How can Leadership Foundations achieve greater impact in cities around the world? In March 2015, we set out to answer this question by launching the Advancement Plus Project (APP). Two years later, we are excited to report that we have made key shifts that have gone a long way to answering this question.
We often describe the experience of APP and working with the Bridgespan Group as engaging a “benevolent agnostic.” The Bridgespan Group’s benevolence was characterized by a caring and empathetic spirit as they listened deeply, asked penetrating questions, and provided positive options. Their agnosticism was demonstrated in the way they demanded corroborating data to support any strategic decisions thereby dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”. This rigorous analysis was applied to LF’s wheel of change, determining if it made cities better, and how LF added value to our members.
Bridgespan’s gift of benevolent agnosticism was a gift to LF and provided the necessary framework to measure organizational shifts moving forward. LF used this clarity to prioritize our time and resources on: a more deliberate focus on member performance improvement; more time and resources for LF function-related services rather than domain-related services; the prioritization of tailored rather than broadcast supports; and an emphasis on growing impact within the existing network rather than by adding new members.
With this focus, LF has made a number of key advances that are bearing great fruit as we continue to drive positive, permanent change in cities around the world.
Many years ago G.K. Chesterton wrote a wonderful book called Orthodoxy. Among other things he wrote a chapter called the Ethics of Elfland where he made an argument for why fairytales had a kind of resiliency and permanence. His answer was quite straightforward: they last because they are true. Recently LF had a Goose That Laid the Golden Egg type of experience that reaffirmed Chesterton’s insight. First, some context.
Over the years, Street Lights has explored one of LF’s niches: we understand cities to be living, breathing organisms. LF approaches each city through a common framework—LF’s Wheel of Change—while allowing each city’s context to determine their areas of focus. This approach, process over product, allows the city final arbitration in deciding what needs to change for the better. This niche, and keeping it sacred, makes all the difference.
And here is where the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg comes in, and it has less to do with the moral of the story and more to do with the content. Recently a new city was interested in becoming a member of the LF network. One of the steps we encourage is to visit an existing LF member city. The new city took this advice and went to hear from an older LF member about all that God had done over the years, reviewed the size of the budget, the amount and impact of programs and the buildings owned. What became obvious is the new city was becoming increasingly awestruck and began to fall prey to seeing its task as one of simple replication.
During the tour a Leadership Foundations staff member stood up and said the following; “you have just had the privilege of hearing about all of the golden eggs that have been laid in this city for many years. These should be celebrated. However I am here to help you discover the goose—LF’s wheel of permanent change—so your city can have its own golden eggs.”
This, in short, is the key to LF’s effectiveness in cities throughout the world: we plan and pray about the “goose”, allowing for cities to have their own “golden eggs.”
How do you make a city better? How do you transform a city into a playground?
These are the questions that Leadership Foundations is devoted to answering. Through over 35 years of field-tested work, we believe the key is developing leaders who drive the wheel of permanent change in their cities by increasing mastery of our three functions: engaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of others, and developing joint initiatives. Through consistent application of these three functions to a particular place over a given amount of time, cities do in fact get better.
Our members love their cities and we want to help them love their cities in practical ways that make their communities more whole. That is why we focus on resourcing our network. We do this by connecting, developing, and equipping them through a variety of key services. Whether it is the support of a Senior Associate, one of the veteran coaches assigned to each member, or using the Stages of Impact tool to develop a plan to deepen their impact and mastery of the three functions, we are working to strengthen our members. This commitment to better resourcing our network will make our members better, which in turn makes our cities better.
Around the world Local Leadership Foundations are using the LF wheel of change to transform their cities. As we begin a new year, we are excited to report that our members are doing just that- driving positive permanent improvement in their communities to make them more like playgrounds.
Leadership Foundations took many important steps in 2015 that have further positioned us to positively impact cities around the world for generations to come. Through this report you will learn about the processes, decisions, investments, and strategies taken to achieve these impacts. It is our sincerest hope that you sense our deep thankfulness for your contribution to making cities better and that you receive further encouragement to invest in LF moving forward.
In August, 250 leaders from across Africa and around the globe gathered in Pretoria, South Africa for the Urban Ministry Consultation. For 20 years, this event has represented a space in which urban people working in the trenches of post-apartheid South Africa, or in urban slums and inner cities elsewhere in the world are able to connect deeply, share experiences and struggles, and discern together what God would have for them back in their cities.
The 12-day, three-part event which included the LF Africa gathering, brought together urban ministry practitioners, activists, students, and scholars to explore how to be prophetic communities taking local ownership for reconciliation and justice. The theme of this year’s Consultation was We Must Rise: Healers-Dreamers-Jesters and was inspired by recent student movements that swept campuses across our nation, pursuing aims of decolonization; addressing university fee structures to give increased and just access to poor students; fighting for an end to outsourcing and exploitation of workers; and changing language policy and curricula to be in line with the South Africa of 2016 and beyond.
This has come to be known as the #Fallist movement as the focus was on constructs of colonization and oppressions that had to fall! As faith communities in cities, our concern is with the vacuums that might be left after certain constructs have justifiably fallen. How do we ensure that these vacuums are not filled by even more oppressive forces? What do we rise to? What do we put in its place? How do we take local ownership to build ethical, aesthetical, healthy and vibrant communities- cities that are playgrounds- where all of God’s people can live with dignity and meaning, sharing in the abundance of God’s resources? These kinds of questions are central to the work of Leadership Foundations, and we took them up at this year’s Consultation.
Report cards! For all but a few of us, the very words produce a low-grade nausea that can quickly mature into a high-grade paralysis. Whether a good or poor student we intuitively sense the news will be less than hoped.
This tendency exists because we either are not as accomplished as we desire or we simply lack confidence in our own capacities. If, however, we are fortunate enough to receive a good report card very few things satisfy as completely and need to be celebrated as fully. We are excited to let you know of two good report cards.
Nicholas Kristof recently wrote an Op-ed piece titledThe Best News You Don’t Know. Against many of the reports suggesting our best days are behind us, Kristof argues that the data suggests the opposite. Some of the most positive “rapid gains ever recorded” around things like health, poverty, literacy, and inequality are currently taking place in cities and the world. While making clear that this does not allow permission to gloss over many difficult things, he does advocate this “good report card” should empower us because of the very obvious success we are experiencing.
LF also continues to make great progress. Through the Bridgespan Group’s work with us in 2015, LF is finishing the first year of a 3 year plan to achieve greater impact in the cities we serve. Whether it is the development and deployment of the Stages of Impact (SOI) Tool among the 70+ members, developing the capacity to compensate our Senior Associates to provide coaching for Local Leadership Foundations, or recruiting new board members: all speak to a “good report card.” One of the most exciting things to report is the hiring of Cassie Wyssbrod for the position of VP of Development. Through Cassie’s leadership we are confident LF will continue to have the resources necessary to contribute to what Kristof described.
There is much to do and many more report cards in front of us, to be sure. However, we pause to take a breath and savor this good report card.
Leadership Foundations people are often asked, “How did you end up leading a local leadership foundation?” More specifically, “What were the variables, factors, and important moments that account for you leading this organization or running this program? And while we are tempted to provide a variety of answers that would lift our individual effort up, the answer we invariably give, when honest, is the power of relationship. I am here and I am doing this work because someone invested their time and talent in me.
This central idea that who we become is a result of relational investment in us is, at first glance, deceptively simple. So much so that we are forever tempted to describe our effectiveness with more sophisticated responses ranging from comprehensive program models to efficacious training to robust spirituality. All, of course, are helpful, but these factors miss the mark if they do not become vehicles to build and strengthen relationships.
The Senior Associates is LF’s primary strategy to keep the power of relationship as the primary currency of our network. Upon joining the LF network, each member is connected with a Senior Associate who meets with them on a monthly basis. Senior Associates are women and men who have run successful organizations, have a demonstrated track record of mentoring colleagues and embody LF’s vision, mission, and values. Their singular focus is to deepen our member’s impact by growing their mastery of the Wheel of Change. The only way to do this with any sense of confidence is when members—as they work to see their cities become playgrounds rather than battlegrounds—are provided the power of relationship through the gift of a Senior Associate.
Benjamin Franklin and Jesus had at least one thing in common. Franklin once stated, “Well done is better than well said.” Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Both move us toward an understanding that words—if they are used at all—should simply be an explanation of a living demonstration.
But of course, like most things, there is an inherent tension in this reality. How does a person, let alone a global network like LF, create a framework for demonstrated outcomes, neither falling prey to a bureaucracy of requirements that pushes toward success as one of compliance nor fostering an ethos of laissez-faire where you are the sole arbitrator of success?
LF has stepped into this vortex of competing realities. We have created a space to celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit needed to engage the spiritual and social renewal of cities, and help ensure that the results we claim are getting accomplished in demonstrable and measurable ways. LF has employed two tools to achieve this outcome. The first is the Stages of Impact (SOI) tool that takes LF’s wheel of change (the three functions) and creates an annual analysis. The SOI measures how an LF member is increasing their mastery, synergy, and sustainability of that wheel. The second tool is the accreditation, occurring every three years, which requires an onsite visit from the member’s Senior Associate and other colleagues in the LF network. Over the course of 1 ½ days a review of finances, board, programs, staff health, and related material is assessed and a decision is made on whether to grant accreditation. All LF members will complete the SOI annually and will be accredited by the end of 2017. We believe that these are rather remarkable displays of letting our work do the talking.
This was brought to life this past week when the Northwest Leadership Foundation (NLF) completed its SOI and accreditation. Given the facts – NLF has been around for 27 years, has created best-practices and programs replicated by others, and has helped launch several local leadership foundations – one could ask why NLF would need to go through such a rigorous process? The answer is that they believe they can still get better, they can make their city better, and that Franklin and Jesus are correct: living demonstrations of work speak volumes and move us toward a better world.
Street Lights is written in real time. It is written in the midst of the vacillation and violence of our world. And if Street Lights is true—which we desire it to be—then it must in some way reflect these realities.
Orlando this week. Charleston a year ago today. And countless lightning strikes of violence in-between.
What does one do? How does Leadership Foundations enter into this bewildering display of heartbreak with any sense of propriety and talk about cities becoming God’s playground rather than a battleground? To keep trying seems a fool’s errand. To give up and throw in the towel seems to be giving into darker forces. Perhaps what is called for is what Graham Greene’s Whiskey Priest in The Power and Glory says, recently quoted in a piece by Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:
“When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity—that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.”
What LF tries to do in times like this is help us see each other more clearly and fight against a possible “failure of imagination.” Through our work, as demonstrated in blog posts like our reflection last year after Charleston, we surface those “lines at the corners of the eyes” and “shape of the mouth”- the humanity in cities around the world and the good things that are happening. That in the midst of the horribly sharp edges of this world, playgrounds are still possible.
Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol, “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” From LF’s beginning we have recognized both the truth and the power of Dicken’s statement and how cities can become playgrounds rather than battlegrounds as a result. Laughter and humor sit at the very heart of our work in cities around the world for two reasons: our relationship to Jesus and our relationship with others.
G. K. Chesterton reflected on Jesus in his book Orthodoxy: “there was something that He hid from all people when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.” It is our conviction that we are most like Jesus when, in the midst of working on very tough issues in cities around the world, we continue to have a sense of humor; taking that which is in front of us seriously and holding on to ourselves lightly.
Humor also tells us something about each other. Fyodor Dostoyevsky stated it this way: “If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and get to know a man/woman, don’t bother analyzing their ways of being silent, of talking, of weeping, of seeing how much they are moved by noble ideas; you will get better results if you just watch them laugh. If they laugh well, they are good people.” Through the years we have seen this truth play out time and again. That it is people who laugh—and LF presidents and staff are great laughers— seem to get things done consistently and faithfully in the most difficult places.
This past month on LF’s City As Playground podcast we had the great privilege of talking with Eric Geary, president of the Lexington Leadership Foundation, about this very subject. Together we explored the notion that it takes engaging leaders to engage leaders. Through the podcast we explore the role that humor plays in turning our streets and cities into playgrounds.