Because there is entirely too much noise in the world, too many organizations with the same mission working along separate lanes in the same communities, too many companies with similar social impact statements in competition for the same markets. When I was younger, and I was looking to launch a non-profit, the first advice I got was to scan the market and if someone was already doing the work, try joining the team and adding your talent and energy to the existing efforts. I checked, but ended up starting a non-profit anyway because nobody could do what my co-founders could do the way we could... or so we thought... and it was a beautiful experience!
But I learned that passion projects are not sustainable without a business model, and as the seasons of life change, one's ability to burn the midnight oil and work without a paycheck diminishes. Ultimately, you can have epiphanies alone or in small groups, but if you want to see real change you need to create space for everyone on the bus. I made mistakes in my early ventures. I moved too fast without building support. I didn't know what I didn't know. But it was a tremendous learning experience, a lesson in the importance of trust.
In a nation that celebrates individual achievement, we need to seed more interdependence and collaboration. I see this in the education space, where school choice has become synonymous with a market based approach, pitting traditional public and charter schools in competition for scarce resources of students and facilities. In East Oakland I experienced the disconnect of multiple schools on the same campus, working in isolation, to prepare young people for college and career. We were rated by the individual test scores of our students, and in competition to be the best. Now I love competition, and the fire inside that comes when your back is up against the wall; but I also appreciate the power in numbers, the wisdom that comes from listening and learning from others not on your team, and the recognition that often the impact we hope to achieve in the world cannot be measured by today's standards... real change takes time to take root and grow. Which is why community matters! Social impact cannot be measured at the individual level alone.
A Joint Venture is a specific business model, and I am not limiting Working World to that definition. Rather, I am searching for a way to bring alignment between individuals, institutions and organizations that share similar missions and approaches, but operate without coordination. The workforce development world in the Bay Area is a great example, with K-12 school districts, Community Colleges, Workforce Development Boards, CBOs, private companies, and other government entities all trying to build relationships with the same suite of companies and develop local talent pipelines, with very limited success. $2 Billion dollars into the State of California's investment in career pathways, we still have a fractured system with separate entities competing over scarce public funding and little private sector investment in the space. The regional collaboratives have not truly developed..."When $500 million career pathways’ grants ran dry, so did regional collaboration" John Festerwald, Edsource, December 6,2018 So the work I hope to engage in is trust building. How do we build the trust between stakeholders, between parents and schools, between K-12 school districts and community colleges, between non-profits and philanthropy, between tech companies and young people, to make collective action possible? What I know is that systems change is not possible without dialogue, and too few of us have access to the rooms where decisions get made. Big decisions made in our interests, without our participation, will seldom lead to better results. Our biggest obstacle is not the challenges before us, but our will to compromise for the greater good. I don't have the answers, and I know that you don't either. But if we can create enough spaces where everyone has a place, we are already creating the world we are looking for. The first joint venture I am engaged in is with Joe Herrity at Opportunity Youth Partnership, a now housed by Santa Clara County Office of Education. Joe and OYP are on a mission to create an Opportunity Ecosystem in Santa Clara, and he's doing the difficult work of building a coalition of education and non-profit partners who recognize that the 15,705 young adults between 18-24 without a high school diploma need more on-ramps to Silicon Valley. Our first project together is to launch a Workforce Incubation Series in Santa Clara county with a kick-off on February 25th.
"The idea is create a different type of employer engagement conversation, one with enough trust and intimacy to get to meaningful shared understanding. Our purpose will be to reimagine the Future of Work conversation to be less about the narrow economic interests of employers and workers, and more focused on value creation and Radical Inclusion (Alfredo’s term, which I find resonating deeply with my soul)." - Joe Herrity, January 21st, 2020
Back to the noise. How do we cut through it? How do we have authentic dialogue, stop posturing, and move towards shared accountability and action on intractable problems. I have to believe it begins with process, engaging young people for whom all the adults are building these pathways, and putting them at the center of this conversation. If this dialogue is of interest to you, please reach out and let's get started. Are you interested in a joint venture? Let's figure it out together...