the next generation of leaders for a diverse, interconnected world.

We have collaborated with schools in Massachusetts, California, New York, Texas, North Carolina, and Wyoming, empowering students, teachers, and administrators with the skills to lead richer classroom discussions, create a more open, inclusive school environment, and transform their schools’ culture.

In the classroom and throughout the school, our approach also supports social-emotional learning targets. It aligns with trauma-informed classroom practices and it is shown to improve students’ engagement, learning outcomes, and sense of belonging.

EP is currently seeking to expand our work in secondary and middle schools, and welcomes new ideas for partnerships, connections to new funders who can support our work in schools, and new advocates to help spread the word.

To learn more about our secondary school and middle school partnerships, please visit:

Population(s) Served
Children and youth

Cities, towns, and neighborhoods face potentially explosive challenges year after year. These might be conflicts around major national topics like policing, complex local issues like housing development, or a small question about public parks that reveals underlying conflicts.

Essential Partners equips civic leaders, organizers, advocates, and community members with the tools to navigate polarizing differences. Our civic and community partnerships are designed to build capacity of civic organizations to talk about and engage across differences—whether by leading more inclusive public engagements, navigating a strategic planning process, convening diverse groups around divisive issues, or by proactively investing in more equitable, inclusive, pluralistic approaches to community-building.

EP equips civic institutions and local leaders to better serve their communities while advancing their vision. All collaborations are tailored to meet the needs of the local context. To learn more about our civic and community partnerships and capacity-building initiatives, please visit:

Population(s) Served

Workplaces assemble diverse groups of people in situations where consequential decision need to be made efficiently, leaders require trust to succeed, and teams have to work collaboratively to produce the best results. How we communicate often has as much impact as what we communicate. Processes matter, and so does institutional culture.

Essential Partners' approach helps foster a more inclusive environment where coworkers can engage differences without dysfunction. Our model generates more cohesive teams, helps employees navigate polarizing differences, improves communication, and makes decision-making processes more effective.

Refined over thirty years, EP's approach produces measurable outcomes, including:

Improved team cohesion
Greater trust across differences
Mutual understanding of opposing views
More effective, lasting collective actions

To learn more about our approach to dialogue and cultural transformations in organizational life and the workplace, please visit:

Population(s) Served

Faith institutions play a leading role in public conversations across a wide range of social and political issues—such as abortion, immigration, the environment, and civil rights. They also serve members of the wider communities in which they're embedded, from feeding the hungry to sheltering those in need.

How can we bring faith values into public life? How can we engage diverse populations with openness, honesty, and dignity? How does a faith institution best realize its mission in the larger world? How can we cultivate robust, meaningful connections between diverse faith communities?

The answer is often found in community conversations. Essential Partners supports community engagements that create trust, understanding, and connection, even across deep divides. We can help design conversations foster depth and nuance, inclusion and conviction. For 30+ years we have partnered with a vast array of faith-based and interfaith groups to build lasting trust, understanding, and connection.

To learn more about our interfaith partnerships, and stories about the incredible impacts of this work, please visit:

Population(s) Served
Interfaith groups
Jewish people
Secular groups

From Indonesia to Spain, Northern Ireland to Burundi, Venezuela to Australia, Essential Partners has helped leaders, communities, and institutions across the globe foster trust, understanding, and connection across differences of values, views, and identities.

EP’s trademark approach has been refined over thirty years. Collaborations with EP produce measurable outcomes, including:

Improved social cohesion
Repaired trust across differences
Mutual understanding of opposing views
More effective, lasting collective actions

In some cases, one or more local leaders trained with Essential Partners in the United States and then brought their skills home. Our partner in Venezuela, for example, attended a training in the U.S. Upon his return, he has led dialogues on controversial social topics in the unstable nation with EP’s ongoing support.

In other cases, our partner downloaded EP’s essential guide to dialogue across divides and then reached out for design consultation and coaching. That happened in Northern Ireland, where EP provided design and coaching for a rural community engagement initiative focused on conflicts over renewable energy developments.

And in still other cases, an experienced EP practitioner travels to lead in-person trainings, help co-design processes, and provide coaching. Our practitioners have traveled to communities in places like Turkey, Jordan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria, Liberia, Finland, and Australia.

To learn more about our international programs and partnerships, please visit:

Population(s) Served

Where we work

Affiliations & memberships

Massachusetts Nonprofit Network 2009

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

EP’s trademark methodology helps communities and institutions have healthier, more complex, more inclusive conversations about polarizing differences of values, beliefs, and identities wherever they arise: in politics, in faith communities, in schools, institutional cultures, and so on.

Over 33 years we have helped institutions and communities develop stronger relationships of trust through courageous dialogues on a wide array of polarizing issues, including abortion, gun rights and reform, immigration, climate change, political polarization, same-sex marriage, faith and science, intergenerational tensions, the rural/urban divide, free speech, healthcare, and more. We create engaged spaces for people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, identities, and worldviews to express curiosity, share their complex ideas, and build stronger communities.

We envision a world of thriving communities strengthened by difference, connected by trust.

Guided by this vision, our goals are to help civic groups, faith communities, colleges, and organizations build resilience, cohesion, and trust across deep divides of values, beliefs, and identities using our trademark approach to dialogue, civic engagement, and community-building. We are deeply focused on building the capacity for leaders, communities, and organizations to create and live into their own infrastructure for building bridges across differences. We equip communities and organizations to be the agents and the stewards of more inclusive, dialogic, and pluralistic cultures.

Since 2020, Essential Partners has embraced a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging strategy, which includes goals and concrete steps toward diversifying our organization, changing our culture, and better representing and learning from the diverse communities we are proud to serve.

Essential Partners uses a powerful, innovative approach to constructive dialogue across differences. We focus on deep, long-term partnerships with leaders, institutions, and communities to build their own capacity and agency as centers of bridge-building and peacemaking.

Everything from the skills and methods we teach to our free, open-access resources are designed to be accessible, adaptable, and impactful. We work closely with each community partner to tailor our programs and resources to their needs and embed our practices for trust-building and dialogue deeply into the fabric of their communities.

By equipping the cornerstone institutions of communities to build and sustain relationships of trust across differences, we increase the number of opportunities community members have to experience genuine connection by exploring their differences constructively. We create mutually reinforcing systems that are housed and sustained locally, ensuring communities continue and advance the work of bridge-building for larger and larger audiences long after our formal partnership has ended.

EP also invites program and project alumni to join our growing Community of Practice—a network of thousands of skilled dialogue facilitators bringing our work to life in communities all around the U.S. and the world. We provide exclusive, advanced resources for this network as well as regular opportunities for its members to learn, share, and grow together by forming new connections and supporting each other's endeavors. EP remains a central hub for training and resources, keeping members of our Community of Practice at the leading edge of the bridge-building movement.

We offer:

Training for key stakeholders in our trademark dialogue approach;
Long-term collaborations to build local capacity and shift community or institutional cultures;
Co-creation of new proprietary programs and materials;
In-person, hybrid, and remote program design consultation and coaching;
Dialogue facilitation around particularly tough topics.

EP has more than 33 years of experience as a leader in the field of dialogue and peacebuilding. We serve as core partners to civic leaders, community stakeholders, and organizations across the globe, equipping them to sustain constructive conversations about the values, views, and identities that are most essential to them.

Our proven methodology, Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD), is well-studied and renowned for its transformative impacts. RSD combines elements of family therapy, neuroscience, and mediation. This approach was originally designed and tested in the 1990s, and has been continually refined, adapted, and modified to suit emerging demands. As a result, our core social technology is highly adaptable, impactful, and responsive to a growing range of contemporary needs, challenges, and applications. It is one of the oldest, most impactful, and most respected approaches to constructive dialogue in the bridgebuilding movement.

In addition to our proven approach, EP boasts the most advanced impact evaluation in the field of dialogue and deliberation. We use the data generated through our Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning system to learn as an organization, respond to growing calls for robust evaluation in the field, and tell powerful stories about dialogue.

EP's capabilities are further enhanced by a vast network of partners, ranging from grassroots community partners to national and international organizations, many of whom serve as high-level leaders in their respective fields. To learn more about the people we work with, please visit:

EP is also the training and resource hub for our vast Community of Practice, uniting program alumni and EP-trained leaders into a network of champions, advocates, and partners. This network is a key element of our capacity to drive and inform transformational impacts around the country and the world.

Over our 33-year history, we have worked in more than 40 U.S. states and in dozens of countries abroad. Each year we typically offer direct training, coaching, and capacity-building partnerships to more than 3,000 people—most of whom use the skills we impart to impact many others in their communities and organizations.

Our Community of Practice includes 3,500+ members, each of whom has accumulated core training in elements of our approach and works to strengthen their communities, institutions, civic/faith groups, and schools by using the skills and resources we provide. EP estimates that our Community of Practice collectively impacts more than 100,000 people each year.

As we look ahead over the next several years, our aim is to deepen and expand our impact at the level of scale in a number of partnering communities. This involves working with several "cornerstone institutions" in these communities that serve as stewards of civic health, engagement, and well-being. We will expand each of their capacities to support healthier communities by training them in our approach and embedding core elements of RSD into the work they do, and connecting them into localized networks of leadership and expertise. Our aim is to create a bedrock of skilled leaders, locally-adapted resources, and opportunities for engagement that local institutions can sustain and adapt on their own. This in turn leads to healthier, more connected, whole communities that are able to withstand the pull of polarization, respond in moments of crisis, and shape brighter futures more collaboratively and inclusively.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, To understand people's needs and how we can help them achieve their goals

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We collect feedback from the people we serve at least annually, We take steps to get feedback from marginalized or under-represented people, We aim to collect feedback from as many people we serve as possible, We take steps to ensure people feel comfortable being honest with us, We look for patterns in feedback based on demographics (e.g., race, age, gender, etc.), We look for patterns in feedback based on people’s interactions with us (e.g., site, frequency of service, etc.), We engage the people who provide feedback in looking for ways we can improve in response, We act on the feedback we receive, We tell the people who gave us feedback how we acted on their feedback, We ask the people who gave us feedback how well they think we responded

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, It is difficult to find the ongoing funding to support feedback collection, It is sometimes hard to collect balanced demographic data up front in ways that are not intrusive.


Essential Partners, Inc.

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


Connect with nonprofit leaders


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  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
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  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Connect with nonprofit leaders


Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

Want to see how you can enhance your nonprofit research and unlock more insights? Learn More about GuideStar Pro.

Essential Partners, Inc.

Board of directors
as of 11/02/2022
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Mr. Brendan Abel

Johnson & Johnson

Term: 2022 - 2025

Robert O'Hara

O'Hara & Co.

Gary Sandhu

Noblestone Capital

Jeanne Emanuel


Brendan Abel

Massachusetts Medical Society

Kara Boyle

Darwensi Clark

Nisha Mongia

Branden Polk

Molly Zuker

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Not applicable

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 11/2/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Decline to state
Disability status
Decline to state

The organization's co-leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Middle Eastern
Gender identity
Male, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Decline to state
Disability status
Decline to state

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation

No data


No data

Equity strategies

Last updated: 11/02/2022

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
  • We analyze disaggregated data and root causes of race disparities that impact the organization's programs, portfolios, and the populations served.
  • We disaggregate data to adjust programming goals to keep pace with changing needs of the communities we support.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
  • We have long-term strategic plans and measurable goals for creating a culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.
Policies and processes
  • We use a vetting process to identify vendors and partners that share our commitment to race equity.
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.
  • We measure and then disaggregate job satisfaction and retention data by race, function, level, and/or team.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.