Sunday, November 09, 2008

What to do with $300 million donation.

After the election of Barack Obama, perhaps the next biggest news in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, was a $300 million donation to the University Chicago by a wealthy alum. I saw this story in Thursday's Chicago SunTimes. Then a couple of pages later I read about a judge being mugged and robbed a few blocks from where the Obamas live.

If you're not aware, Hyde Park is the home of the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Hospital. It's also an area surrounded by many neighborhoods of highly segregated poverty.

I've been using maps to show where poverty and poor schools are in Chicago, as well as to show where incidents of violence are taking place. In one map I show locations of hospitals and in another I show universities. You can see one of these stories here.

On Friday I attended a workshop that talked about the Asset Based Community Development program at Northwestern University - . This is a community organizing process that focuses on the assets in a neighborhood, rather than the deficits.

Thus, while the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC)'s poverty maps point out deficits, or problems that need to be solved, the maps showing churches, hospitals, universities and businesses, show assets in the same community, or region, who could be working together to solve complex problems facing the community.

I read in today's Chicago Tribune Business Section that now that the University has the donation, "the hard part" is to figure out how to use that $300 million donation. Not for me.

I'd use it to tap the assets of the University of Chicago, the University of Chicago Hospital and the surrounding businesses and churches and community-based organizations to build a world class network of non-school youth and career development organizations in the high poverty areas within two miles around Hyde Park and these institutions.

I'd enlist Michelle Obama to be my chairperson, not just because she is the new President's wife, but because she has been an executive of the University of Chicago Hospital and she is raising her kids in this neighborhood. She does not want them, or anyone else, to be a future victim of a mugging caused by someone who may have grown up in the high poverty areas around Hyde Park. She's also an alumni of Public Allies, so has a history of service and organizing.

When she goes to Washington, DC, she will learn that the Capital is also surrounded by neighborhoods of high poverty and that many people working in government have been victims of similar muggings and acts of violence. Thus, a solution out of Hyde Park, can be a solution applied in DC and other cities, too.

Many people say this is an education and a social service problem. I say it's a business and marketing problem. It's a problem that affects all Americans. Until we fill the neighborhoods on the T/MC poverty maps with a wider range of learning supports, too few kids will have the tools to become future Barack Obamas.

Many people expect government to solve this problem. I think leadership needs to come from the private sector, perhaps with a little government help and leadership. When I listen to Obama's call for sacrifice and service, I think he might have the same ideas in mind. The community needs to be organized. The University is part of the community.

I view a comprehensive volunteer-based tutor/mentor program as a "retail store" where the products and services are things that would attract kids and volunteers to participate, and would support them in on-going activities that result in kids becoming alumni of the university and employees of the alumni who now lead companies around the world. Such programs would attract volunteers from beyond the immediate neighborhood, creating "bridging capital" that expands the aspirations and
opportunities for kids living in neighborhoods with more people modeling poverty and negative careers, than modeling a degree from the University of Chicago or any other university.

Every CEO who leads a company knows what it takes to build a great 'store' and develop products and services that draw customers. If you look at the maps we're creating, we show locations of businesses, churches and hospitals in the Chicago region, in addition to locations of nearly 200 volunteer based organizations that offer various forms of tutoring and or mentoring.

On the business maps you'll see that some of these companies have stores, or offices, throughout the region. I'm sure these were put in locations where the companies feel they have potential customers.

While having a store in the right place, with merchandise needed by customers is important, these companies also know they need to spend millions of dollars to advertise regularly so they attract and keep customers. Furthermore, they need to constantly upgrade their offerings as customers habits change and new competition enters the market.

I've heard social workers and teachers say that these are not skills being taught in the social service or education departments at most universities. They are being taught in the business schools.

As kids enter tutor/mentor programs in elementary schools they have one set of needs. As they grow older they have other needs and peer and community pressures are the competition keeping many from staying in school and moving to jobs and careers. To compete with gangs and negative aspirations the "stores" or tutor/mentor programs in an area need to offer activities and services that are more compelling. That's a simple enough concept. Making it work is much more difficult.

The top businesses in the world rely on constant research and learning to make sure they keep their companies competitive and leading their industry. These habits are taught by universities. Why not make the task of building a world class youth development system a practical learning project for the students who go through the business school at the university over the next 8 years? Why not engage the alumni and others who are now called to service by our new President and his wife?

Why not create a Business School Connection, drawing upon the talent of business schools in every major city to not only help establish tutor/mentor programs, but to assure they have the resources needed to keep kids and volunteers connected.

I fully believe that if the University of Chicago, or another university with a similar windfall donation from an alumni, were to apply some of this $300 million to a private sector business-development initiative with these goals, their work would attract the attention of people from around the world, and it would soon be duplicated by other universities who are surrounded by poverty and seek a more diversified student body and alumni base.

This is how I'd spend the money. In fact, it's how I'm spending the donations I have been receiving for the past 15 years.

None of the gifts I have received have been larger than $60,000, but, if you read other articles I've written, and follow the links on this blog, you'll see that we're already operating a tutor/mentor program called Cabrini Connections and working to help similar programs grow around the Hyde Park neighborhood and in other high poverty areas of the Chicago region.

We'd like to be a resource or a partner to any university or hospital who wants to help more kids be the next Barack Obama and who have the alumni who can provide the dollars needed to do this work.

We also would welcome any donor who would like to make a similar large scale investment in our own work.

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