Saturday, April 08, 2017

President's Summit for America's Future - 20 Years Later

USA Weekend 4-25-97
This month is the 20 year anniversary of the 1997 President's Summit for America's Future event, which was held in Philadelphia. While the build-up leading into this event was to focus attention on the 13-15 million kids living in poverty (read President Clinton's speech, in which he says "There are 15 million young Americans in need, and we should not be satisfied until we have touched the life of every one of those 15 million American youngsters."), the follow-up since then, led by the America's Promise organization, has focused on the many needs of all kids.

I was one of 10 people representing Chicago at the 1997 Summit, in my role as a 22-year leader of a volunteer based tutor/mentor program hosted at the Montgomery Ward Corporate Headquarters in Chicago, and my role as founder of the Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC), created in 1993 to help mentor-rich non-school programs grow in all high poverty neighborhoods.

In addition to my selection to be part of the Chicago delegation, the Tutor/Mentor Connection was selected as a Teaching Example by the event organizers, and invited to be one of 50 organizations hosting display tables at the summit.  In the months following I created a ppt presentation to share the "master plan" of the T/MC. I updated that PPT and put it on Slideshare last year.  One page is shown below.

The T/MC included at least two innovations that made it different from other intermediaries. First, our goal was to help every existing non-school tutor/mentor program get the talent, ideas and dollars that would help each become better every year at connecting youth and volunteers and ideas in long-term career-focused efforts.

This is innovative because in philanthropy and government funding, each organization competes with every other organization for a limited pool of resources. There are only a few winners in most grant competitions.  Only a few organizations with high profile leadership or located in high profile areas are able to consistently attract enough of the resources they need to build strong organizations and provide constantly improving services. This competition affects smaller organizations serving poverty populations more than other types of non profits, such as arts, universities, hospitals, etc. where those impacted or who benefit come from wealthy, as well as, poverty areas. See articles focused on challenges of non profits.

We launched a survey in 1994 and published a first Tutor/Mentor Programs Directory in May 1994, as we hosted the first Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in Chicago, in an effort to connect programs on our data base with each other, and with others who were needed to help mentor-rich programs grow.

The Directory organized programs by section of the city and coded them by age group served and type of program (pure tutoring, pure mentoring, combination tutor/mentor) and included maps showing this information.

We used the public attention generated by events like the conferences to draw more interest and support for tutor/mentor programs listed in our Directory. This link shows print media stories that resulted from this strategy.

T/MC commitment to using maps to show all the areas where mentor rich programs are needed has been a second on-going innovation.  Businesses have been using maps for many years to identify locations of customers and places to put retail stores and sell merchandise and services.  Businesses use central office strategies to help every store be great at what they do to attract and retain customers and sell more and more merchandise every year.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection applied this thinking, based on my 17 years working in corporate advertising with Montgomery Ward. We not only mapped locations of programs and demographics of poverty, but created overlays showing businesses, faith groups, hospitals and universities spread throughout the city, who we feel should be proactive in supporting the growth of non-school tutor/mentor programs in areas where they do business or where employees and/or customers live.

I've shared this use of maps in many ways, before and since the 1997 Summit.  Below is a letter I wrote to the Chronicle of Philanthropy in May 1998.

Chronicle of Philanthropy, Opinion Letter, May 1998

Unfortunately almost no leaders in business, higher education or philanthropy ever responded with consistent support to help me build this mapping capacity and create map stories on an on-going basis that would draw attention and resources to tutor/mentor programs in high poverty areas of the Chicago region. Those who did, were lost in the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. However, part of this was also my own inability to recruit volunteers who could put the map-making into a realistic, budgeted, business plan that I could pitch to funders or investors.

With help from an graduate student intern from India, and IIT in Chicago, we created an interactive, searchable, on-line Directory in 2004, then with an anonymous 2007 $50,000 donation, we re-built our in-house GIS mapping capacity, and with help from a tech team based in India, we created an on-line, map-based program locator in 2008.

In this article you can see examples of using the map views created with the Program Locator.  At this link you can see a map gallery of map-stories created from 2008-2011 by our in-house map-maker.   We ran out of money to keep building the program locator in 2009 and by 2011 we had no funds to keep our map-maker on staff. I've not been able to update the Program Locator since 2013.  (2022 note: the program locator is now only available as an archive. Visit this page to see current map and list of Chicago area tutor and/or mentor programs.)

I mentioned my inability to put together a realistic business plan and cost estimate. I was in a meeting in 2008 with a wealthy technology innovator from India and had the opportunity to show the Program Locator which we were building at that time. He leaned forward, showing interest, then said "How much will this cost?"  I gave the worst answer possible. I said, "I don't know. I've been building this with volunteers and scraps of funding."  He turned to others at the table, and said "We can build this ourselves."  I don't know if he ever did.

One other innovation of the T/MC was that I began to put all of my ideas and the Tutor/Mentor Directory and Library on-line in 1998.  This mid 2000's article about "web evangelism" describes the internet as a "pull medium" available to anyone in the world who is seeking ideas for reducing poverty and inequality.  It describes the strategy I'd been implementing since 1998.

I fervently believe that rich and powerful people, as well as everyone else, has the potential to find and embrace the ideas I and others have been sharing on-line..... if they take the time to look.  

While people all over the world have found my sites, including the anonymous donor who gave $50,000 in 2007, too few people of influence have found it and reached out to ask "how can I help you?"

Chicago still has the same problems of poverty, segregation and inequality that were reasons for forming the T/MC in 1993. Thus, leaders who help re-build the T/MC strategy and lead it using their own talent and resources, might have more impact over the next 20 years than I have had over the last 20 years.

I've not been invited to the 20 year anniversary of the President's Summit, which will be held in New York City, and could not go if I was, due to lack of funds.  I'll participate on-line with articles like this and by nudging the network on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and US Secretary of Education, will be honored at the event for his work. I first met Arne in 1994 and last met with him a few weeks prior to his selection as CEO of Chicago schools. At that meeting I reviewed the T/MC strategy and asked for his support, which he pledged.

Barack Obama was a speaker at the May 1999 Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference.  I met with Michelle Obama a few years earlier when she was at the University of Chicago.

I was never able to enlist their support for the T/MC strategy, then, or in the many years since then.

Paul Vallas, who was just named interim President of Chicago State University, was a T/MC supporter while CEO of Chicago Schools. He spoke at a couple of the T/MC conferences in Chicago and at press conferences launching the annual August/September Chicagoland Tutor/Mentor Volunteer Recruitment campaigns. During his tenure, CPS provided partial funding for the T/MC Conferences and purchased copies of the printed Directory.

As Vallas, Duncan and former President Obama return to Chicago and it's problems, perhaps they will reach out and offer new interest in the T/MC strategy and a new level of support.

However, as I wrote above, anyone can find and read these articles. Anyone can help re-build the T/MC in Chicago, or build a version of this to help reduce poverty in other cities.

Unfortunately, it's not too late to offer your help.

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