2017 was a very big year for StriveTogether and the years ahead promise to be even more exciting. I am both thrilled and humbled to be able to lead the Cradle to Career Network into this next phase of our work together. I spent some time at the end of last year reflecting on what I’ve learned after having the great privilege to do this work over the past decade. These are just a few of the key lessons I’m bringing with me as we prepare to navigate the incredible opportunities that lie ahead:
- Give the work back. Over the years, as we’ve continued to “build this plane while flying it,” I have learned that in the complex and adaptive work of driving social impact, true innovation and learning happens every day on the ground in communities with those who are closest to the work. It is not my job to be the “expert” or have all of the answers. Rather, as a key advisor to the work recently reminded me, it is my job “to create the space for the answers to emerge” — and more specifically create the space for those most affected by the systems that need changing to provide the answers. Giving the work back is not an absolution of responsibility, but rather IS our responsibility and the only way to give voice to those who are in the best position to generate solutions to very complex problems.
- It’s okay to fail, as long as you fail forward. Although the “achiever” in me cringes when I think of the word failure, in reflecting upon the past decade and a half of work in this messy space that we call “collective impact,” I can point to more than a few colossal failures in the work that turned into tremendous learnings and drove the work forward. More often than not, when I’m talking with communities who are considering taking on this work and they want to hear about my experience on the ground with StrivePartnership, I’m sharing lessons learned about mistakes made and what not to do. Many great innovations in the work to build cradle-to-career civic infrastructure, including building the Theory of Action and taking up the work of Results Count™, continuous quality improvement and design thinking, to name a few, were direct results of mistakes made, fail forwards and hard lessons learned. And so when I think of the very BIG work ahead for the network, I am prepared for the failures that WILL happen and grateful to have the tools and the humility to ensure that we learn from them and move forward.
- Take time to celebrate wins — both big and small. During this time in which it feels like as a nation we are taking steps backward instead of forward, and in some cases we are seeing disparity gaps widen instead of close, it’s hard to feel celebratory. I hear this when I talk with leaders on the ground in communities. Still, there is great progress being made throughout the network, and although it’s hard to stop and celebrate because there is still so much more to do, it is my hope that as a network we can continue to take time to celebrate the wins — big and small — as we move into this next phase of work. The network had some big wins in 2017. Three more communities with cradle-to-career partnerships achieved proof point designation. Dallas County, TX; Racine County, WI; and Multnomah County/Portland, OR, joined Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky in demonstrating examples of systems changing and at least 60 percent of outcomes trending positively. We expect to see even more proof point communities emerge in 2018. And although “proof point” is a milestone in a much longer journey toward more equitable outcomes for every child, it is a very important signal that systems are changing and that communities are coming together to dismantle the very obstacles that have been put in place to keep children — especially children of color and low-income children — from reaching their greatest potential. That is most definitely something worth celebrating!
And so, there is big work ahead of us in 2018. It is a building year for the national StriveTogether team and the network as we prepare for the full implementation of our ambitious five-year strategic plan. I am very excited about the work ahead and will carry these lessons with me in my work to support this network of passionate, committed leaders at all levels as they work to achieve better, more equitable outcomes for every child, cradle to career.