Speech | What sets Public Allies apart

When people hear that Public Allies is an AmeriCorps program that involves a 10-month service apprenticeship for young adults, they often lump us in with other youth service programs. The list is long and full of amazing groups doing important work; we’re honored to be in their company. But sometimes the lumping tendency does a dis-service to service groups in that it overlooks our distinct differences. At Public Allies, we believe that our inclusive, collaborative definition of leadership is what sets us apart.

That’s why I’m posting the speech below. It was delivered by our CEO, Paul Schmitz, at the plenary session of this year’s annual Independent Sector conference. I think it does a wonderful job expressing Public Allies’ approach to leadership. If you’re thinking of being an Ally, this will help you understand what it’s all about. I hope you find it inspiring and thought-provoking. -DMB

Paul Schmitz

My greatest influence growing up was John Lennon, who said. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”… I never understood that, either, but he also said. “Think globally, act locally.” And I understand that and it frames how I think about dealing with some of the big global challenges we are facing today.

I think people need to see change where they are to believe that solving bigger problems is possible. If we are to build civil society in an increasingly uncivil culture and solve problems, we must think more from the bottom up.

Steve Heintz, CEO of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, quoted Peter Drucker that in turbulent times, we cannot solve problems today using yesterday’s logic. I would add to that we also can’t solve problems using yesterday’s leadership…

Now let me be clear about that. I am not voicing a rejection, but an invitation for you to make our tables bigger, broader, and more diverse. There is still a seat for you.

At Public Allies we talk about changing the face and practice of leadership, because if you change who is at the proverbial tables, the tables themselves must also change.

By changing the face, I’m saying that we must bring more diverse people and perspectives to our tables. It is imperative. As a sector we fail to do that.

One of my Allies a few years ago was doing her presentation of learning. It is how they demonstrate what they’ve learned at the end of our program. Her supervisor, a boomer and ’60s activist, asked her what his generation of activists and leaders needed to learn that her generation understands. She replied, “Your generation sees diversity as an ideal, something to believe in. We learned that it is an action, something you do.” 

 Our sector believes in diversity very well, but we don’t do diversity well. That must change.

 And if we change who is at the table, the table itself must change. We must think about how to solve problems differently.

Many of our nonprofits here today have grown a lot. We’re serving more people, we’re managing better, we are achieving more outcomes, and we have evidence our programs work. Yet, social problems linger and racial and other disparities have grown. 

In my community, we have had a dramatic increase in youth programs, after-school programs, education organizations, choice schools, charter schools, teaching programs, and all the rest. If I consult their websites, annual reports and funders, they are all meeting lots of outcomes and some have won national awards and recognition for evidence and innovation. But it doesn’t add up. In fact, despite all these “proven” efforts, we continue to have the worst 3rd grade reading scores for African American children.

There is no evidence that the aggregation of evidence-based, control-group-researched, outcome-focused services add up to needle-moving change on important issues. Improved strategy, management, outcomes, and evidence are probably necessary to move the needle, but they are not sufficient.

Perhaps we have to reverse-engineer how we think about solving problems. We need to look at communities where the graduation rate is up 20%, the crime rate cut in half, teen pregnancy down by a third and figure out what added up to produce those results. My hunch is that there were successful programs but that they were combined with political will, organizing, advocacy, community engagement, and community building. Top down solutions don’t work if they don’t engage communities in the solution.

The pendulum has swung over the last 20 years toward an emphasis on nonprofit leadership as management and service as science. What has been lost is the art of service – how we lead, engage, and organize with communities. The science of service may be necessary but it is not sufficient to create real change without the art of service.

So I think that to address these big challenges, we have to get real about how we engage diverse communities so that we can really begin to solve problems closer to home.

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Video | Welcome … and get ready!

This video has been making the rounds of the Public Allies network, and we thought we should share it with our Allies2010 friends. In it, Public Allies CEO Paul Schmitz delivers a welcome to the new class of Allies. Depending on which of the 21 cities the Allies serve in, they start their core training any time between late August and mid October.

This was filmed on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which is our Operating Partner in Milwaukee. Paul was conducting a Friday training for the Milwaukee Allies, and he decided it would be a nice opportunity to enlist some help for a rousing cheer. The video includes excerpts from his training session, which is a terrific primer about the Public Allies leadership philosophy.

Enjoy! And maybe you’ll be getting a welcome of your own one day.

Video | Honk if you’re an Ally

Guest blogger Elias Cepeda (left) is a new program manager at Public Allies Chicago. One of his colleagues has been videotaping the activities of Chicago’s new class of Allies. This video shows one of their exercises. Elias was kind enough to put it in some context so you won’t be left wondering why a bunch of grown adults keep saying “vroom” to each other.

At first glance it resembles a slightly out of control inside joke – 30 or so people in a circle gesturing back and forth between one another, with sound effects. One after the other blurts “vroom!” or “oil slick!” or “pit stop!” while waving a hand, twirling a finger or putting both arms in front of their body. 

In fact, it’s a well-planned morning exercise on the fifth day of core training for Chicago’s 2011 class of Allies. Mari Meyer, the program manager who facilitated the activity, explains what  is going on: 

“We are working as a team to get our imaginary race car around our track and there are certain sounds and movements that are required to do that successfully. For example, a side twist push and ‘vroom’ sound allows the car to move, and then a screeching brake sound and a hand against the direction the car is coming from stops the car and turns it around.” 

It’s an exercise Meyer learned through her theater experience as a youth. The idea is to move participants out of their comfort zones.  The mix of physicality and sound takes into account different kinds of learners. 

If the activity looks and sounds silly to observers, they’re not alone. At least initially, many of the Allies themselves – all adults working on very serious issues in the community, full time – weren’t so sure about Meyer’s race car simulation. “At first people are skeptical, especially older people,” she says. “They think it is silly and think, ‘how am I going to look?’ But once they start getting into it everyone lets go and it gets funny, noisy and loud. People get engaged  and everyone gets excited when it’s their turn and they are able to add in their own creative expression.” 

Engagement, collaboration and creative expression, all towards a goal. Now it starts to make some sense. The seemingly unruly and silly exercise actually fits very well into the Public Allies paradigm. 

“So much of our program is about building strong leaders that are not only able to lead and work effectively, but also collaborate on a team. It is not only about being accountable for themselves but also about communicating with partners, peers, teammates and co-workers. That is so crucial to them  developing as well-rounded leaders. In the game, they have to think,  ‘how am I going to work effectively with all these other people to make this car go ‘round?’ ” 

:: Visit the Public Allies Chicago web page here.

We’re turning our Facebook Wall into a big greeting card!

 

Starting tomorrow, we have a really cool way to honor everyone who’s graduating in the Public Allies Class of 2010.

Each unique congratulations post made on our Facebook Wall between tomorrow and June 30 will be met with a $5 donation to a Public Allies fund-raising campaign on Causes.com. So you can share your good wishes with, say, the Allies who graduate in Miami next week, or the class graduating in North Carolina next month, and $5 will be donated in their name — without you having to spend a penny.

Pretty nice, huh?

It’s all thanks to a generous matching donor who’s helping out with the campaign. But to me, the best thing about this idea is that it gives us a chance to all get together in one virtual “place” to share a little love and honor a truly admirable accomplishment — finishing 10 months of a Public Ally apprenticeship program.

FYI here are the graduation dates:

  • June 15: Cincinnati
  • June 24: Chicago, Delaware
  • June 25: Milwaukee
  • June 30: Arizona, Connecticut, Miami, New Mexico, New York, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Silicon Valley
  • July 2: North Carolina
  • July 9: Los Angeles
  • July 30: Maryland
  • August 1: Indianapolis
  • August 7: Eagle Rock

So if you know anyone graduating from one of those sites, think about visiting www.facebook.com/publicallies and giving him or her a shout-out. Further details can found at this Facebook Events page.

(Image: Etsy.com)

Videos | The super-hero series continues

Here you go: Two more installments in our June video series, “The Adventures of Public Allies Super-Heroes.” In Episode 5, you get a 78-second recap of our story so far. Just three more epsiodes to go.

See the first installment of video postings here and the second one here.

(In case you’re wondering, here’s a list of people making appearances as over-actors. In Episode 4: Merilou Gonzales, Melinda Rodriguez, Michelle Dobbs, Tom Hosch, Tim Dropik, Cris Ros-Dukler. In Episode 5: All of the above plus Michael Allen, Amelia Pena, David Todd, Diane Bacha, David McKinney and Paul Schmitz.)

Snapshot | Dainty … or determined?

This snapshot of Nikki, an Ally in San Francisco, was taken by Christophe Gonzales during a service day project. The “caption” below was written by Lauren LePage, a San Francisco Ally.

In her mid-year presentation of learning, Nikki performed spoken word, sharing with us a poem she’d written about feeling pressed on all sides. And when the pressure built up, she stopped trying; to be mediocre was easier.

But she wanted to press back. 

As her fellow Ally, I’ve watched Nikki press back, press back, and press on through. She is nothing short of fierce. In this photo, Nikki’s wearing a mask and gloves not because she’s dainty or nervous about paint smudges; she’s protecting herself from paint fumes. Because even though she was pregnant, she was determined to take part in our Cesar Chavez Service Day, determined to help create the mural at Anne Darling Elementary School, just as she was determined to fully commit to her placement, her Team Service Project (of which I’m proud to be a part), and her Critical Reflection project.

She pressed, she pressed, she pressed on back. And that’s not all she pressed on through…

Meet baby Kaya Seletute Arenal, born May 21, 2010, at 3:09 a.m. We like to refer to her as the Team HIP baby.

♦ ♦ ♦

Editor’s Note #1: You can see more photos from this service day at http://christophephotography.blogspot.com/

Editor’s Note #2: Congratulations Nikki! Kaya is beautiful.

Video | What are Allies getting done?

Earlier this year, 10 of the Public Allies communities took part in a “Fill-a-Flip Blitz.” Each used a company-issued Flip camera to videotape stories about what was going on around Ally Nation.

We’ve receieved Flip material from six of the 10 participating communities so far. It has been my job to log all the material and turn it into edited videos, and I gotta say it’s easy to feel like an underachiever as I listen to these interviews — with Allies, Alumni, staff, and the people who are working with Allies in their placements. There are so many passionate, capable people doing and supporting Public Allies work.

Anyhoo, some of the videos you have seen and will see on this blog come from the Fill-a-Flip project, and here’s one more. I spliced together snippets of interviews with 16 Allies as they described the work they are doing in their placements. The interviews come from Arizona, Chicago, Maryland, New York and North Carolina and were conducted in April. The Allies you’ll meet here are at or near the end of their placements now, and getting ready for Presentations of Learning (PublicAllySpeak for year-end reports) and graduation. Give ’em props for all they’ve accomplished! Their names, in order of appearance, with their Ally communities …

Ashley Brown, North Carolina; George Morse, North Carolina; Ben Garcia-Spitz, Chicago; Megan Anderson, Chicago (you may recall her from an earlier post); Ella Nguyen, North Carolina; Brandon Johnson, Arizona; Yasmeen Nanwalala, Chicago; Eduardo Cordon, Chicago; Tarnasia Lundy, New York; Kelsey Addy, Maryland; Robert Wheatfall, Chicago; Robbie Flick, Maryland (with his boss); Bola Odejayi, Maryland; Akil Meade, Maryland; Raquel Rodriguez, Maryland (with one of her mentees); and John “JD” VanSlyke, Chicago.

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