Monday, December 21, 2020

Deeper Learning - the way faith groups and colleges do it

This weekend the Chicago Tribune has once again been telling the story of Cabrini-Green, the public housing development on the Near North Side of Chicago where I operated volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs from 1975 until 2011. 

This time the young boy who was killed was part of a family that since the 1980s,  has had children in the programs I led.  Many members of that family no longer live in the area but a few still do. That's true for many of the youth our programs served. Some of the kids have gone to college and even have advanced degrees and good jobs and are raising their own kids outside of high poverty areas. But in extended families, some still struggle with the effects of concentrated poverty in big cities like Chicago.

I've been trying to help organized tutor/mentor programs, like the ones I led, grow in these areas for the past 27 years.  As we approach this Christmas and holiday season, let's reflect on this.

The image of the lonesome warrior is one that reminds me of the men and women who are fighting overseas to make this a better world. As we count our blessings, let's pray for the young people in our armed forces.

However, this image is also one that I think of when I think of the people leading social benefit organizations around the world, mostly in isolation, mostly with too few resources to do everything they are trying to do. From 1990 to 2011 while I led a small non profit organization, I wrote thousands of letters to potential donors, business leaders, city leaders, foundations, etc. asking for support of the volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs I led, and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which I created in late 1992 as a strategy aimed at helping high quality, constantly improving, tutor/mentor programs grow and thrive in all high poverty areas of the Chicago region.

While I raised more than $6 million over an 18 year period from 1993 to 2011, I received far more rejections than approvals. My biggest challenge was not finding new donors. It was holding existing donors who kept changing due to business conditions, changes of focus, funding restrictions, etc. After a few years of doing this I said "there has to be a better way".  That led to the Tutor/Mentor Connection being formed in 1993. 

Below are some graphics that I've included in several past articles, as far back as 2007.

Instead of each different tutor/mentor program competing for a shrinking pool of dollars, why can't we combine our efforts and innovate ways to inspire more donors to fund our sector? Then let those donors choose who to fund based on where we are located, and what we show of our work on our web sites.

When I was a retail advertising manager (1973-1990) for the Montgomery Ward headquarters based in Chicago I learned that more competition in a market created more advertising and led more customers to want the products we were selling. Those customers usually shopped at a store near where they lived or worked. I've piloted the uses of maps since 1993 to show where tutor/mentor programs are needed and to help potential customers locate programs in different parts of the city.

I've borrowed ideas from others for more than 40 years. My background studying history in college, and spending three years in US Army Intelligence, taught me to look for ideas applied by others and to borrow those ideas to improve my own efforts.

One of the web sites I found nearly 15 years ago was one that is called Internet Evangelism Day. This article suggests that the old way of standing on street corners to pass out religious tracts is replaced by using websites to express ideas. The people who find your websites are already interested in what you offer, thus will spend more time trying to understand your message.

Thus, my vision is that people who care about helping inner city kids living in high poverty areas will learn to use websites like mine for deeper learning, and to make funding decisions. The graphic at the right shows the home page of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC and can be found at this link  It shows information found in the various sections of the website, including a library with research articles that anyone can read to build a deeper understanding of the challenges facing youth and families in high poverty areas or to build a greater appreciation for the value of volunteer-based, non-school, tutor, mentor and learning programs.

Since I share so much information I created a concept map which offers a "learning path" through the information I share. This link points to that concept map, 

Some might say "who will spend this much time?" I would say, "Who is tired of spending billions of dollars with so little long-term impact?" Why in the social sector do we make funding decisions based on sound bytes and elevator speeches, where in the corporate world plans are developed over many years of research and thinking and customers make purchasing and shopping decisions based on waves of advertising.

The Internet is a Game Changer. Busy executives, people with too much money to know what to do with it. Political leaders. They all use computers and if they do a Google search for "tutor mentor" they will find my sites. If the spend a little time every day reading and reflecting they will soon understand the ideas and be able to adopt what makes sense to them into their own efforts.

Now that Covid19 has moved learners and businesses on-line and into ZOOM and similar meeting spaces there's more opportunity than ever before to help people find and use the information I and others have been amassing on their websites.

Those who lead small non profits, or are struggling to get social benefit ideas launched, may relate to this One-To-Many graphic. We're constantly reaching out in many different directions, trying to find the help we need. We're like fish in a bowl, competing with thousands of others for a limited amount of dollars and volunteers. Unless you've got a powerful marketing machine, or are well connected in donor circles, you succeed some of the time, but not most of the time, and you spend tremendous amounts of emotional capital and energy all of the time.

Through the Tutor/Mentor Connection, I'm trying to change this. I'm trying to recruit leaders in many places who lead strategic thinking process in their organization that aligns social benefit with corporate and organizational strategy. Such leaders will use their own advertising, visibility and resources to support the growth of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs that lead kids to careers, because it's a core business strategy.  Instead of supporting a single program serving a limited number of youth in a few places. they will point to maps showing all the places where such programs are needed and encourage volunteers and donors to "shop" to find programs they can support in neighborhoods they want to help. 

I've been saying this for a long time, and a few years ago I found an article on the Harvard Business Review that reinforces this concept. The article is titled Strategy & Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility. Written by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer.

Education and workforce development are of strategic importance for most industries. Thus, if leaders of business, health care, law, journalism, sports and entertainment, etc. are strategic, they can use tools like the Program Locator and Chicago Program Links to choose what part of a city they want to support, and what programs they want to help grow from good to great.

This isn't a strategy to support just one tutor/mentor program, or one brand name like the Boys and Girls Clubs, or Big BrothersBigSisters. It's a strategy to help every high poverty neighborhood have comprehensive programs that are one end of the pipeline to jobs and careers for businesses that are strategically engaging their corporate resources to help grow their future workforce. 

I've been writing articles sharing these ideas for 15 years.  My web library points to more than 2000 links, including nearly 200 youth serving organizations in the Chicago region. In a conversation with a local leader today I talked about how faith groups have pointed weekly to scripture such as the Bible or the Koran, encouraging people to read a few passages, think about them, talk about them with others, then try to apply them in their lives.  Every high school and college is organized around a library of information, where the teacher assigns a reading assignment, the students read and reflect, the class discusses, then the students write an essay or term paper to share what they are thinking.

I duplicated this strategy through the intern programs I offered college students between 2005 and 2015. Visit this blog and browse through the articles and see how students spent time learning, then created blogs and other visualizations to share what they were learning.

This needs to be duplicated in business, government, philanthropy and in direct service organizations all over the world, not just in Chicago.

I did not create the Tutor/Mentor Connection based on one or two conversations. It is the result of more than 40 years of trying to find better ways to help volunteers and kids connect in organized programs that transform the lives of both the young people AND the volunteers. Thus, unless I can motivate people to set up on-going learning programs, like the intern programs I operated, I fear that even if someone is enthusiastic about supporting my efforts and helping me raise money, they won't be armed with the in-depth understanding of how the Tutor/Mentor Connection works or how to duplicate it and focus it on any specific geographic area...including Chicago.  (Note: since 2011 I've led the Tutor/Mentor Connection via Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC. I  use these names interchangeably. It's the same strategy. Just different tax structures.) 

If decision makers in philanthropy, government and business go directly to the internet to build their own understanding of problems and solutions, instead of depending on sound bytes provided by people who work for them, who depend on one or two page summaries from organizations competing for scarce funding, perhaps better, more consistent, and longer lasting support will be distributed to all of the neighborhoods where help is needed and to more of the organizations already operating in those areas. 

Here's my list of Chicago area programs.  Decide what part of the city you want to help, then look at websites of organizations working in that area. Based on what you see, and talking with program leaders, decide who you want to help then offer time and talent, or send a check.

Hopefully a few will spend time on Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC sites and step forward to offer their help for my own role in this process. Here's a page where you can send a contribution.

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