For many of us, today marks the end of the holiday season and the return to work life. As I tweeted last night, I’m glad to be back in the saddle: perhaps, as Sheila Robinson suggests, I’m a bit odd for that, but I should take it as a good sign that I like my job. Even if you’re not quite at the stage of night-before anticipation, hopefully you’re returning today to something that you enjoy and find fulfilling!
Yesterday, as I was trying to get a jump on clearing out my inbox after two weeks of neglect, I got thinking of how I wanted to start off this year at Strong Roots. On this journey of a thousand miles, what would be my first step? I quickly realized that I had to first decide where I want to go on this trip and what accomplishments I would be proud of looking back at 51 weeks from now. This past year has been great in many respects, with interesting projects, learning opportunities, and conversations with other changemakers here in Saskatoon and further afield. In what ways could I build on these successes, beyond the default of “keeping doing what you did last year, but better/more”?
When I started Strong Roots Consulting back in 2012, I wanted to create something that would have a broader impact. Then and now, I see “third-sector” or “for-impact” organizations – charities, non-profits, social enterprises, grassroots associations, and any other group that fall outside of the traditional public-private distinction – as vital to the well-being of our communities and society as a whole. I’m not just talking about the individual services they provide or work they do, such as helping those who are marginalized or advocating for policy change, though that is all important. Beyond that necessary work, “for-impact” organizations can help connect our individual lives and make us aware of what affects our neighbours, whether they live down the block or around the world. In short, they help build community.
As a consultant, most of my work to date has been with individual organizations, providing one-to-one support on specific projects. Hopefully, these groups have found my efforts with them to be useful, helping them understand their clients, their work, and the context they operate in, and adapt and grow in response to these insights. While I will definitely continue this line of work, I cannot expect to see broad improvements for the “for-impact” sector solely through individual interventions, any more than a doctor could hope to eradicate a disease by treating one patient at a time.
Building real and sustainable change requires many things. Connecting with others for meaningful collaboration. Honest conversations that encourage us to take a look where we’ve been and where we want to be. Innovative approaches, not necessarily in how we do our work, but how we conceive of the issues in the first place. A willingness to share our experiences, our fears, and our dreams for what a better world would look like, and what our place in enacting those ideas will be. No set prescriptions, but an openness to learning and changing ourselves and our previous ideas as we encounter the messiness of the world we operate in. These ideas and more are vital for our sector, and if I can play some small role in encouraging fundamental change for for-impact organizations and through them, our communities, I will be satisfied.
The Road From Here
In formulating this objective, the first step became clear: sharing my ideas and my passions through this post, with the hope of inspiring others and starting a conversation. I have some next steps already planned out, from building new connections and communities to more mundane matters like launching a redesigned logo and website. Beyond that the path is harder to see, but I hope that what I’ve written this morning will serve as a guide.
As a New Year’s ritual, Beth Kanter identifies a theme for the year and three words to focus her work. The theme that I have decided on this year is “Transform“: work to bring about transformative change, while also taking a critical look at my own efforts to date and determining how I can redirect my energy and enthusiasm towards that goal. My three words – “Connect“, “Learn“, and “Intentional Practice” (ok, it’s four but who’s counting?) – reflect what I need to do to stay on this path and make the most of the opportunities I’m presented with.
Here’s to 2015. Make it a good year: I’ll do my best from here.