Wednesday, February 01, 2006

2006 State of the Union Response: There's A Better Way

Last night in the Democratic response to President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine said "There's got to be a better way" to manage the affairs of government.

I agree, but my message is to leaders of both parties on the national and local level. My message is also to business leaders who are worrying about how to stay competitive with foreign competition over the next 20-30 years.

For many years I've been trying to draw attention to what I think is a better way to help inner city kids succeed in school and move to careers.

You can find my ideas in the Tutor/Mentor Institute Library.

I've created a variety of short power point essays illustrating the role business should be taking to PULL kids through school and into jobs, using their employees, jobs, technology, leadership and dollars.

I've also created power point essays showing how maps could be used to build a better distribution of resources, and programs, in all poverty neighborhoods of a big city like Chicago. Read the one titled "No General Would Go to War without a Map"

So far I've had many people say "great idea" but few leaders come and say, "let me help you".

In fact, the opposite seems to be happening. The Tutor/Mentor Connection has been building and maintaining a database of non-school tutor/mentor programs since 1994. We use this to send invitations for programs to come together for networking and collaboration, and to draw donors and volunteers to the various tutor/mentor programs in different neighborhoods of the city .

We've had to build this with a patchwork of inconsistent donor help and a variety of volunteers because we cannot find donors who would invest in this. Yet every year some city or state organization spends scarce money to build a database of non school youth serving organizations. I just received a fax from Chicago Public Schools asking for information for the database they are building.

It would be a lot cheaper for CPS and other public agencies to give money to the T/MC to help us update the database we've already created, not just because we have a database, but because we're using the database to draw private sector resources to these programs. We're using the database to help existing programs survive and get better. We're using it to help identify the neighborhoods without programs so that businesses, churches, hospitals and community groups can fill these voids, borrowing from the ideas of programs that already provide services.

I cannot imagine the Mayor, or the CEO of Chicago Public Schools saying to all of their business friends, "look in our database and make a contribution to tutor/mentor programs near where your employees live or near where you sell merchandise or in neighborhoods with poorly performing schools". This would possibly reduce donations to the School Partners Program or to the Chicago Matters Program. Yet, maybe the schools would need less money if more kids were coming to school better prepared to learn and with greater aspirations to have a career beyond those modeled in their neighborhoods by ex-convicts and gangbangers.

In the Tutor/Mentor Institute is a section titled Theory of Change. It shows how important it is for someone to maintain this database, not just create it. It shows what can result if we help programs get the resources they need to do good work of mentoring kids to make healthy choices. It also shows that this is a long term process and that if you don't maintain the database on an ongoing basis, it is worthless and the benefit of having a database will be reduced.

There is a better way. If Democrats and Republicans would begin to use maps to show where they need to provide better services, and if voters would begin to use maps to determine where in their district an elected person has helped a community organization get a donation, or a volunteer, we could be more objective in fighting our wars.

That's how generals use maps.

Daniel F. Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection
Cabrini Connections (1993-2011)
Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC (2011-present)

NOTE: this article was edited in 2015 to update links referred to in the article and to show changes in my organizational affiliation.

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