Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Can One Person, or a Small Group, Really Change the World?

I created this graphic several years ago to show how the ideas of one person, or a small group, could spread throughout the world, as a result of a consistent effort to share ideas and expand the network. You can see the graphic in this presentation.

So, yes. One person, or a small group, can change the world. But it's really, really difficult.

I've been trying to apply these ideas in Chicago for over 40 years. Initially my focus was the tutor/mentor program at the Montgomery Ward headquarters in Chicago, which I began to lead in 1975 when the program was starting the school year with about 100 pairs of employee volunteers and 2nd-6th grade elementary school kids.  By recruiting other volunteers to share leadership and organizational roles with me, and applying mass communications strategies learned in my advertising work, the program grew to 300 pairs of kids/volunteers by 1990, with less than 24 hours a week of part time college student staff.  We were changing the world for the kids who participated. That program still operates. It's called Tutoring Chicago now.

During the 1970s and 1980s I began to draw leaders of other programs together to share ideas that helped me in my own program, but also helped them in their programs. Through my work at Wards I was learning how a small group at the corporate office could support the activities of 400 stores in 40 states reaching millions of potential customers. I began to understand that the work of a single program could have a positive impact on a few kids, but well organized, mentor-rich programs, were needed in every poverty neighborhood of Chicago, where more than 200,000 kids lived.

I also began to see that while we were serving 2nd to 6th grade kids, there was a need for programs that helped these kids move through high school and into college and work.  Furthermore, while volunteers could provide tutoring and mentoring support, parents, youth, schools and communities often needed other support such as health care, jobs, transportation assistance, which was more than we could provide in our single program.

In late 1992, no one had a master database of tutor/mentor programs serving Chicago, thus no one could organize and lead an on-going effort to help each program be great (which was the store support goal of the Montgomery Ward Corporation), so when the opportunity presented itself in late 1992, I and six other volunteers formed Cabrini Connections to serve 7th to 12th grade youth, and we formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) to help programs grow throughout the Chicago region.  That started with building a master database of tutor/mentor programs, launched in 1994.   This 4-part strategy presentation and this Tutor/Mentor Learning Network presentation are two of many similar presentations that show the work I've been trying to do.  I'm still leading the T/MC strategy 23 years later, but through the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC structure.

There have been many, many challenges to helping tutor/mentor programs grow in all poverty areas of Chicago. One is that new organizations keep emerging to do similar work, or to segment the market, both locally and nationally.  That would be fine if they were also applying the same thinking and network building strategies, but just by looking at web sites, it's difficult to see that happening.

This concept map shows organizations who are intermediaries, focused on the well-being of youth in the Chicago region. They support multiple organizations doing similar work, such as arts, technology, STEM, etc. They are not direct service organizations themselves. Click on the link at the bottom of each node and you go to that organization's web site. Look for maps, visualizations of a birth-to-work thinking. Look at the resource section and see if there are links to the T/MC or the other organizations on this map.

While I've been creating maps and visualizations for many years and writing this blog since 2005, too few people have actually seen these ideas. Many of my visualizations are out of date.  I'm constantly updating the concept map showing intermediaries, and my other maps. I have less help today, than I did prior to 2011. And had far too little help before then.

I started creating videos in 2010, using a screen capture feature that I learned from a lady in England. However, after leaving Cabrini Connections in 2011, these all need to be updated, just to provide new contact information.

In the past couple of years I've been gathering new ideas from educators I've met via a Connected Learning #clmooc network.  One idea was the use of Vialogues to post and annotate videos. Last week I decided to post my videos, and use the annotation to provide updates. Below is one.

This video is relevant because we're nearing the conclusion of National Mentoring Month. While there have been hundreds of social media posts recognizing volunteers and showing the impact of mentoring, I've not seen many (any?) showing strategies intended to expand what volunteers do to help youth move from poverty to careers, or to help programs constantly improve, or grow in more places.

This has always been needed, and important. However, as we head into a new era of government that may have less interest in helping the disadvantaged in America, it's even more important that volunteer-based organizations learn to influence what their volunteers will do to help keep America Great, or make it as great as it should have been since its founding.

That means more programs need to be creating and sharing videos like this, to show their own theory of change and strategy.  More need to be creating concept maps to show who else focuses on similar goals.  More need to be following each other's blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, etc. It also means business, universities, foundations, etc. need to encourage, recognize and provide talent and dollars to support this work in hundreds of locations.

If you are doing videos or maps to show these strategies, please share with me on social media, or via the comments section.  If you'd like to help me, or discuss these ideas, I'd be happy to connect.

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