What is an Essential Voices Relationship?


A partnership between one or more people with lived experience and one or more people with professional experience, working together for social justice.


When someone with “lived experience” of the issues has a voice and a paid role in decision-making for policy, programming, or services.


The coming together of two strong stories: when people from two different walks of life work together, be together, and grow together.


What is required for an Essential Voices Relationship to thrive?

Two strong stories

An attitude of respect for the gifts and strengths that each person brings to the table.

Mutual Mentorship

Everyone has something to offer and something to learn.

Vulnerability & a Willingness to be Changed

The Essential Voice is making themselves vulnerable, risking themselves in a new environment with a different language and culture. The Professional Staff is setting aside what they know, their role, and their expertise in order to be a student of another’s experience.

A commitment to relationship

We have learned that the Essential Voice has a better experience when they have a strong connection with an individual within the organization; someone who gets to know them as a whole person, and who is willing to be known in turn. Taking time outside of work to check in to find out how things are going is important.


Work Meets A Need

The work of the Essential Voice must meet a real need in the organization, and have some connection to that person’s lived experience.


Paying the Essential Voice respects their dignity and demonstrates the value of their experience and wisdom. We acknowledge when we are not paying a living wage. Some of the compensation can come in the form of childcare, transportation and clothing subsidies.


Each Essential Voice relationship is unique. Time must be set aside for checking in, preparing for meetings, accompanying, and debriefing, as well as developing trust and building the relationship.