Posts

Featured in this month’s Northeast Economic Development Association’s WIRE newsletter was our own Abby Straus and Michael H. Shuman, leading economist and author on community economics. NEDA highlighted M&B’s first podcast interview in the “Where We go From Here” series:

NEDA Past President Abby Straus of Maverick and Boutique has launched a podcast series “about where we go from here: what lesson we might learn from the social and economic challenges we’re facing right now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we might do differently in the future that will make us and our businesses and communities more vibrant and more resilient.” Abby recently interviewed Michael H. Shuman, author of many books on supporting and building local economies. Mr. Shuman’s latest book is “Put Your Money Where Your Life Is: Investing locally using in self-directed IRAs and solo 401Ks.

You can listen to the episode here.

Stay tuned for more episodes!

If you’ve spent any time with the M&B team, you’ll know how enthusiastic we are about mindfulness practice. Focusing our attention with skill allows us to get more done, minimizes stress, improves performance, supports health, and enhances relationships. Many of us associate mindfulness with sitting meditation, yoga, prayer, or martial arts. While these are tried and true avenues, we can also bring awareness to simple acts in everyday life, like cleansing our bodies to keep ourselves safe during a pandemic.

This is a video of “Embodied”, the last sermon by the Reverend Elizabeth Teal, a dear and longtime friend of Abby’s, who passed recently. Liz describes how the mindful act of washing our hands, face and feet can provide us with connection we so need in these times of physical distancing. She shows us how to turn a mundane necessity into a sacred rite of self-care and compassion, which is exactly the kind of alchemy that can take place when we bring awareness to everything we do.

It reads like a scene from a movie you don’t want your children to see: Global pandemic. Racial killing in cold blood. In public. By an officer of the peace. Followed by riots. Followed by… But wait, this isn’t a movie, and there’s no one coming to save us! That’s our job, you and me. Here are my thoughts on how we start today.

What’s going on here?

Human brains are wired to search for danger: the same brains that our ancestors had back in the time of sabre tooth tigers and marauding bands bearing clubs. Unlike then, however, we are constantly bombarded by what our brains perceive as “danger” in the form of 24-hour news cycles, global connectivity, social media, always-on lifestyles and accelerating change.

This leads to chronic stress and a host of destructive reactions, including the inability to distinguish between real and imagined threats. Scary stories loom large, when we’re stressed, like monsters under the bed. Monsters that may include our boss, our co-workers or our neighbors. They may be people who hold different political or religious views than we do. They may come from cultures with which we are not familiar. In order to protect ourselves, we may draw on the ancient tradition of telling stories about them, based on little or no real understanding of how they feel or what they care about. We cast them as “other” and ultimately less than human.

Sometimes we go public with our fear, on social media, perpetuating memes of separation in the name of righteous ideology. Other times, we hide our othering, ashamed that we, who profess to love our fellow humans, would engage in such a thing. All of which causes more stress and more fear.

We must calm ourselves in order to think clearly and take action that matters.

The first thing that every one of us must do is find a way to calm the cycle of overstimulation and fear that permeates modern life today. We need to train our brains and our bodies to relax, so we can be part of the solution, not the problem.

An excellent way to do this is to adopt a regular mindfulness practice. There are many examples, including meditation, yoga, tai-chi or other martial arts, walking in nature and journaling. The key is to commit and do it every single day. Research has shown, for example, that meditation produces physiological changes in the brain related to positive cognitive and emotional outcomes, including patience, compassion, clarity of thought and the ability to remain calm under pressure.

So start now and keep going. Even better, find one or more people as accountability partners and share the journey. We are also wired to be and do things together, and this alone helps calm us by letting us know we belong.

Now comes the hard part.

Once we calm ourselves down, we can begin the real work of shining the light of our awareness on our own dark places of prejudice and fear. It’s time to get under the bed with a flashlight and take those monsters on. It’s easy to direct our justifiable rage and indignation at what happened to George Floyd, and a lot harder to own each thought we have, each action we take—however small—that perpetuates inequity, inequality, and othering.

We must start by being compassionate with ourselves and with others. Remember, we all have thoughts we’d rather not own, and we all have done things we regret. They do not make us unlovable. They are part of being human. The task is to acknowledge them and begin the process of replacing them with the way we want to be.

Here’s something you can do today.

Find someone you know who is really different from you. Maybe a different gender expression, someone from a different cultural or racial heritage. Explain that you would like to understand their perspective about something (it could be being a parent or working at your company…whatever seems most natural) and invite them to share their views. You can preface your request by saying that you’re practicing being open to the viewpoints of others.

Then, what you do is listen. Really listen. And notice the feelings and thoughts that come up; but let them go. The main thing is to refrain from judging yourself, which only perpetuates stress and fear. You might adopt a phrase to acknowledge your thoughts like “how interesting!”. The next step is to compare experiences and find places to connect around things you care about.

These are excellent practices to help address diversity and inclusion at work. In Equality: Courageous Conversations about Men, Women and Race to Spark a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough, author Trudy Bourgeois offers an enlightening and compassionate approach to addressing systemic inequality that we all contribute to until we build our awareness and choose a different path.

In times like these, when it can feel like we live in scary movie, we must be disciplined about doing what we can with what we have. We can all start with ourselves, wherever we are, rising to the occasion by building our awareness and shining it with courage and determination at our individual and collective dark corners. Let’s start in our workplaces, learning more about each other, about our hopes and dreams, our fears, and our struggles. Let’s rewrite the script and tell a story about people who dared greatly, to make a great future, together.

To get you started, we would like to offer you a free downloadable meditation.

From our partners at Camoin Associates:

The Challenge

With a population of 10 million people, Los Angeles County is the most populous county in the nation. The county includes 88 cities that span an array of  industry clusters, diverse occupational profiles and numerous cultures that contribute to the region’s exceptional character. The County faces pressing challenges in housing, transportation, and the environment, which must be mitigated to support a high quality of life for all residents. With a portfolio that spans housing development, grant management and business support activities, the Community Development Commission (CDC) of Los Angeles County desired a comprehensive strategic planning document to assure economic resiliency and growth for the next five years.

The Solution

Camoin, along with project partner Maverick and Boutique, was commissioned to prepare a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (“CEDS”) for the CDC. The project team will conduct numerous multidisciplinary workshops with stakeholders to uncover the sectors with the greatest market potential and determine how the CDC can strategically allocate resources. Findings from these workshops will be combined with quantitative data and analysis to create actionable strategies that are grounded in reality and leverage the County’s numerous existing assets.

The Impact

While this project is still in progress, we anticipate that these multidisciplinary meetings will spark productive conversations between policymakers and County leaders. In addition to completing the CEDS report, Camoin is responsible for completing annual updates for the next five years. Camoin’s agile approach to this strategic planning process will allow our team to actively respond to changing market conditions as the plan is updated.

Keep checking back for updates on this project!

As we discussed here on May 5, the consensus seems to be that there’s no “going back to normal” after the COVID19 disruption. The ways we work and live will inevitably be changed. The question is how, and what role each of us—and all of us—will play in determining what comes next.

A psychotherapist friend of mine said that she’s speaking with her clients about what she calls the “infinite potential” that exists in the limbo we’re experiencing between the past and the future. She went on to say that we can’t realize that potential unless we take action to bring something into being.

We’re at a choice point where we can wait and react to whatever comes at us, or we can be deliberate in identifying the future we want to live. We can decide what to Keep from our past and present, what to Abandon that no longer serves us, and we can identify what needs to be Invented or Reinvented to realize our vision. From there, we take action.

This sequence will look familiar to M&B friends and colleagues as the KAIR methodology we use in strategic and other planning activities. We have replaced the traditional SWOT analysis with this dynamic, appreciatively-oriented method that supports people in moving quickly to action. In these uncertain and rapidly-changing times, we need to design our way forward, try out our ideas, and adapt as we go. We have found KAIR to be an excellent tool both for planning and for checking along the way.

You may want to try KAIR with your team as you plan for your future. You can also use it to assess where you are now: how remote work has been going, for example. Any time you want to get a bead on where you are and generate ideas, KAIR is your friend.

We’ve created a worksheet to guide you through the KAIR process. You can download it here.

On April 30th, author and New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about “weavers” and “rippers”: those who actively seek to find the ties that bind us together through good and bad times, and those who look for—and enlarge—divisions that separate us from each other and our common humanity. He cites multiple polls that show Americans from both ends of the political spectrum united in the desire to do whatever it takes to deal with the current crisis. He talks about acts of selflessness and heroism that bring tears as I type.

Brooks also points out that we Americans are more united now than we have been in the almost twenty years since 9/11. I remember back then former-NY Governor, Mario Cuomo, asking what it would take for us to be selfless, kind, and united on a regular day, not just in a life-threatening emergency; and Brooks asks that question now.

It’s a good one, and one each of us can ask as we live and work together in times that push boundaries and challenge norms. Not just because we live in the midst of COVID 19, but because we and our world are changing in formerly unimaginable ways, right before our eyes, socially, technologically, and ecologically.

“Everywhere I hear the same refrain:” writes Brooks, “We’re standing at a portal to the future: we’re not going back to how it used to be.”

But where are we going; and how are we going to get there? United as weavers, or divided as rippers? What is a future we all can get behind, and how might we all participate in actively creating that future, beginning now?

Here are some questions to share with your colleagues, partners, family, and friends to support you in thinking about creating the future now:

  1. What are the changes happening in the world (social, economic, technological, environmental) that are having a big effect on the way you live and work? Think about multiple generations in the workplace, gender preferences, virtual workplaces, social and political perspectives, climate change, etc.
  2. What effects are these changes having on you and the people around you and how is everyone responding: are you “weaving” or “ripping”, or a combination of both?
  3. What does a future look like that everyone in your organization or community would be excited about creating?
  4. What if you knew it could happen? What specific actions could you take now to find commonality and take action?
  5. What would be the positive impact on you and your organization when you have accomplished this?
  6. What will you commit to doing now, and with whom?

Opportunities & Challenges:
The Gwinnett County (GA) Public Library serves one of the fastest growing and most diverse countiesin the US with fifteen branch locations and more on the way. The Library is internationally recognized as an innovator in its field; and its leadership knows that when you’re at the top of your game is the time to up your game even further for success. The challenge was to create a strategic plan to guide the library for the next five to seven years: one that is flexible—allowing the organization to cultivate its position in and relationship to a changing community—and one that provides concrete guidance for action in the near-, middle-, and longer term.

What we did:
M&B engaged the Library in an eight-month planning process that included extensive stakeholder engagement, research and careful crafting and review of the plan. We invited staff, community leaders, strategic partners, and citizens to participate in the process, so that the whole community has its “fingerprints” on the final product. We then worked with a group of key stakeholders to examine findings and develop goals and strategies. A set of action items was developed, along with extensive project plans, to create the first round of implementation for the plan.

Deliverables:
Deliverables include the strategic plan document, detailed documentation and processes for managing implementation and documents to guide further planning efforts.

This past winter, M&B principal and Northeast Economic Development Association (NEDA) board president, Abby Straus, appeared in the annual journal of the Kettering Foundation, Connections 2018: Experiments in Organizational Innovation.

In the article entitled: “Vibrant Communities: Reinventing an Economic Development Organization,” Straus discussed the organizational transformation underway inside NEDA to maintain its relevancy to those creating vibrant communities throughout the region. Along the journey toward reinvention, Straus explained, NEDA began to ask itself:

Who has a stake in the economic wellbeing of our communities? How might we engage them, so they feel included and want to participate in the NEDA community? How might we connect members to ideas and to each other to create value that will produce revenue? How might we support local associations in their work in collaboration rather than competition?

In answering these questions, Straus said, NEDA discovered:

… that our purpose doesn’t lie in solving problems for our members, but rather in connecting them to each other and to the solutions they—and we—create together. We learned that there is an appetite for connection and co-creation and that NEDA can provide an environment in which people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives might exchange knowledge and experience in service to creating an economically vibrant Northeast.

Checkout the full article here and tell us what you think! What are some other new ideas in community and economic development that we should know about?

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

The Paterson Alliance was founded in 1998 by five nonprofit agencies in the City of Paterson, New Jersey, who came together understanding that collectively the Paterson nonprofit community needed to set an agenda that would advance the quality of life in the City. The Alliance has grown to a membership of more than 70 organizations. With budgets tightening and the needs of citizens greater than ever, it is essential to align passion, talent and capability to produce the highest and most effective outcomes for Paterson. Hence the need for a creative and inclusive strategic plan.

What We Did

M&B facilitated a strategic planning process based on collaboration between Alliance members and community leaders. The process included a series of “Community Café’s”, where participants shared their vision for Paterson and their understanding of current reality, and collectively designed a way forward. Once the plan was created, we held an event, where champions of the plan came together to prioritize action items and recommit to collaboration.

Results:

The Paterson Alliance continues to be an anchor for the nonprofit community, which is stronger than ever. The planning process helped to galvanize members for collective action and reinforce a new narrative for Paterson, one of optimism and success. Programs like the flagship “Think Pre-k” early childhood initiative, and the Paterson Full Service Community School Nonprofit Collective Impact Project are making a huge difference to the people the Alliance serves.

M&B continues to work with the Paterson Alliance to support collaboration and the development of initiatives.

Just when some pundits were announcing the demise of the public library, and politicians are trying to defund them, libraries are undergoing a major revival as centers of community re-invention.

You can call it Carnegie 2.0.

It is 88 years since the last library was built with funds from Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist, but the spirit of helping communities thrive is alive and well across the United State of America.
Altogether, 2,509 libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, most of them in America (1,689,but others in UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and half a dozen other countries.

Cuts to library budgets seems to be a bi-partisan effort. For example, in 2010 New Jersey Governor Christie slashed funding for libraries soon after becoming governor in 2010. In the same year, Newark Mayor, now Senator Corey Booker, cut the budget of the city’s library by 20% when be first became mayor.

It is not all books anymore, although they are not going out of fashion. And googling stuff is no longer reliable, as the Internet is fast becoming a place for “alternative facts”, which are not facts at all.

Libraries are fast becoming the go-to place for:
  • Starting a new project or business, creating a new product or service, or making things
  • Building a resume and finding a job
  • Checking out community talent in the same way you check out a book or a movie
  • Acquiring skills and knowledge, packaged up in smaller chunks, just when you need it
  • Offering internships for community projects
  • Enjoying edutainment for toddlers, children, teens and adults
  • Critical community conversations
  • Meeting and socializing with others
  • Working with your tutor or mentor

The new roles for librarians are:

  • Honest brokers between a rapidly expanding number of disciplines, each with its own specialist language, ways of seeing the world, and growing distrust of other models/frameworks
  • Validators of knowledge of vital importance to communities and organizations who wish to make good decisions
  • Facilitators of crucial conversations between a diverse range of interests, particularly in community decision making and planning, policy making, and implementation
  • Curators of new and ever more diverse collections, including tools, methods, processes, systems and talents.
  • Mentors, so curation, categorizing and research become skills that everyone routinely uses.
  • Trusted partners, helping people and their organizations build the capacity for the wise application of knowledge, so they become much more than “learning organizations”.
  • Conveners for meetings, events, exhibits, safer refuge in emergencies, making and designing.
  • Community systems integrators, connecting organizations and talents in the community, and employing their skills and resources to help their people adapt successfully to change.
Here is an example of the kinds of far-sighted approach that libraries are adopting. It is two version of the strategic plan Maverick & Boutique developed for the Cozby Public Library and Community Commons in Coppell, Texas – the  Cozby Library Slide Show and the Cozby Library Strategic Plan. It is a major part of our consulting practice, currently averaging 4-5 plans a year. We use our own collaborative technology – Zing – shown in the image above to help conduct the community conversations, to achieve the “join in” necessary for the projects our clients  to develop to fact-track community-wide change.