Saturday, April 24, 2010

What is purpose of conferences. Seminars?

I attended a Wednesday, April 21 meeting focused on civic engagement of Older Adults. I also presented a workshop on April 22 at a conference at the University of Iowa.

In the one meeting people were talking about organizing a conference in September to increase awareness of the "year of the Engaged Older Adult". In the other, educators in Iowa were gathering to address the growing education gap in their state caused by increased immigration and increased rates of poverty.

John Hostiny of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNS) presented a handout titled "Leadership for Impact and Innovation" from Patrick Corvington, the new CEO for CNS. The corporation's goals to foster higher levels of innovation, collaboration and impact in America's service and volunteer sector were summed up in four points.

* Service as a solution - Targeting resources to tackle national priorities from increasing high school graduation rates to fostering economic opportunity

* Expanding opportunities to serve - connecting with citizens from diverse communities, backgrounds, and perspectives, providing easily accessible service opportunities

* Building enduring capacity - enabling individual, organizations and communities to become more effective at addressing pressing challenges and better able to use service as a lasting solution

* Embracing innovation - investing in models that work, finding new ways of doing business, and serving as a source of ideas for local communities

I visited the CNS web site this morning, and browsed through its many sections. There is extensive information on volunteering and how to get involved. However, I did not see anything like this chart, pointing people to the different "challenge areas" where they might get involved.

I borrowed this idea from the Boston Hub of Innovation, where they have this graphic posted. If you click on the map under any slice, such as "education" a new page opens, with information specific to that issue.

Imagine if something like this were on the web site of every Mayor, or the Corporation for National Service, or the White House, or the CEO of every corporation. Every visitor would be pointed to places where they could get more information about a problem.

But wait. Something's missing. A map.

What if there were a map of Boston, like the maps created by the Tutor/Mentor Connection, that shows where poorly performing schools are located, and where volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs are located. With this visitors can see where more programs are needed, and they can search to choose which of the existing programs they want to help as a volunteer, leader, donor, business partner, etc.

On the CNS web site, they would need to start with a map of the United States, which people could then use to click what state they want to get involved with, then what part of the sate.

On the CNS web site there is a section on "new funding opportunities". When I was in Iowa last week I heard a speaker talk about how difficult it is to apply for federal funding. He suggested that schools partner with universities, or find professional grant writers.

What if this thinking were reversed? What if leaders recognized that every organization in every poverty neighborhood needs a consistent flow of innovation resources in order to learn to apply all of these good ideas? Competitive fund raising means most people lose and don't get funded, even though they spend loads of money and time writing grant requests.

To me, the purpose of conferences and seminars is to help people build relationships with each other, to point them to good ideas that they might apply in their own work, and to draw attention from the 99% of the people in a community who can't attend that conference, or who are not involved in this process of learning and service that the CEO of CNS envisions.

It's the work we do between conferences, and with each other, that turns these ideas into effective actions. Our conferences should be linked to knowledge libraries and interactive forums where people can dig deeper and connect with others who care about the same issue.

One goal from such collective action would be to educate donors to pick causes and stay with them with consistent and flexible support for many years. The Giving Pie above illustrates this goal.

Is your conference and your web site serving this goal? See how the Tutor/Mentor Conference does this.

If we want the same end results, of fewer kids not finishing high school prepared for college and careers, then our leaders should be more proactive in pushing resources to all of the places where data shows that this is a crisis in America.

What do you think? Who is doing this really well?


Matt said...

Though training and couching plays a vital role, mentoring has its own effectiveness because senior level guidance is given to all working class to enhance their working condition and to eliminate work related conflicts in an organization.

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Thanks Matt. I encourage you and your company to use the Tutor/Mentor Connection as a resource, and to add your voice to the mobilization of volunteers and donors to support volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in many cities.