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



Engaging Leaders

How do you make a city better? This is the question that gets Leadership Foundations (LF) up in the morning, and the last issue of Street Lights explored our answer. Through 35 years of field-tested work, we believe the key is developing leaders who connect and drive the wheel of permanent change in their cities by increasing mastery of LF’s three functions: engaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of others, and developing joint programming initiatives. Through consistent application of these three functions to a particular place over a given amount of time, cities do in fact get better.


The first of these three functions—engaging leaders of good faith and good will to tackle a city’s greatest challenges—carries with it particular importance. It is hard to overstate how imperative this function is in making a city better. This is true for two reasons. The first reason is the recognition that nothing—no amount of money, programs, grants, outcomes—can compensate for a lack of resourceful, reflective, and resilient leadership. Many cities in the world have had more than their fair share of resources and are worse off than they were before. The answer—at least from LF’s vantage point—is that the question of leadership is overlooked. The second reason is that cities are filled with a dizzying array of needs that push people toward isolation. And, if individuals or groups do work with others, it is often only with those similar to themselves – whether it be particular work, preferred faith, or cultural background. Connecting and engaging leaders from all walks of life and sectors within a city; religious and non-religious, for-profit and non-profit, white collar and blue collar, etc. is beneficial for the whole city.


Tshwane Leadership Foundation (TLF) in Pretoria, South Africa is using this function – engaging leaders of good faith and good will – to make their city better through their annual event, Feast of the Clowns. What started as a small street festival has established itself as the only annual event in Pretoria’s inner city that combines celebration and social justice. Annually it welcomes 25,000 people from all walks of life to engage in music, performances, activities and good food, as they launch campaigns around various matters of social justice. This past year the theme was Counter Trafficking and Rebranding Homelessness. TLF sees the Feast of the Clowns as one way to make their city better by engaging a wide range of leaders from Pretoria to host the event and work together on Pretoria’s most critical issues. (If you are interested please click here to read Dr Stephan de Beer’s wonderful scholarly article on the festival).


LF is called to transform cities by engaging leaders of good faith and good will to tackle a city’s greatest challenges. We celebrate the success of many local leadership foundations and continue to work together to seek new ways to live into this function, and live out Helen Keller’s insightful and true observation: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

What National Leadership Can Learn

At the end of September we witnessed the second in a series of political cage-matches otherwise known as U.S. presidential primary debates. Afterward an article in the New York Times, Trump Remains Center Stage, wryly summed up the debate with cheerful info-graphics charting each opponent’s attacks and counter attacks. Tellingly the article reveals just how much we’ve come to regard our national politics as a spectator sport.


Of course spectator politics is nothing new. We root for our team, we enjoy the give and take, the strategy of outmaneuvering our opponents – it helps us stay involved. And like sports we have generally taken a view that sometimes your side wins and sometimes you lose. But in the last decade or so it seems our better natures have soured, with less give and take, more rancor and an unyielding attachment to entrenched ideologies.


Fueled by a cynical media we have devolved to take a more hardened approach. One that stems from a scarcity-driven mentality which assumes anything you gain I must loose. Tolerance and respectful rivalries have ossified into a false dichotomy of conservative vs. liberal, believers vs. nonbelievers, the tolerant vs. the haters. You’re wrong, I’m right. From our national politics to our personal Facebook pages we shout loud and long, vilifying our opponents by proclaiming our own righteousness.


What we need to do is to step back and collect ourselves, examine our consciences, and consider our motivations. We need to open ourselves to others; to put ourselves in their shoes, see the world through their eyes and, in the spirit of Jesus, work toward reconciliation rather than perpetuate animosity. All of us.


At Leadership Foundations we think of this as the third-way of leadership. We reject the false dichotomy, the either/or scenario, and embrace a leadership inspired more by abundance than scarcity, reconciliation over obstruction — servant leadership that seeks to nurture our common home and sublimate ego to the common good. Our work in cities around the world teaches us that this is the best path to take; to bring together opposing sectors and mobilize them around a common vision or set of values. We achieve lasting progress only when all are considered, all have a say in the outcome.


And while we seem mired in the zero-sum game mentality at the national level we are inspired by what is happening locally. We take heart as more and more people discover grace through community. Younger people coming into their own, less bothered by color, gender, sexuality. Who eschew the divisive and embrace that which is larger than themselves – God and our common home.


From Pittsburgh to Sioux Falls our cities are undergoing a renaissance. They are becoming centers of innovation, laboratories for democracy and conduits for spiritual growth. Consistently across the US our cities are transforming from places once characterized as battlegrounds into interconnected communities seen more joyfully today as playgrounds.


Leadership Foundations knows it is exactly this third-way, this servant style leadership that is enabling transformation to occur, and we are proud of the role we have played cultivating servant leadership in cities across the US and beyond. Our cities are becoming playgrounds not because of ideology or partisan politics, they are becoming playgrounds because local leaders of all walks are putting differences aside, checking their egos and making way for the common good.


We think our national leadership could learn a few things from the folks at home.

Power of Relationship- Episode 13

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


Relationships have the power to transform people and place. In this episode, Rick Enloe and Dave Hillis are joined by Bill Milliken, one of the foremost pioneers in the movement to change the picture of education in the US, the founder of Communities in Schools, and a formative voice and leader in the life of Leadership Foundations. They look back at Bill’s story and the lessons learned, and forward at the ongoing importance of building relationships and engaging people throughout the community in order to transform our cities.



Creating Change: LF Methodology

Whether it is Jim Collins describing the concept of the flywheel in his book Good to Great, the notion of a theory of change popularized by Carol Weiss in her book New Approaches to Evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives, or the scholarly reflections from the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford, all assert the importance of being able to clearly describe how your organization gets something done. Obvious? I think we would all agree. Easy? Maybe less so than we think.


For LF, the difficulty arises from the fact that we live in a complex and chaotic world. And of course nowhere is this reality more amply demonstrated than in the very place LF is called to work: cities. Consequently, the idea of discovering, deploying and describing an LF methodology for creating change that takes into account the myriad differences of the cities that we work in while still creating a common model for all is no easy task. Moreover, if the methodology is real it has to meet the following criteria: simple to explain; contextually relevant; repeatable; and if concentrated effort is applied over time, will achieve anticipated outcomes of social impact. And of course, we must describe this all in what is euphemistically called the elevator speech!


Through a 6-month and $500,000 investment with one of the leading nonprofit consulting groups in the world, The Bridgespan Group, LF has confirmed and further developed our methodology. It is as simple as it is profound, elegant while also being effective, and transferable while also contextual.


LF understands that our methodology—that which we believe holds the key to making cities into playgrounds rather than battlegrounds—is developing leaders who connect and drive the wheel of permanent change in their cities by increasing mastery of the three functions: engaging leaders of good faith and good will, building the capacity of other faith and community based groups, and developing joint programming initiatives. This is LF’s flywheel and theory of change. Over 70 members around the world are using this method to drive change and create healthier, more vibrant cities which gives us pause for great hope.


Over the next few months we will be using a number of mediums— to include this newsletter, the City As Playground podcast and LF blog—to further explore LF’s methodology and understanding of how leaders committed to the three functions make cities better.