A Hopeful Imagination

Give a child Legos, Lincoln Logs, or even a SimCity video game and before you know it, they will be building new lands and creating unique structures while also weaving fantastic tales. Leadership Foundations see this process of creating, being imaginative and seeing things in new ways as not exclusive to children; it is also vital for leaders within cities around the world.


Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann contends that, not unlike the way a child plays, a critical task of leaders is to see and imagine new ways that “evoke a consciousness and a perception alternative” to the dominate culture. For Leadership Foundations, this alternative perception lies within the way we see our cities. Too often cities are regarded as derelict and dangerous. Leadership Foundations sees the alternative where cities are places of promise and prosperity; cities as playgrounds rather than battlegrounds. In this clip Dr. Stephan DeBeer, founder of the Tshwane Leadership Foundation and director of LF in Africa, briefly comments on the role of the imagination and the implicit ramifications it has on cities becoming more like playgrounds.


Earlier this month in Nairobi, Kenya, leaders from around Africa gathered to imagine what it would mean to operationalize the idea of seeing cities as playgrounds. Women and men from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa came together and reflected on this idea and discussed what it meant for their cities to become places of transformation for all. Dialogues abounded about what this would look like in particular cities up and down the continent. Core to every conversation was the implication and importance of the imagination as the primary engine by which cities become playgrounds rather than battlegrounds.


LF is convinced that to see cities become playgrounds, a prophetic and hopeful imagination is vital to the process. And as such, fostering the imagination of LF leaders and partners will further equip them to cultivate their cities into God’s playgrounds.


Engaging Leaders Whispercast- Episode 18

Take a moment to listen to the latest episode of the City as Playground Podcast.


What does it take to engage leaders of good faith and good will? In this Whispercast, Rick Enloe and Dave Hillis touch on topics like humor and ego in a discussion about the attributes and pitfalls of leadership. This episode sets up our next full length podcast with Eric Geary, President of the Lexington Leadership Foundation, Director of the LF Global Youth Initiative, and author of Loudership: Increasing the Volume of My Own Opinion.



Willing One Thing

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, theologian, poet and social critic, in reflecting on the beatitude “blessed are the pure in heart,” wrote the following that captures an essential element we have recently highlighted in Street Lights and what we plan to continue moving forward: “Purity of heart is the ability to will one thing.”  Kierkegaard’s argument, opposed to being a moralistic reflection on the divine life, is the idea that the biggest difficulty in our life is double mindedness; that the primary manifestation of a heart tethered to God is the singular commitment to willing one thing.


Leadership Foundations is about willing one thing done in many ways: developing leaders who drive the wheel of permanent change—engaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of others, developing joint initiatives—in cities around the world. This singular commitment of willing one thing in a multiplicity of ways has fostered a global network of LF affiliates in over 70 cities with an aggregate budget of $30 million; 3,000 partners; 600 organizations receiving capacity building support; and over 255,000 people directly served through joint initiatives. This singular commitment of willing one thing in many ways has created a dizzying array of contextual, accessible, relational, and relevant programming ranging from affordable housing to health care to college access, just to name a few. This singular commitment of willing one thing is what allows the LF network to increasingly cultivate our cities as playgrounds rather than battlegrounds.


As we continue forward into 2016, Street Lights will continue to focus on how LF is developing these leaders who are uniquely equipped to cultivate their city into God’s playground, and, how our cities are becoming better as a result.

Power in the Playground- Episode 17

Take a moment to listen to the latest episode of the City as Playground Podcast.


How is power used on behalf of others? Is it used to include or exclude? In this episode, Rick Enloe and Dave Hillis are joined by Lisa Pratt Slayton, President of the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation. Together they dive into the dynamics of navigating systems of power in our cities.



Developing Joint Initiatives

A central question to any group that works in the city is how they see the Holy Spirit operating. How does she move, where does she visit, and what does it look like when she has accomplished something? The answer to this question will largely determine how the group behaves and gets things done.


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, scientist and mystic, provided an answer that resonates deeply within the LF network. He stated that a fundamental characteristic of the Spirit at work is that everything will rise and converge. LF views our three functionsengaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of others, and developing joint initiatives – as a demonstration of this principle. As the LF network operationalizes the three functions many different people’s and organizations’ capacity will increase. The net effect of these efforts—as demonstrated in local leadership foundations throughout the world—will increase the social capital in a city and convergence will occur: thus demonstrating our unique understanding of this holy principle.


LF’s third function- developing joint programming initiatives- produces programs that address a particular city’s biggest challenges. The key to this function does not simply lie in the creation of a program, but rather the way in which it is created. LF engages leaders and organizations throughout the city to bring their knowledge, resources, and capacity to bear around a particular issue. This collective effort has the net effect of creating concrete and contextually appropriate programs while also developing meaningful relationships and a sense of community as people unite around a common goal.


Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation is using this function- developing joint programming initiatives- to create convergence and improve their city through The Leaders Collaborative. This 12 month cohort experience require leaders to place their trust in other leaders as they “get clear on vocation, work to understand how to effectively build their influence and grow deep, rich mutual friendships built on common desires to be culture makers and agents of shalom in the city.” This demonstration of LF’s third function embodies the movement of the Holy Spirit’s way of abundant love and grace.


While we know it is difficult work setting out to transform our global cities, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminds us, “At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.” Thus we seek joint initiatives, a convergence of our desire for leaders of good faith and good will to come together to create permanent redemptive change in cities around the world.

Power in the Playground Whispercast- Episode 16

Take a moment to listen to the latest episode of the City as Playground Podcast.


In this Whispercast, we explore the role of power in our cities and lives. Join Rick Enloe and Dave Hillis as they begin to discuss the dynamics of power and prepare for our next full length podcast with Lisa Pratt Slayton, President of the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation. Listen here and send in any questions you would like answered to



Changing the Metaphor: Competitors or Colleagues?

Deraa, Syria, 2011. Fifteen school children are arrested for graffitiing anti-government slogans. Locals take to the streets to protest. Military police open fire and kill four; the next day the same. Syrians all over explode into protest. The crackdown grows worse as armed resistance intensifies. Before long Syria devolves into a civil war where brutal atrocities rule the day and chance encounters can land you in prison and tortured. <1>


Four years later we are witnessing the largest mass migration in recent history as hundreds of thousands of Syrians, the peaceful and the practical, escape the hell of civil war in search of a better life for their families. Their goal? Wealthy Northern European countries with near-zero birthrates who urgently must replace an aging workforce. Germany alone agreed to accept a half-million immigrants per year quite literally in order to save its economy from ruin. <2>


Then Paris, the horror and the aftermath. The Islamic State, the new Al-Qaeda, arms and trains a group of French and Belgian ethnic Syrians to strike terror and inspire fear. And the world reacts accordingly. Syrians en masse are cast as terrorists. Suddenly they are no longer welcome anywhere.


By the logic of the terrorists Paris is a big win, and we should recognize it is. Their goal is to recruit the ethnic Muslims who lead lives of desperation in the dismal suburbs of Paris and Brussels. To expand jihad to the West, terrorists must convince the oppressed that jihad is the better alternative. Our reaction plays into this. For the more we vilify Muslims as terrorists the more permission we give ourselves to oppress. The more we oppress the greater their desperation. Desperation mixed with fatalism makes jihad appealing.


Consider Paris today in the context of the riots of 2005 <3>, when bitter, second-generation Muslim youth set fire to the outer suburbs. Over weeks nine thousand cars were burned, three dead. While the body count today is much higher, the biggest difference between now and then is simply an infusion of weapons, knowledge and a cohesive ideology.


Leadership Foundations urges leaders across the world to not play into the vilification. We urge leaders in media to refrain from stoking the flames of fear. And we urge our local leaders to open their communities to those who most need the support of community. Let us focus less on the act and more on relieving the social and spiritual malaise that drives desperation. How can we loosen the binds of oppression that are at the root of so much evil?


First we must overcome fear. Shun the voices that incite fear, and let our reason check emotion. See fear for what it is: an ever-effective way to divide, coerce and exclude. History repeatedly shows it is all too easy to succumb to fear, but let us find strength in our common humanity, our common home.


And let us examine ourselves. Do we regard immigrants as competitors carving out ever-smaller pieces of a fixed resource, or do we see them as colleagues with the talent and good will that will ever expand that resource? This crisis reveals a Rorschach test for our souls. Do we orient toward scarcity or abundance?


The Incarnation teaches that the will of God resides in flesh through Jesus. When we truly follow Jesus we take into our core being, our flesh, the will of God. It animates us and shapes who we are, how we live our lives, where we shop, how we interact with others. And it is a metaphor for humanity. We all hold in our being the will of God. When we acknowledge the divine in those who look different, have different customs, we truly may walk hand-in-hand. Let us move with grace toward each other.


In the end we are confident fear and vilification will subside and cooler heads will prevail. And as we set about incorporating the Syrian diaspora into our communities let us remind ourselves that how we regard our new neighbors, as neighbors, will set the tone for generations to come. Are they competitors or are they colleagues?


Joseph Campbell tells us that if we want to change the world, we must change the metaphor. Our communities, our common humanity, are not battlegrounds to maneuver but playgrounds to celebrate.

Building Capacity

Karl Barth, the eminent Swiss theologian, suggested the following: “Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us…He is not only similar to us, he is like us.” The reality of the Incarnation frames the vital collective force of Leadership Foundations (LF): making cities better by developing leaders who drive the wheel of permanent change through LF’s three functions. The first function – engaging leaders of good faith and good will – was detailed in the last issue of Street Lights. Our argument is that diverse leaders —regardless of political, religious, and economic perspective— are a part of one collective body and mobilizing them to work together is imperative to making a city better.


The Incarnation continues to serve as our theological pivot and shapes the methodology of Leadership Foundations’ second function – building the capacity of other faith and community based groups for joint service.


We have all experienced that dynamic person who knows how to capture our imagination around a common vision. Sadly, too few of us have experienced the Incarnational leader who recognized and nurtured individual capacities, expanding our understanding and ability to apply our unique gifts to the betterment of our community and ourselves. These are exactly the leaders LF is developing to drive the wheel of change in cities around the world. Through trainings, tools, and the creation of a common table they expand individual and organizational capabilities. This work results in the political, financial and social capital in their community increasing thereby further developing the capacity of all to come together to address the city’s most critical issues.



Knoxville Leadership Foundation (KLF) in Knoxville, Tennessee is using this function – building the capacity of others– to make their region better through the new nonprofit organization, the Alliance for Better Nonprofits (ABN). ABN is possible due to KLF’s long history of partnering with organizations and other groups committed to the city’s welfare and seeing them as colleagues rather than competitors.  For over 10 years KLF provided capacity building through their Center for Communities initiative. In 2015, KLF’s Board of Directors voted to spin-out the Center for Communities so it could be used as a platform to launch ABN.  ABN provides trainings, consulting, networking opportunities, and standards for excellence to nonprofits in East Tennessee. The resources ABN provides allows their 114 member organizations to learn, grow, and engage their communities’ needs in increasingly powerful ways.


When leaders and groups are engaged and their capacity is developed transformation occurs in lives and in cities. Ultimately, this transformation contributes to a better world; a world where we continue to learn about and live into the mystery of goodness demonstrated for us in the incarnation of Christ.

Paradigm Shift- Episode 15

Take a moment to listen to the latest episode of the City as Playground Podcast.


How do you make cities better? In this episode, Rick Enloe and Dave Hillis further explore the Advancement Plus Project and the singular focus that it produced: LF develops leaders who drive the wheel of change in their cities. This wheel is made up of our 3 functions- engaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of others, and developing joint initiatives.



Paradigm Shift Whispercast- Episode 14

Take a moment to listen to the latest episode of the City as Playground Podcast.


In this Whispercast, we explore Leadership Foundations’ Advancement Plus Project through the lens of Thomas Kuhn’s idea of paradigm shifts. Join Rick Enloe and Dave Hillis as they introduce this six month long project LF went through with The Bridgespan Group and the singular focus that came out of the process. Listen here and send in any questions you would like answered to