For over a decade, we have been listening and learning about what are some catalysts for helping communities maximize their collective caring power.
We've learned that caring power, which is fueled by heart-felt emotion and demonstrated by self-motivated action, can be a powerful force for transforming lives and communities.
Mike Green, community development consultant, writes, "The most important asset in any community is people's willingness to act on what they care about. Care brings people together for common purpose. Care is a song that flows through every community and those who want to develop stronger communities must know how to harmonize with it." (When People Care Enough to Act, 2007)
One way to harmonize with caring power is to gain a better understanding of how and why people connect. Dr. Paul Hiebert, a world-renowned expert in cultural anthropology discovered a new way of understanding social grouping. In his book, Anthropological Reflection on Missiological Issues (1994), he talked about Bounded Set and Centered Set catalysts for bringing people and organizations together.
Bounded Set refers to the way people believe, think, and act. These form a boundary (represented by a circle) to determine who's in the group, and who's outside the group. The major question is: "Are you one of us and believe as we do?" When applied to diverse helping agencies, this type of connectivity can lead to "silos" that have little or no communication with each other. This can cause community-wide "helping and referral systems" to become dysfunctional (fragmented and limited).
Centered Set connectivity is represented by a heart with no constraining circle. This type of connectivity brings people together based on commonly-shared interests — driven by passion and compassion. Conversations begin by asking the question: "What do you truly care about the most?" When applied to important issues (poverty, child hunger, and more) this is a good way to create community where people are willing to work together for common good and greater impact.
We've discovered that learning conversations are a good way to make caring power visible in communities. Warm and friendly conversations can happen in any context and can be coordinated for the following purposes:
Many communities, across the country are engaged in learning conversations. Concerned citizens agree that now is the time for neighbors, churches, charities, businesses, elected officials, and others to connect, combine their unique strengths, and collectively tackle tough community challenges — together.
They realize that "moving the needle" on poverty, hunger, and other challenges is a community responsibility; not just the work of a handful of charitable and human services organizations. They also realize that the prospect of getting the whole community involved sounds promising; however, it can prove to be an enormous challenge.
Regarding this, Peter Block (author and community development consultant) writes, "The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole. We begin by shifting our attention from the problems of community to the possibility of community." (Community: The Structure of Belonging, 2009)
We suggest that the transformation that Block refers to is less about improving what is and more about creating what isn't — especially as this relates to organizational "silos" in a community.
Oftentimes, catalysts and transformative processes are needed to "bridge the gap" between helping agencies — enabling them to connect, engage in learning conversations, and collaborate for the well-being of everyone in their community. One of these catalysts can be Asset-based Community Development.
This innovative methodology, at work in many communities, was first introduced by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
ABCD is a powerful way for discovering and mobilizing resources that are already present in communities. Mike Green (community development consultant and advocate for ABCD) writes in his book, entitled When People Care Enough to Act (2007):
The illustration below suggests the transformative processes that help to unleash caring power's full potential.
Our technology tools are designed to help communities maximize their collective caring power. We do this by making it easier for helping agencies to discover and connect their existing resources (assets) in more powerful and productive ways. This helps pave the way for innovation, collaboration, and collective impact.
Networking, especially in our line of work, is about helping communities increase connectivity, communication, and cooperation among all their helping agencies. This is very successful where diverse agencies are building trusting relationships among each other and using innovative technology to build well-connected and broadly-distributed Resource Networks.
These networks provide helping agencies with a mutually-beneficial exchange of knowledge, information, and resources from across the community. And, all of this happens in real-time. The results are amazing: people are better served, and agencies are better informed.
We truly enjoy helping communities "connect the dots" — making it easier for them to find, align, and collectively mobilize their local resources (assets) in more powerful and productive ways.
These "dots" represent an existing, but often unrecognized, abundant wealth of local community resources (assets) that can build stronger, more sustainable lives and communities.
Through collaborative development with community leaders, we launched a new version of our Community Resource Directory that serves everyone in a community.
Regardless of their participation in a Resource Network, all helping agencies can use this new tool to make everyone, throughout their community, aware of their programs and services.
This tool can also be used by the general public to search for resources and see maps to local helping agencies.
This is where our networking solutions are making a lasting difference in over 1,300 cities across the country. Community stakeholders realize that increased connectivity (connecting the dots) leads to streamlined interactive communication and information-sharing that produces great value for all helping agencies.
This value, and the benefits, can be leveraged by a single organization, multiple organizations networked together, or a regional multi-sector collaborative engaged in collective impact.
It is the way diverse helping agencies connect and interact with one another that makes an efficient and effective "service delivery system."
Networking provides all helping agencies and the general public with greater access to knowledge and resources from across the whole community.
We constantly come across communities where collaborative initiatives are developing. Many focus on crisis care — including poverty, child hunger, and homelessness. Others focus on discovering lasting solutions for education, workforce development, and affordable healthcare.
No matter the initiative, stakeholders realize that they are better together in co-creating best practices and lasting solutions. And, they realize that "moving the needle" of complex challenges requires support from all sectors (public, private, and social) of the community.
Getting the whole community engaged in providing support for collaborative initiatives, is its own challenge. Fortunately, our technology solutions have proven to help jump-start and sustain multi-sector "community conversations" that encourage stakeholders to strive for collective impact.
Many collaboratives (or coalitions) rely upon Data-driven Decision-making (DDDM) for resource development and allocation. Our technology tools make it simple and easy to securely collect, analyze, and report "big data" that measures efforts and results.
Now, reports can be quickly generated — showing progress at individual, organizational, and community levels of engagement. This valuable information has been used to create greater public awareness for initiatives and increase funding from local citizens and state/federal sources.
Comprehensive is defined as "covering completely or broadly (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)." This describes what many helping agencies, across the country, are striving to do for individuals and families who want to thrive — not just survive.
Our networking technology, along with other capacity-building tools, enables helping agencies to do more than just help people get by; instead, it makes it possible for agencies to help people get ahead to a better quality of life and brighter future.
But in order to make this a reality, helping agencies are working together to create a new context where all agencies can connect, learn from each, and collaboration for the health, social, and economic well-being of everyone in their communities.
This new context encourages stakeholders, those involved in human and community development, to partner hand-in-hand to advance a more comprehensive approach to transforming people's lives.
We get excited when helping agencies are successful in encouraging practitioners of human and community development to partner together in creating comprehensive lasting solutions.
You have probably heard the phrase, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."
But, we have learned in our work with helping agencies that this is only half of the solution for lifetime sustainability. The other half requires that people are well-equipped with tools and resources, and they have fair access to the pond (see illustration below).
Many stakeholders would suggest that the first half of the solution is the major work of human development, which can do a good job at helping people get by. However, the pathway to sustainability crosses the threshold into community development, where people can actually get ahead to a better quality of life and brighter future.
Stakeholders also suggest that the partnering of human and community development can provide a lasting solution for the benefits cliff (or cliff effect) that plagues low-income individuals and families. This happens when a slight increase in wages causes people to lose supplemental resources (benefits) from public programs. This can lead to a net loss in resources, which can discourage people from working their way out of poverty.
May we suggest that the successful partnership of human and community development will require systemic change. We realize that this can be quite a challenge for most communities. The Society for St. Vincent de Paul (one of the national organizations that we serve) advocates that we can "end poverty through systemic change."
We are excited that communities, across the country, are striving to advance a more comprehensive approach to transforming people's lives. We help by providing innovative technology that can track people's progress from crisis to sustainability. Give us a call (888.764.0633), and we will point you in the direction of communities where this is emerging.