Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mayor's Office launches Thrive Chicago Initiative - Are you involved?

The pipeline for helping youth from birth to work is not working for many youth living in high poverty neighborhoods. From time to time, new initiatives are launched out of a Mayor's office, intending to get everyone involved, and pointing in the same direction, in efforts to help young people succeed in school. In Chicago a Thrive Chicago initiative, modeled after the STRIVE partnership in Cincinnati, has been growing since the first of this year. I've not been included in the early stage brainstorming, so have only learned about the initiative by way of email forwarded to me by others. I have sent introductions to share the ideas I've been building on this topic for over 20 years. If you'd like to get included you should email "" to introduce yourself.

Since I've hosted a Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in Chicago every six months since 1994, and the next is November 4, I hope someone from this initiative will participate and introduce the new initiative to those who participate in these conferences.

I led a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in Chicago from 1975 to 2011 and over time, came to view a mentor-rich program as a site based "collective effort" with the staff and core leaders serving as the "backbone". I encourage you to read the Stanford Social Innovation Review articles about collective impact to see the parallel in what I'm suggesting.

Thus, similar programs operating in every high poverty neighborhoods, would represent a "collective effort" on a citywide scale. Building a database of such programs, inviting them to connect, building relationships, etc. has been my focus since 1994. It's difficult work.

I don't have a complaint about the city trying to build such a collective effort. This is not the first time they have spent a lot of money building something I've already created with a lot less money. I launched a Program Locator in 2004. The city built their program locator a few years later. No one involved in that project asked for my ideas or offered to collaborate.

I have concern about their ability to make it work. Here's a few graphics that I hope leaders of this effort will consider:

In building a collective effort, data that shows milestones resulting from activities is important. However, building a database of stakeholders who need to be involved is equally important. Providing visualizations that align everyone under a common goal of helping youth move through school and into careers, then motivating stakeholders to build this into their own actions, will be critically important. I created this graphic more than 15 years ago and this strategy map nearly 8 years ago.

The title of this initiative could have been "It Takes a Village" which is an over-used quote.

Yet, it does take consistent involvement of time, talent and dollars from business, faith groups, social networks, colleges, etc. to support the annual operations of every organization who commits to being part of this initiative. One of the "data collection" initiatives I'd recommend would be just mapping the number of organizations who have a version of the "birth to work" graphic or strategy map on their web site.

This leads to another tool that I feel is essential for success of this initiative. Mapping. You can find numerous articles on this blog where I've used maps and shown how they can be used to assure that youth serving organization are available in all the places where they are needed.
This graphic is a map of Chicago showing high poverty neighborhoods. The oil well icons are added to the map using Photoshop. The city would need to not only create a map showing where programs are needed and where existing programs are located. They would also need an accountability map showing levels of business, volunteer and philanthropy involvement, along with government funding, in each of the neighborhoods where help is needed.

In the articles I've written I've described this as a "marketing problem". Any plan to "get everyone involved" and "help youth move from birth to work" requires on-going marketing and leadership support for 20-30 years, to get people involved, keep them involved, generate resources needed, point those resources to all the locations involved in doing the work.
With the short term attention span of media and business leaders, and the constant turnover of staff in schools and non profits, as well as the change ever four to 10 years or so in our Mayor, or our President, mapping a marketing strategy that keeps attention focused on this issue as frequently as sports fans focus on baseball, football, basketball or other sports, is the innovation that such leadership teams will need to provide.

Why should I be in this conversation? I've been spending more time thinking about this than most people over the past 40 years. I don't need to be involved if people are spending time reading all of the articles I've posted on my various web sites, or in forums hosted by others. Yet, I might be able to offer some insight that would reduce the "reinvention of the wheel".

Helping youth move from 'birth to work' is like building a skyscraper. Blueprints are needed that show what needs to be done at each stage along the way, along with the talent needed to do this work. EVERYONE needs to be paid! Raising this money and distributing it to networks of organizations in more than 50 community areas is a monumental challenge. I don't know all of the answers, but at least I've been thinking about the challenge for a long time.

Maybe all of what I've written about is already in the "thinking" and "planning" of the Thrive Chicago initiative. I'm hoping to find a web site, Google+ community, MOOC and other points of engagement where these ideas are being shared and where I or others can become involved.

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