My Approach

Strong Roots Consulting has recently passed its two-month birthday, with my first post on this site going live on July 11. I’m quite pleased with the progress made during that short time – helping a local nonprofit group with a grant application, making a number of new connections, writing blog posts on a semi-regular basis and further developing my ideas for this new endeavour – and I look forward to what will come in the weeks and months ahead.

On that note, I’ve been thinking about creating a “My Approach” page, as suggested by a commenter on a previous post. I started by crafting some guiding principles and ideas – honesty, supportiveness, open communication, relationship-building – but that approach felt too abstract and risked falling into corporatese. I may follow those principles and embody those attributes, but do I need to explicitly state them? Which approach is better: saying that I believe in sharing knowledge and communicating openly, or demonstrating through regular channels (like this blog) that I walk the talk? As with many dichotomies, there are useful elements in both positions. Relying on my actions to showcase my style can be limiting, particularly as a newcomer to Saskatoon with few local projects to date under my belt. As well, coming up with what I do in a nutshell would be extremely useful for the infamous “elevator speech”; 30 seconds is way too short to share an illustrative experience.

Looking for inspiration, I turned again to my friend and colleague Natalie Brown of Common Thread and her excellent website. Under “About Us”, there is both a vision statement about what her organization hopes to accomplish, and then three simple words to describe what they do: Facilitate. Research. Act. Three words, all verbs, with a natural flow from planning to learning to action and back again. After briefly lamenting that she already grabbed three words that would describe my work well, I took a step back and thought about how I’ve been working with people and organizations during the past two months and previously in Ontario. Through this reflective process and some conversations with good friends, I came up with the following three actions that I believe demonstrate my own approach to working with local organizations:

Connect
Empower
Change

Connecting can incorporate many actions. Linking organizations with resources, be they volunteers, grant opportunities, or other groups to partner with, can help bring a vision for the future a bit closer to today’s reality. Research is about connecting the data dots and also linking non-profits with findings that can help them better understand the work they do and the context they operate in. Connecting through communication forms the ground of any working relationship, both between me and the organization, and between the organization and its stakeholders, partners, and participants. New ideas and ways of seeing an issue often evolve out of conversation, whether it’s a informal meeting over coffee or structured discussion designed to support the inclusion of multiple voices (especially those who often are not heard). We reflect on our origins and where we want to go, sharing our successes and lessons learned, and laying the groundwork for future action.

Building on these connections to new information, resources, and other groups and individuals help empower organizations, their staff, and the people and groups they work with. Empowerment at its core is about helping individuals, groups, organizations, and communities gain control over their lives and environment. My aim in working with non-profit organizations and groups is to help them build their own capacity through activities such as strategic planning so that they have the confidence and resources needed to bring about change for the people and communities they help. This focus on empowerment also highlights my preference for working with non-profits that take a similar approach in their work: namely, working in partnership with those they “serve” to create long-term and sustainable change, rather than creating a cycle of need and dependency.

Finally, there’s change. We all want to see change in our neighbourhoods and our cities, and focusing on the first two ideas can help lead us there. In taking steps towards this end, though, we would be wise to remember Gandhi’s words: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. Action and reflection go hand in hand, especially when tackling complex social issues; we may need to change not just our programs, but our ways of thinking and responding. Both internal and external change can lead to new ideas and connections, and help identify additional ways that people, organizations and communities can be empowered.

I think this categorization pretty well encapsulates what I do and how I do it, but as always I’m open to hearing your thoughts!

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