Welcome to Together for Together for Change, the podcast where we explore the transformative power of systems change and civic infrastructure.
When it comes to solving large problems and creating population-level results, the idea of treating urgent symptoms often seems in conflict with developing a cure. In this episode, we talk about a both/and approach in addressing issues to get “population level results.” And, we finally get consensus on what “population level results” means.
Hosted by: Colin Groth, executive vice president of strategy and development at StriveTogether
Featured Guest: Marian Urquilla, co-founder at the Center for Community Investment
Hello, I’m Colin Groth, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Development at StriveTogether and your host for today’s episode of Together for Change. This season, we’re focusing on our North Star of economic mobility, and understanding how children and families are better off as a result of social impact work that really hones in on the root causes of disparate outcomes rather than treating the symptoms that so often show up in our daily lives. At StriveTogether, we do this by relentlessly focusing on outcomes, and focusing on addressing those barriers and building the civic infrastructure necessary to create ongoing change.
Today, we’re focusing in on the difference between treating symptoms and addressing the root causes of population level results. When it comes to solving complex social problems and creating population level results. The idea of treating symptoms is sexy. It’s often where we see investment, where we see focus, and how our systems are designed to distract and manage our daily lives. It’s often about firefighting rather than digging below the water to understand and address the root causes of outcomes. So in this episode, we’re going to talk about a both and approach to understand how to get population level results by both looking at the symptoms and addressing the root causes that get in the way of populational results. And we might even get to a consensus on what population level results means. Maybe.
So joining me today is Marian Urquilla, a good friend, mentor, and in her former role as a Principal at Strategy Lift, a former Director of Program Strategies at Living Cities, and the co-founder at the Center for Community Investment. So we’ll get started. And Marian, before we jump in, I’ve had a chance to meet and work with Marian for more than a decade now. And she’s been both a friend and mentor, for me personally, but also for our organization here at StriveTogether and the broader network at large. I’d love, Marian, if you could give listeners a little bit about you your approach to the work and what brought you here. Could you tell us a little bit about your social impact origin story?
Oh, my goodness. So I’ve been doing social change work, I think since I was about 20, which makes that like a three decade plus going almost on four decades journey. I was born in El Salvador. And I think my origin story really has to do with awareness of inequality and the kind of what I now would known to call structural violence that I witnessed and was implicated in as a child of an upper middle-class family in a country with really violent inequality. And what I have been doing for the last 30 plus years, is building community trying to focus on advocacy and social change. And now I would call it systems change as well, being part of different social movements. And for me, I think the kind of driving impulse is solidarity and compassion, and empathy and a desire for all beings to be free. I think to sort of sum it up in a phrase, I am really focused now, I would say on root causes and not on effects, which is, I think, a correlate to what you’re calling symptoms, and really trying to help people think about complexity and systems characteristics without getting overwhelmed and finding a pathway to make change, and to make change that is not just focused on the immediate but focused on really long term transformation of conditions.
I love that. And I wonder, could you just say maybe two lines about just sort of your partnership engagement with StriveTogether through the years?
Sure. So many years ago, I think maybe 2008 or nine, I came to Cincinnati on a site visit when I was working at Living Cities, and met Strive as it was then focused on Cincinnati and met with Nancy Zimpher and Jeff Edmondson and was really fascinated, because in many ways, Strive, at that point was doing what I had wanted to do in the local work that I was doing, had been doing in DC. And I thought that the way that partners were activated towards what we call population level impact, really transforming the larger scale system, was what I had been imagining. I had been working at a neighborhood level and had never quite been able to help orchestrate the alliances and collaborations to take us from a neighborhood to multi neighborhoods to the city or the region. And I was really inspired by what I saw. And Nancy and Jeff had this idea of trying to help other communities do what they had been doing and helping lead in Cincinnati. And so I think we were the first national funder for what became StriveTogether. And I was a program officer, I guess you would say, and then later, a coach and advisor and trainer, as you know, for Strive and for supporting different aspects of the program and the partnership support.
“I still haven’t figured out how to talk about this work with my parents” — Colin Groth, executive vice president of strategy and development at StriveTogether
It’s certainly been a fun journey, you know, Marian has been instrumental in how we think about change, you know, coaching our team, providing support to many of our programs. And so I’m really excited for this conversation. And just to dig in, you know, one of the first things, you know, I still haven’t figured out how to talk about this work with my parents. And I think often, you know, we’re many of us in this kind of complex systems change field, like, there’s a little bit of like outsiderness, to this work. And sometimes it’s about creating the right metaphors or the analogies that can invite people into this work. You hear a lot. Now, I think there’s even been like a book written about upstream work. You know, we’ve been using the language so far today about like symptoms and root causes. What are some of the ways or what’s one of the better ways that you found to invite people in helping people understand what this work looks like, and how to take on complex system change work?
So I may be suffering from recency bias, because I just did a panel on this last night. But I think that the framework that is the most useful to me right now, both in terms of keeping myself disciplined, but also helping other people quickly take up the work would be the framework of ideas, arrangements and effects, that comes from the Design Studio for Social Intervention, which basically says, look, there are effects that we see whether it’s unemployment, folks being unhoused, runaway rents, etc. And there are arrangements and ideas behind those arrangements that lead to those effects. And our work is to really be able to, quote unquote, see the arrangements, think, understand the ideas that are animating those arrangements, and legitimizing and locking those arrangements in place, if you will, and designing interventions or real arrangements that challenge the arrangements.
So there’s something to me about that chain of ideas, arrangements and effects and then being able to work the chain backwards from effects to arrangements to ideas. And this notion of rearrangement, that seems to invite people into not just systems change, but the idea of experimentation. What are the small and big challenges to arrangements. And so one of the governing metaphors, and that book is thinking about a classroom that is organized in a traditional way, and teacher up front and rows and students, you know, front and back, etc, etc. versus classroom that where people are seated in the round, and there’s much more peer engagement and peer leadership, etc, etc. And so the metaphor becomes of shifting the chairs, rearranging the chairs. And there’s something about that, because everybody’s moved a chair, I think, at some level, that people can really understand that just what would it look like to move one of the chairs is sort of the question that people can ask.
And what I have seen is that fairly quickly, people can start to one differentiate between arrangements and effects. And to start to then think about almost like a hacking, right, or redesigning a design stance towards the arrangements, and then a surfacing of ideas. So if you think about framework that you and I have used around the system’s iceberg, that this takes people from thinking about events, all the way down through patterns and structures to mental models, and layering. Probably too many frameworks here, but you get the idea. So that’s what I’ve been using then is quick. And from there, there’s all kinds of things that people can explore whether they can think about a system mapping, whether they can think about understanding system levers. It goes on and on. But I think the first thing is differentiating between effects. The things that we want to change that we want to lessen or that we want to increase, and then thinking about what gives rise to the those effects. And it’s this notion of giving rise, right, that things are not just as they are naturally, so to speak, it’s not God given but kind of created through relationships, actions, choices, etc. And then looking at those relationships, actions, choices, rules, regulations, laws, etc.
Well, I mean, it wouldn’t be a stretch to get that conversation if we were not wearing multiple frameworks.
I know, so check.
But no, I mean, that makes a lot of sense to me. And it does. I’m going to already go off script, but I, you know, at least in my experience, in I’m sure you’ve run into this, I think we’ve run into this together in certain rooms. This idea, well, the chairs are that way, because they’ve always been that way. And we’ve got to keep them that way. And that it really resonates this idea to me of experimentation. And you know, I’m just curious, you know, how do you sort of address that mindset, that mental model, you’ve used the iceberg language that, you know, these systems are the way they are? And they will always be at the sort of weight of that on individual leaders who are trying to make change.
“The solution is always present in the system in some form…so we need to look for it.” — Marian Urquilla, co-founder at the Center for Community Investment
Yeah. So a couple things there. One is to look for exceptions, something that I learned from Insoo Kim Berg, who developed solutions-focused brief therapy, which is to look for the exceptions to look for the bright spots. When was there a time? Where is there a place? Where is there a process? What is the closest this system in some pocket gets to embodying this idea of a different, better, more effective system? Oh, there’s this unit that’s been doing this really interesting thing, or there’s this classroom teacher who’s been dah, dah, dah, or the fourth grade, right? That there’s always some bright spot. And what I learned from Insoo is that the solution is always present in the system in some form, even if it’s embryonic, even if it’s in the past. But the glimpse or the glimmer of the solution is always there. So we need to look for it. So that’s one right looking for where does it already exist in some form or fashion.
Two is thinking about imagination. Well, what would it look like, right? How would we know? And then what would it take, right? So these acts of imagination both about a kind of horizon or destination, right? What might it look like? Where are we going? What would we love to see? What are we hoping for? What are we fighting for? And then the second act of imagination, what would it take? Which is thinking more in the abstract? If many things in all things were possible, what would it look like to get there? And then the third act of imagination is what might we do? What might we begin? What might we explore that might lead us in that direction? So I think those two pieces looking for exceptions or bright spots, and then the acts of imagination, I think are the sort of major ways to do it. And then the third really is exploring well, what is the fear? What are the losses? What might get in the way? What would you have to risk? What might you lose? What might you have to give up? Who would be angry whose anger would you have to tolerate, right? Like all those kinds of questions that are about almost the psychological dimensions of tolerating the uncertainty, and sometimes the blowback of efforts of change.
I love that. And it makes it possible to me in a way you know, so much about this work is I almost feel like you could use any framework, any change framework, what’s most important is like, how do you give people the sense of agency that change is possible and belief that through that experimentation, we could find that bright spot or understand that something is working? Because I feel like the incentives and the culture is often everything is wrong, or what could we possibly do? So that really resonates with me? I’m curious, I think we live in a time, you and I’ve talked about this quite a bit in different conversations, and you were talking about this in your setup, like there’s not a lot of toleration for complexity. And there’s a lot of binary thinking, you know, it’s personal responsibility versus structural inequities or community responsibility. It’s programs versus systems change, its neighborhood work versus regional work, or the sort of idea and a potentially false narrative of binary choices. And, you know, we certainly experienced this in our work with StriveTogether, we’re doing a lot of, you know, partnership well with groups that traditionally we might have been pitted against each other, you know, Harlem Children’s Zone and William Julius Wilson Institute, who’s doing exemplar, you know, cradle to career programmatic work. It was often you can do HCZ or StriveTogether’s approach or you could do a purpose-built neighborhood or a choice neighborhood. And so, do you see an inherent conflict between sort of the urgent, you know, crisis level like day-to-day response? In my neighborhood, you know, we had 140 gunshots over the last two nights involving, you know, kids that were as young as 10, 13 and 15. How do you, what’s the sort of tension that exists? And how do you help leaders navigate the tension between what’s right in front of us in the, you know, the unprecedented trauma that children and families have faced over the past few years, and the need to do deep, you know, structural and mental model level systemic work.
I think that you, I was just sitting with the gunshots in Cincinnati, and thinking about young children being hurt. So just give me a moment…
Just casually dropping that one.
“We need all of us, we need all those kinds of change efforts” — Marian Urquilla, co-founder at the Center for Community Investment
Just casually dropping that now, no. So when I was leading what was then called the Columbia Heights Shaw Family Support Collaborative, so many words in the name of an organization, we were engaging in what was called strengths-based practice. And I did an enormous amount of training on strengths-based practice and leading groups through that process, and I had this shtick, which was, I would take a glass and the glass would be filled to the halfway mark, and I would ask, is this glass half empty or is this glass half full? And the answer is, it’s both. It depends how you look get it, right. And this notion that a glass that is filled to the halfway mark is halfway filled and halfway empty simultaneously, you can’t actually separate the half filled from the half empty, right? And so that notion that things are both and then they exist as both and right, that we have a framework that separates things and divides things, and simplifies them so that our little brains can hold them, right, that we have to be able to hold more than one thing at a time, and that we have to be able to hold things in tension, right in polarity, if you will.
So, I think about work as concurrent, that there is harm reduction work to be done in any given moment, right? There are children who have been hurt, you know, houses that have mold in them, pick your thing, right? There are things right now that require a right now response. Where in a sense, you have to respond directly to the effect, because it is urgent because harm is being done or harm has been done and recovery needs to begin. So that work is for sure. Like you have to do that. But you can’t only just do that, right? You have to think also about making sure that that doesn’t happen again, or as much, right? And or that if it happens, it can be easier to respond. So I think about work across timescales, right, there is work that we’re doing today. That is generational work, right, that will give fruit bear fruit and 20 years, 30 years, maybe even 50 years. And then there is work that is right now work. And then there’s the work in between. And we have to be able to think about that work in a concurrent frame. And one of the things that I’ve noticed is that people have preferences for the kind of work that makes sense to them, that motivates them, that their minds kind of gravitate to naturally. And so you bring those people together and together you have the whole spectrum, right? covered. But often we fight each other. So the people who are long term people fight the people who are right now people and there are people who are right now people dismiss the long term people as dreamers and you know, irresponsible people who weren’t paying attention. But the fact is, I think we need all of us, we need all those kinds of change efforts. And the question is, how do we see them? Right? How do we map them? And how do we understand them? And how do we integrate them? I think we have to respond to urgent conditions with compassion and precision and effectiveness. And I think if we’re working for social change, we also have to be about laying down different track and seating and different future.
“We have to respond to urgent conditions with compassion and precision and effectiveness. And…if we’re working for social change, we also have to be about laying down a different track and seating and a different future.” — Marian Urquilla, co-founder at the Center for Community Investment
Just digging, digging in there. This leads me to, you know, another question around and really set the place where you’ve spent I know so much time thinking about, you know, I love the idea of and we talk a lot now about like multiracial coalitions. I was struck, I was in a meeting with a partnership in Forsyth County the other week with a very multigenerational, you know, in terms of the composition of the room. And I think now this overlay to have like people that are thinking across multiple timescales really resonates with me, and how do we how do we sort of intentionally designed for that? And, you know, I would hypothesize that one of the things that kind of supports division and makes this challenging is how resources flow and how investment works pretty equally in the social sector, you know, there’s not a lot of what might be called, like patient capital in our space. But this is something you think a lot about. And you know, I mentioned in your introduction, a co-founder of the Center for Community Investment, like, how does investment play a role in all of this? And you know, where do you see resources right now, in terms of where those incentives flow? And maybe what might be some ideas on how we could, or the role that place based partnerships maybe could play and redistributing how those resources flow?
Well, I think that resources flow arbitrarily, and unevenly is the thing. And they also flow in non-transparent ways, right? Like, sometimes it’s actually hard to track where the money goes, much less to understand how those decisions got made. And so one of the things that the Center for Community Investment works for it’s such a fancy aspirational name, is to actually help communities take hold of that. And to have a set of shared priorities that they’re working towards, this is going to sound very familiar, to have a set of shared priorities, that they’re working towards a set of projects that they want to get built, and a set of enabling environment strategies that they want to pursue to change the system. So all of that can happen more reliably and effectively. And I think that right now, projects happen in communities, plans happen in communities, but they happen arbitrarily, how resource flows, get distributed, for example, in a state can be very arbitrary. And there is this process, I think, where because we want public funds to be effective, they go to what you might remember from the Great Recession to shovel ready projects, right, which means that it’s a kind of feedback loop of success to the successful, you know, more wins for the winners, because money tends to go where it’s gone before. Because folks want to de-risk their money, they want to make sure that the money is going to be effective and used appropriately and promptly. And so therefore it goes where it’s always gotten. So carving, and framing new, almost like canals or pipelines, or what Jaime Gloshay, at Native Women Lead, calls waterways.
So building new waterways, shaping new waterways for resources, I think is part of the work. And that’s not right now work, there is the right now work of advocating and organizing and demanding and insisting right, that funds come but as the longer-term work of building the waterways, for resources to flow to communities in fair and equitable ways, so that shared priorities can be pursued. But all of that is a big process of systems change. Because right now, the distribution of funds, public and philanthropic is quite privatized. And it sort of happens with this invisible hand. And how do you bring that into the public square, so to speak, where people can really think together about the greater good, if you will, it sounds very aspirational, but I think establishing a vision and insisting that resources be used to resource that vision as part of the work. But that means mapping, it means inquiring, it means confronting, it means all the things that come with social change.
It’s an interesting place to maybe stay for a minute, because, you know, and I think about our network, and really, so many of the change makers out across the country. You know, it’s a place where I don’t know that anyone is particularly happy with, like how resources flow on on either side of, you know, political aisles and there’s lots of data that we get throughout this old money ball for government used to say, you know, 1% of federal dollars meet the minimum standards of evidence we might talk about in the nonprofit space. I think I heard a recent statistic, something like 12% of ARPA funds have actually been obligated and spent in some way. And some of our networks, you know, biggest wins from a policy or resource perspective have been in states that, you know, many in our movement might think of as like very conservative, you know, states. And when I think about what they’ve been doing, to what you’re lifting up, it’s, it’s that fiscal mapping. It’s looking at what are the outcomes that we actually want to see. And so I’m just curious, like, when you think about the framing, of this work, or the framing of how we think about resource flows, what have you seen maybe from the Center for Community and investment, like how should people be talking about how we allocate resources in this space to get real change?
So one thing, I think, is to recognize the degree to which we are trapped in a zero sum frame, right, which is that there’s only so much pie and if I get more pie, you get less pie, so you’re gonna wrestle me so I don’t take any of your pie, right? And to some degree that reflects a certain level of reality, which is there are a finite number of dollars moving through these resource pipelines, however structured they may be. So I think we have to open that up so that we’re not in a zero sum game so that we can have solidarity in some sense. And that we can start to think about how we are stronger together. What Heather McGee calls the solidarity dividend, right, that we are stronger together there, the more resources are possible that more is possible if we collaborate and come together, etc. So that’s one, I think, the other is to create mechanisms where of visibility, and tracking and accountability, right, we should know where public dollars go, we should know and be able to fully understand the decision-making processes for that. And I think we need to invest in the capacity building so that we can disrupt the you know, success to the successful, wins to the winners, kind of dynamic and open up the game, so to speak, for more people. That is not easy, because it means convincing people to take risks. It means convincing people to imagine that something could be different. And it requires a lot of organization in the communities that are looking to draw more resources to them, right, because people want to know that something will happen. And that quote unquote, that dollars won’t just sit there, right? So I think all of that is really important.
And I think it, at some level, that sort of to me mezzo level work, right? It’s not quite harm reduction work but it’s also not long haul work, because the long haul work is rethinking how we resource communities. What is the balance of expenditure? Where our public resources going? Right? Are they going to the things that we think are important, and that are life generating, right? So it’s a multi level kind of framing, right? It’s, it’s getting individual projects done, programs launched, it’s reorganizing and bringing greater accountability to how resources flow, and then it’s the very upstream work of really thinking about how we think about resourcing and funding, very important lifegiving work.
And at the top of that, you were getting into what I, what we used to talk about is like that scarcity mindset, you know, that it’s so in sense sort of competition. And, you know, we saw that you were, you were part of an article recently in Nonprofit Quarterly, titled Paving a Better Way. What’s driving progressive organizations apart? And how to win by coming together? Can you share a little bit about the disconnections that you all are seeing around between staff and leaders? What causes that, that sort of us versus them dynamic? And, you know, in the John Powell work, we talk a lot about othering, and belonging and, you know, what can we do to actually develop cures for some of these patterns?
So, I’m not big on the cure framework, but I get what you’re saying. So, I think that the way to address some of these patterns, and I guess we’re making this switch from thinking about macro social change, forces approaches to really thinking about how these kinds of dynamics show up in organizations, right? So the first thing I would say is, we just came out of a big pandemic, right? And also, for those of us who work in racial equity, kind of racial reckoning that coincided with here in the US that were coincided with the pandemic, so enormous amount of stress.
And I think that that stress is showing up in organizations right now, not that there weren’t issues before the pandemic, but I think it’s really compounded in a pretty significant way. I think people are tired, I think they’re impatient. I think that the traditional organizational structures of hierarchy don’t make sense to young people who’ve grown up as digital natives, so to speak, and really think laterally and think in nonlinear distributed way about most everything, right, because it’s how they have lived and shaped their lives and imagination, and then they come into an organization and it feels like, you know, the analog days to them relationally, right? And there’s a lot of resistance to that.
I think that in a sense, it’s the same thing we’ve been talking about for the last half hour, which is people coming together and taking stock of what’s happening, understanding where there are places where things are working, and understanding where there are places where things aren’t working, imagining the different future, imagining the way there and starting to experiment their way forward. But I think it’s hard to get that kind of stance, if there is a kind of binary stance of good people, bad people, you know, victims, villains. And so getting out of that frame, and really holding the notion that even in power differentials, that we’re co creating the reality of this particular organization or coalition or network, that’s the first step because if you can’t hold it that way, then we’re looking for somebody to blame.
And we’ve seen, you know, people being pushed out, leaders being pushed out, board members being pushed out, board chairs being pushed out, unionization efforts that may be lopsided given the size of an organization or the structure of an organization, rather than a kind of coming together. That said, it does require a different kind of leadership. It requires leaders to not be defensive. It requires leaders to kind of step back and hold the conflict and hold the tensions and not meet them with accusations to take responsibility, but not to take responsibility in a way that strips them of authority or agency, right, because that’s sort of the other piece that we see leaders who are kind of in a freeze frame and then don’t want to take action or can’t take action. And then things escalate in ways that are really painful for everybody.
It feels so alive for me just even over the past few weeks, like this work is so fragile in some ways, you know, when we’re talking about investment and resourcing, you know, essentially like a cross sector, you know, group that likely has very informal authority and products that are in our team years ago, you say there’s no line item and a community’s budget for like cross sector place based system change work. It feels powerless. I mean, we just heard news, you know, the partnership in Chicago, Thrive Chicago, dissolved, had a board vote sort of overnight, and went away. We’ve heard a number of our partnerships struggling with sustainability and this kind of internal, intra organizational tension is very real. And we’re seeing lots of leadership transitions. What advice might you give, you know, a leader of, you’ve been in this kind of, you’ve been in a neighborhood partnership, you’ve worked at the national level, you know, what advice would you give leaders in this moment for how to navigate some of those organizational dynamics that are in some ways, a microcosm of these broader macro issues?
Now, obviously, it depends on the situation, right? But I think in general, you and I and the Strive world, we talk a lot about dance floor and balcony, right? The Ron Heifetz metaphor for adaptive leadership, and I hope somebody’s tracking how many frameworks, like are we on eight? Okay, back-to-back to our regularly scheduled program. So I think when you are a leader facing these kinds of tensions, or implicated deeply in these kinds of tensions, that you have to take the space to gain perspective, that you have to go quote, unquote, to the balcony, that you have to be able to take space to see what’s happening to see your part of the mass. And sometimes you can do that alone. And sometimes you need to do that with other people and help have people support you in doing that perspective taking. And then to think deeply, right, in a sense, to think about the effects to think about the arrangements to think about the ideas that are at play in the situation and not to react, not to intervene, not to overcorrect. Not to shut it down, not to escalate, not to blame, attack, scapegoat, right, which is very hard, because you know, humans, mammals, we fight, right, we flee, we freeze.
And so finding that capacity to stand in the fire, and really hold and see what’s happening, and make choices about how to start to lower the heat, make choices about how to untangle what’s been tangled to move forward. It’s not easy. It requires a lot of emotional strength, I would say even spiritual strength to tolerate people’s anger, and they’re blaming and not want to say, not me, you, right? So that’s the first thing I would say. And then I think from there, it’s to not go at it alone, right, and to bring people together from across the organization, the partnership, the coalition from different levels and different aspects in different roles to really think about the future forward. And one of the things, I mentioned her earlier that, I learned from Insoo Kim
Berg was not to explore the problem too much, but it actually doesn’t help us to explore the problem too much. What helps us is to think about where do we want to go and to mine the present and the past for clues and examples and found pilots and bright spots for how to go forward. That over exploring problem leads to kind of problem thinking and then it puts us in a fixer mode, which does not help us get out of where we are, right? It just patches and usually it makes things worse, right? So the big, maybe, underlying underline is to say A, don’t fight reality, acknowledge what’s happening, take stock, take responsibility, and then gather people who want to think about a future together. You mentioned the Chicago partnership dissolving, I kind of admire that. And that, to me is like a taking stock. This is not a viable vehicle. Now we have the perspective that institutions are permanent, but are they permanent? I think all institutions are temporary. And certainly coalition’s and partnerships are temporary, and sometimes they run their course, sometimes this is not the vehicle to take us forward.
It reminds me of some of the Adrianne Maree Brown work, you know, in this sort of ecological sense, like what some things need to die, and what might be really learned and what new life could be brought by, you know, harnessing the lessons from both the good and the challenging. And some of these these big change efforts. We could probably talk for hours and you know, often we do, a couple of big things that I’m I’m taking away, I think from today’s conversation, this idea of the both and, perspective taking, bringing together people around a common goal, a common outcome, the tension, that hopefully is a productive or creative one between the real trauma and harm being caused in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our rural areas every day and the timescales, right that you were mentioning. How do we think also about when will this strategy bear fruit? Often we start with the end in mind. I think, in this case, we’re going to end with the end in mind. And we told our listeners, we might get to some consensus on what a population level results mean. So I’m curious, like, when you think about sort of the, what does it actually mean to be working towards population level results? What does population level results mean to you? How do you define it?
“You can’t get to population level results, unless you’re doing work across timescales unless you’re doing the harm reduction work, unless you’re doing the prototyping, unless you’re doing the big policy and culture change.” — Marian Urquilla, co-founder at the Center for Community Investment
I think I remember Dorothy Stoneman from YouthBuild saying it in a sense, it’s like the problem is done when the problem is done, right? It’s like when, when people are, the people that we care about, are better off. In a sense, I butchered her statement, but it’s like, you know, if you’re working on supporting children to be school ready, it’s when all children are school ready, and they’re school ready consistently and persistently over, you know, a long period of time, and we worked and leave work until we can get to stability.
So I think about population level impact is being lots and lots of people are better off. And they’re better off in ways that feel reliable and consistent. And one of the things about program work is that it’s very, very powerful, but it supports only the people that you enroll, right, or that are literally participating. And I think that, that work is important, because there’s some things that can only happen in small scale gathering, right? When young people need to learn how to read and who had trouble reading, they need a one to one or one to two, and maybe max, one to four kind of attention.
So there is not just a place, but a requirement for that kind of programmatic effort. But we also have to be rearranging the arrangements so that young people or families get what they need, and have access to the resources they need to thrive all along, right? And this goes back to the multiple timescales work. So to me, you can’t get to population level results, unless you’re doing work across timescales unless you’re doing the harm reduction work, unless you’re doing the prototyping, unless you’re doing the big policy and culture change. So that’s what it means to me.
I love it. And it always harkens me back to, you know, one of the first things I heard when I, when I first heard of Strive, and it was this idea of every child successful every step of the way, cradle to career, and that is certainly, that’s generational work. That’s, you know, coalition and infrastructure building work. And that’s work that I can’t think of many leaders in the country that have informed and inspired more than Marian Urquilla. So, thank you for joining us today. Thank you to our audience for living through Marian and I’s, you know, framework bingo. Please stay connected with us by visiting strivetogether.org where you can get the latest information through our monthly newsletter. You’ll also find transcripts of our together for change podcast series, case studies and more. Thanks, and Marian, you get the last word.
So I wanted to just share this sentence from Abigail Benson who is part of the Bensons, which is a musical duo. And she says the future is the garden of the past. And I just think that that’s so important, right that we are laying seed for the future. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re tilling the soil. We’re laying seed. We’re tending to what will be the garden of the future, right? Like what will be the future? And I love Strive, as you know, and I think that Strive is building a powerful future for the children of the United States and I’m so grateful for your work. Thank you.
Thank you, and I can’t be a better way to sign off than that.