Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reflections after two decades

I've been at this now for over twenty years. 

Yesterday, I moved my office from 511 N. Akard in the heart of Downtown Dallas to our new Opportunity Center across I-30 in South Dallas-Fair Park.  It is exciting to be back in a neighborhood where people are fighting hard to scratch out a better life for themselves and their families. 

Of course, the same thing is underway in our Downtown building--a 15-story, neighborhood in vertical. 

CitySquare, like the neighbors we engage, is edgy. 

I mean, we got "attitude" when it comes to poverty, how sick and tired we are of it and how sold out we are to see it diminished significantly. 

Because we live on "the edge" here in more ways than I can count, we never stop studying, listening, learning, changing, trying, innovating, questioning, challenging and battling. 

Our new center serves as our latest "Exhibit One" in this regard.

We designed the Opportunity Center to function as a "collective impact" resource for people serious about improving their lives through hard work, various training options, education about managing scarce resources and openness to willing and helpful mentors/coaches who are eager to get involved in the progress of individuals and of our larger community. 

But, we've always done weird stuff here. 

Our "standard operating procedure" includes things like:
  • Directing funding opportunities away form ourselves to other organizations, if we feel others could have more impact on the entire problem in question.
  • Listening, I mean really listening, to the very, very poor and the down and out.
  • Shaping responses to poverty based on what we've heard from the poor. 
  • Hiring people with no background in non-profit organizations or with social services, as classically understood (myself included!).
  • Experimenting with approaches, programs and investments, again and again, seeking better breakthroughs for our neighbors.
  • Starting efforts before we know everything about what we're doing.
  • Stopping things that don't work, and stopping them as quickly as possible.
  • Refusing to be silent when policy reforms are needed, even when being vocal may threaten our position with some potential or current supporters.
  • Tolerating eccentric, sometimes difficult team members because of their devotion and their effectiveness when it comes to getting the job done for "poor" folks. 
  • Never wasting time to ask for permission to do what is clearly the right thing. 
I could go on, but I'll stop here.

Reflecting helps me understand why after more than two decades I still love coming to work every day. 

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