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What Lasts

I'm not interested in sustainable. I'm interesting in things that last.

To me, sustainable means that something needs to keep going, pretty much as it is with slow evolution over time. When I think about things that last, I mean things that are endure in a way that they can withstand the ebbs and flows that happen over time. They are like muscle memory. I may not play the piano very often these days, but when I sit down at a piano, there's a particular song that I can play because it somehow made it into my muscle memory.

I learned about the difference between sustainable and enduring recently in a conversation with ioby's Erin Barnes. She was talking about ioby's involvement in Memphis, a city I dearly love and called my home for more than 25 years.

One of my greatest disappointments has been that the work that I led when I was at the community foundation there seemed to evaporate over time. I joined the staff there in the early 1990's to develop a small grants program for resident groups in Memphis neighborhoods. This was a partnership between the community foundation, the United Way, and city government. I thought we really had something wonderful going. After I left, the community foundation decided to give the program to a new community development funding intermediary in town, and it limped along for a while until it seemingly evaporated.

I was disappointed in the organizations involved, but not that surprised. I wondered why groups and leaders I had come to know and respect through this work weren't speaking out. I assumed that the evaporation of this program played into disillusionment that I knew people felt with government and others that arrived at their door now and then with promises of help.

What I heard from Erin, however, changed most of that.

She said that in the early days, people told her that asset based community development was how community worked in Memphis. She asked how that came to be, and the stories differed, but none of them went back to our small grants program and that Jody Kretzmann was such a frequent visitor during those days that he called Memphis his second home. I loved those dots hadn't been connected!

What I have seen is people and groups that I knew from the small grants days showing up on the ioby crowd-resourcing platform with great ideas.

Reading between possibly too many lines, what I'm seeing is that the soil was fertile in Memphis for ioby. And what I think is that our small grants program - not sustained over time - had lasted in very powerful ways. It had tilled some soil, built community muscle memory about what to do with a small grants opportunity, and kept the story centered on the community, not the foundation.

Love that.


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