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Hope from the Creative Edge

I remember a conversation with David Mathews, President of The Kettering Foundation. In his quiet, dignified, and very wise way, Dr. Mathews reminded me that change rarely comes from the center, and that it is often at the edge where you find the inventors. His wisdom syncs with what I understand about culture and culture change - that we cannot really see our own culture until we step outside and are immersed in something different. Unless that happens, we continue to assume that beliefs, assumptions, values and ways of doing things, all dictates of our own culture, are the only way.

I have begun my sleuthing. I am trying to spot people who are up to something interesting in the philanthropic wetlands. That's the every changing but dynamic place at the edge of mainstream philanthropy where people are experimenting with news ways to connect "funder" and "community". I am interested in talking with people who are swimming around in those murky waters about what they are experiencing and learning. I'm especially curious about what they're noticing about the path from organizational aspirations - "we want to connect with and support residents in more authentic ways" - to actually doing the work that is resident-centered and grows civic capacity and resident power.

I'm interested in what these people are doing and learning. I'm not looking for anything that looks like a model or a best practice. Models and best practices take me back to the land of skeptics. They are static, dead, and devoid of life for me. What they're good at is ensuring that something predictable, happens. That might be good for the airline industry, but it doesn't work for me when it comes to community. I think of models and best practices as security blankets - innovation with all of the juice wrung out. I'm interested in hearing about people who are on fire about doing something that is alive with learning and possibilities.

I've begun my sleuthing and have had a few interesting conversations so far. These chats have begun with a short list of questions with the hope that they would take off in other directions where the questions that the people I was talking with lived. And they did.

We started off talking a bit about my conversation partner's organization and how it has come to be interested in strengthening civic capacity and growing resident power and voice. Then we turned to questions that were more about the work - how they started out, what adjustments were made along the way so far, and how it looks now. We talked about who was doing the work and what it took. We talked about roadblocks that showed up and how they were navigated.

I've grouped insights so far into four buckets, and will write about these in my next few blog posts:

  • How the organization defines itself and understands its purpose;

  • Who is doing the work;

  • What pulls good work off-course and what is required to get back on the road.

I'm ending here with a quote from a piece that I spotted today, Tips to Support the Innovators in Your Midst. This resonates with the spirit of what I'm up to in my sleuthing::

“What we know is that creativity, innovation, adaptability are all characteristics that come out of actually doing work, trying new things, being placed in circumstances that demand people’s best efforts.” - Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Episcopal bishop of Texas

Actually doing the work, trying new things, and being placed in circumstances that demand your best efforts. That's what my sleuthing is about.


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