It can be very easy for us to misinterpret what’s happening in our nation and region right now. And, if we truly want a more competitive region and nation, we have to listen intently to what is going on and understand why. We are at an inflection point, and our choices now make a difference for our region’s future.
I’ve had enough conversations with enough people throughout the region to understand the frustrations, helplessness, and despair felt by people living in our toughest communities. As I have stated before, under no circumstances should lawlessness be tolerated. What is going on is public grieving. It’s a cry out for help. It’s happening because people feel they have no voice and no productive options. We have to provide better options. We need a paradigm shift.
The shift in paradigm has to do with how we think about achieving better results with and for vulnerable people and communities in our region. Here are some ways to start this progress:
- Work alongside people for the long haul. When I started my career in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood (one of the poorest in our region then and today), I was struck by the common sentiment shared by residents. So many groups of students and businesses enter their community to study and impart solutions. Their presence is often short-term and centered around their goals and not the community’s. The residents of our most distressed neighborhoods understand that their challenges don’t have short or easy fixes. When we pretend they do or that we have an easy answer to cure their ills, it’s condescending and breeds cynicism. We need a long-term perspective. Working with communities over time builds trust and buy-in. And, it allows hope and initiative to develop and thrive organically among the community–not brought in from the outside only to leave again. When people have hope and they take initiative, there is a better chance of success against the most adverse conditions. Having hope is directly linked to a path forward, and together we can help people see that path.
- Programs are nice tools, but people are most important. Programs are only as good as the people deployed through them. I have always believed that programs don’t save people’s lives: it’s people who do. I speak from experience. I receive 20 emails a day from well-meaning people who want to start a new social service program. These programs are often conceived without an understanding of the issue at hand or awareness of existing work on the issue. My goal is always to redirect people to collaborate before creating. But, people have free will, and we do what we can. We are working to strengthen our ability to advise donors and help vet opportunities against community need and existing efforts.
- Scale is only achieved through strategic partnerships. Most of us believe that our ideas and ways of helping are the best. It’s human. We can be inflexible in our approach, and sometimes for good reason. We have many individuals and institutions invested in helping change lives, but the way we deliver the help is splintered and therefore less efficient and more expensive. When I see a program that has a target population of 50 people, my next question is always: “Is this the entire market?” One program can’t help the entire population in need, but we have to understand all the work happening in the market in order to align activities and make an impact. We don’t have enough resources to meet the challenges ahead independently, but together we have a better shot. This goes for corporate, individuals and foundations. Let’s stick together.
- The powerbrokers in our region need to drive the policies that affect our region. We all know that education and jobs are keys to a prosperous and competitive future. Let’s develop a plan to educate and train the future workforce and then invest the necessary resources to achieve that plan. We should not leave the decisions that impact our human capital, our kids, up to chance. If policies aren’t aligned with efforts of programs and people, we will fail. Caring and committed people, when combined with the right policies and perspectives, will accelerate change in our region and beyond. We as a region need to muster up the will to do something different to achieve a more meaningful outcome.
Thank you for all you do to help local people live their best possible lives. I welcome your feedback and participation in achieving these goals.