Recently I attended a meeting with arguably one of the region’s best leaders who happens to run a very important child-serving organization. I was an observer (as I often am in meetings like this), masking my presence and intentionally restraining my comments so as not to influence the conversation unduly.
I found myself fidgeting, because the discussion was both exhilarating and exhausting.
What was exhilarating was the leader’s energy and passion for the work. She absolutely believes in the transformation that occurs when you match hurting kids with caring adults. It was evident. Her enthusiasm was contagious as she presented the outcomes her group consistently delivers year in and year out for children and families. I kept thinking to myself, “How do we scale?”
What was exhausting was the hard truth that followed. Subsequent speakers pointed our gaze toward the brutal realities of our educational deficits, the challenges of persistent poverty, and their impact on children and families in our region. Our educational system as it’s designed today cannot overcome all the barriers young people from broken environments face, and equip them for the workforce ahead. It’s no surprise students graduate underprepared for the jobs they desperately need. Higher wage job prospects are then out of reach, and the growing service level jobs are not sufficient to meet their financial needs.
The delivery of the message was masterful, but the reality of the challenges was overwhelming. And here is the kicker: none of the statistics or context was new to me. I can only imagine how overwhelming this must be to someone whose daily work does not require them to think about how to create conditions to help poor people live measurably better lives when the odds are not good.
The CEO posed the question, “Do we believe we can move the needle on getting more young people to dream bigger dreams, whether striving for college, a trade profession, or a living wage (aka higher paying) job?” We collectively replied, “Only the ones that you touch, which pales in comparison to the need.” I would go one further and say it is unreasonable to expect one organization to touch every kid and encourage every family in need. But collectively we can do more as a community if we help best practice organizations scale programs that achieve good outcomes. If we as individual citizens challenge ourselves and others who may not be living up to their potential. If we as a nonprofit sector drive ourselves, business and government to work differently and together. Our problems are too big and our possibilities too great not to pursue a different path forward.
In order for us to fight above our weight and take this region to the next level, we have to shift our thinking. We have to play to our strengths and each stop trying to do it all! Let’s partner strategically to accomplish more, focusing on outcomes and taming our instincts toward solitary actions. The future of helping has to look different than what it looks like today.