Welcome to Together for Together for Change, the podcast where we explore the transformative power of systems change and civic infrastructure.
Policy plays a critical role in the work of systems transformation. In this episode, we explore different approaches to policy work and show why it can be effective for achieving results at scale.
Hosted by: Josh Davis, Vice President of Policy and Partnerships at StriveTogether
Featured Guest: Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Chief Executive Officer of UP Partnership in San Antonio, Texas. Haley Simmons, Chief Public Policy Officer at Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee, and Stacy Schweikhart, Chief Executive Officer at Learn to Earn Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.
Hello, this is Josh Davis, Vice President of Policy and Partnerships at StriveTogether and your host for today’s episode of Together for Change. This season, we’ve been focusing on our North Star of economic mobility by diving deep into how children and families are better off as a result of social impact work that treats the root causes of issues rather than only focusing on the symptoms.
At StriveTogether we do this by changing systems and building up civic infrastructure. And today, we’re talking about the critical role that policy plays in the role of systems transformation. In this episode, we explore different approaches to policy work and show why it can be effective for achieving results at scale. I’m really excited to be talking to several StriveTogether network members who have been successful in their local and state policy efforts in bringing lasting change to their communities.
I’m joined by Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Chief Executive Officer of UP Partnership in San Antonio, Texas. Haley Simmons, Chief Public Policy Officer at Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee, and Stacy Schweikhart, Chief Executive Officer at Learn to Earn Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. So let’s jump right in. Welcome everybody. Stacy, I want to start with you. You know you all are the latest StriveTogether network member to receive the Systems Transformation designation. And I really like to give our listeners some more content on the work that you’re doing. Can you give us a high-level overview of of some of the challanges being faced in the Ohio area they existed before Learn to Earn Dayton was established. And tell us a bit about what you’re doing now, you know? And when did you also realize that policy needed to be a part of the work that you’re performing?
“Policy was a major part of what our work would have to involve to be able to reach our goals that we have for student success.” — Stacy Schweikhart, Chief Executive Officer at Learn to Earn Dayton in Dayton, Ohio
Thanks, Josh. So for Learn to Earn Dayton, you know, we trace our roots back more than a decade to a time in Dayton, Ohio, when we had a mass exodus of major employers in the community came together and said, you know, what do we need to do to make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen, and that we can bring living wage jobs back to our community and major employers back to our community and conversation at the time was really that it was clear, there was a need to align partners for the purpose of building human capital here in Montgomery County, Ohio, the county where Dayton sits.
And so we got to work and Learn to Earn had, it’s early days, we were a really early proof point community in the StriveTogether network. And so that meant that we were immediately paying attention to data. And when we looked at the data, we saw the disparities here in Montgomery county, we also identified some places on that cradle to career continuum where it was pretty clear. We had to focus we found those levers early on. And also early on, I’ll tell you, we knew that particularly at the local level at the district level, the government level here locally, but also statewide, and federally, that policy was a major part of what our work would have to involve to be able to reach our goals that we have for student success.
Thank you, Stacy. You know, Ryan, I’m gonna turn to you next, because in episode two of this current season, we actually had Susan Dawson, your colleague from E3 Alliance on the podcast, and we spoke with Susan about the work happening in Texas, really, to focus on the statewide effort where multiple organizations like E3 partnership came together to help pass a law. They brought billions in investments to education in Texas. But I know, personally, and have been a fan of the approach that you all have taken in Bexar County in San Antonio, with a specific focus on youth as a population, to find their voice and to become activated in a way that allows for the next generation of leaders to enter into this space. So we have the national office of StriveTogether know that the San Antonio Bexar County and UP Partnership have had this unique and successful way of ushering in a vehicle for youth to be engaged and I’d love for you to tell our listeners about your approach there and what makes that so important to your work.
“Young people are living in a reality that US adults can only have a partial insight into.” — Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Chief Executive Officer of UP Partnership in San Antonio, Texas
Thank you, Josh. I will dive right into that. First I want to say it’s awesome to be here with you and with Haley and with Stacy. First and foremost, at UP partnership we are learners and StriveTogether helps us to learn in all sorts of ways we would not otherwise. And a big part of that is being able to connect with our peers in Memphis and Dayton and the other 68 cities that are part of the network and I really want to talk to the listeners here who have not really mastered the policy space, who still feel uncertain or uncomfortable in that space and are figuring it out. Because I think San Antonio is a good example of, hey, you can still be figuring it out and driving real change at scale. At the same time, we are very much students of what Memphis is doing and what our peers in Dallas are doing to drive major policy change. And we’re also proud to say that we’re driving real change here in San Antonio as well.
So at the statewide level, let me just speak to that because you mentioned Susan. So, we are proud partners in the Texas Impact Network, which our partner in Dallas Commit has built up and to implement the policy wins of HB3 from the 2019 legislative session. And that was an example where our other backbones in our state drove big change. And we are able to come in and help with high quality implementation of that policy to achieve shared college career readiness goals. So we’re proud to be a part of that. And we’re actively learning from our peers in the state, where I feel like we might have something to contribute and others might be able to learn from us, even if nothing else, learn from the changes and adjustments we’ve had to make along the way, is in the youth lead space, the youth leadership space, youth policymaking.
We’ve also done youth led grantmaking and youth led research, YPAR is what we call it and in all those different experimentations we’ve seen a lot. So where we’re at right now is we have 85 institutional partners who reach over 400,000 young people in San Antonio, all of whom had made formal voluntary action commitments to scaling youth voice within their own institutions. That is a part of our county wide plan future ready Bexar County, which seeks to ensure that a 20 percentage point increase in post secondary enrollment in our community, as well as the county wide scaling of youth voice, have healing resources for young people, and have access to college and career opportunities. And so in that plan, we made youth voice, front and center in terms of what we expect our institutions to shift and how we need them to operate in order to hear young people’s needs coming out of the pandemic, in particular, because young people are living in a reality that US adults can only have a partial insight into. And unless we have big ears and are actively listening to them, then we’re not going to be able to make the small p or the big P policy changes that we need.
So young people helped to shape as an example, the recommendations that our community made coming out of our fiscal mapping process, which wrapped up in 2019, that directly informed the ARPA guide that we put out. So we had six youth leaders that were part of a larger funding task force that made recommendations that informed our ARPA guide that ultimately led to a $24.25 million dedicated fund for children and youth, another youth voice example from one of our partners, because not all of this needs to come from the backbone, right, the backbone supports the partnership. So city of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services operates the San Antonio Youth Commission, which we used to operate as the backbone and then we gave it back to the city and they’ve been doing a masterful job. And they built a youth mental health survey for youth by youth with over 1100 respondents that also helped to inform the ARPA advocacy and is now an ongoing practice. So those are a couple of wins.
On the lesson side, I’ll just say real quick, we had to pivot from, we chose to pivot from operating our own youth leadership network, where we have youth on staff and our, you know, we have staff that are basically program operators, they have that second cell phone to pick up youth calls, and we have our corresponding youth transit policies and all those things we know from the youth development space, that was important, and that was good. And that was powerful. And we did a lot of great stuff with that. But we intentionally pivoted away from that, because that was starting to feel like direct service to our partners. And we needed to stay out of that competition lane as a backbone, which is why we moved to now convening our 85 institutional partners around their voice commitments, building their capacity, bringing together youth leaders from their organizations, and building our movement in that way.
Definitely a pleasure for me to introduce our third guest today, Haley Simmons with Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee, and for those who aren’t familiar, Seeding Success represents a partnership of over 100 organizations working to get better results for youth, particularly children of color in Shelby County. Haley, Ryan spoke to the fact that we are a learning community and I’ll say you are definitely one of the staff members in the StriveTogether network that when you begin speaking about your policy approach, I get lost after the fourth or fifth word. And so I love soaking up the deep and technical ways that you all in Memphis have learned to really, really leverage your political capital, your social capital, and combine with your practice at hand to really get to outcomes proving by pulling on the policy lever. In a short conversation previously, you and I began to talk about a comprehensive plan in Memphis. And I want to ask if you will start there, and to weave us into the ways in which your comprehensive plan are also focusing on this engagement around youth as a population that is helping them identify what they want to improve and how they want to be engaged.
“How do we have the voice of people connected with evidence?” — Haley Simmons, Chief Public Policy Officer at Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee
So thanks for the question, Josh. And I’m happy to be here with Ryan and Stacy. Also, I would say that the plan that we’re doing, like the other members of the Strive network that are participating in the place matters work is that we’re trying to address the most important factors to social and economic mobility in our community. And right now, a child born into poverty in the lowest economic quintile, and Memphis has a less than 3.5% chance of moving from the bottom quintile, to the top quintile. Essentially, they’re trapped in intergenerational poverty. And one of the things that we’ve recognized in this work is that silos are the enemy of success in a lot of the work in Memphis. And also, if you look at our community, unlike, say, DC, or New York or Chicago, they have really deep technical policy expertise embedded in the government, right? A city councilman has four or five people, they have a legislative director or Chief of Staff and some legislative aides. Memphis doesn’t have that because we treat our legislative in government positions, usually in a part time capacity. So as a Strive network member, we take the skills, the technical know-how the convenient capacity, and we really are resource to government, we help them constructively build a new policy frameworks.
And so to that end, with our Place Matters plan, which is called More from Memphis, we’re focusing on six areas that we need to work in concert in order to address those important factors for economic mobility. There’s education, youth as one health, community development, economic development, justice and safety and arts and culture as an economic pathway. And then what we kind of recognize when looking at this framework that we’re embarking upon, is that we took a really deep dive into understanding what the community leaders and nonprofit leaders and public sectors leaders care about in terms of these big bucket areas.
But the real challenge is, how do we build them in an interconnected way? How do we have the voice of people connected with evidence? How do we empower people with information so that they can really understand the pathways and opportunities in their lives. And so that’s what we’ve really been focused on. We’re now in a phase where we’re looking at the to the deep technical side of revising and putting the puzzle pieces together. Now, that being said, having those twin kind of towers as I call them, the evidence and the public voice being important, we try to construct it in a way in which it is an ongoing effort, we have a body that’s called our governing body that’s helping us manage the plan. And it includes three co-chairs, one of the co-chairs, we made sure it was youth. But we also made sure that when our partners engaged on this planning work, they also had to include youth into the work. And that’s something that we did intentionally because they’re the ones they’re going to have to live with the results of this plan more than anyone. But we also made sure that as we’re doing ongoing community organizing with some of our partners, that they disaggregate the people who have the challenges that fit within the buckets of areas that we that I’ve laid out, and try to find constructive ways to lower the barriers to entry.
You said it before Josh, I can get like a policy wonk and go off and someone will get lost. So my job is not necessarily to translate for them, but the people on the ground, who are organizing effort, do that. And my job is like whenever you work as a nonprofit, and you give your lawyer a set of things that you need to have done, right? I’m the translator for government and policy. And so it’s knowing my lane, I don’t need to be all things to all people, I need to make sure that as a team, we make sure that we have people who can organize lower barriers to entry, and have people who can bring evidence and political strategy to bear.
That being said, I think what’s going to be really exciting about this work is that we have such a deeply engaged public sector. In the fall of last year, we passed a joint resolution to two of the major funding bodies in the major school district that all aligned how they’re going to participate in this process. So we have the answers to the test so that when we go advocate, we know how to empower the community to be a part of the advocacy process, and also know what the goal line is and what it should look like. And so I think that’s what’s been really exciting about this work. I think I’ll say the last thing that’s going to be really important for youth engagement, and for improving the lives of machines as a whole, is that we’re trying to make sure we have a real mature conversation around how we pay for it, right? We know there’s a lot of stuff that people want to do when they come to government, but for a conservative state with limited resources. Having that public finance conversation is going to be vitally important, but I think we’re excited about where we’re going with it.
Haley, I appreciate you sharing the approach that you all take up in Memphis. And with this group, I want to take us back to 2020. And the call that many of us felt in the nonprofit sector, to add with respect to policy and advocacy and manners that our hearts led us to believe we’re moving us in the direction of a more just and inclusive society and world. And in the absence of outcomes being produced with children not being in school, with that first foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of need, needing to be met safety, and food and shelter, there existed, a place where there wasn’t a focus on the connection between outcomes at that time, and the policies that many of us felt like we needed to protect our fellow human beings.
And in a short period of time, we have become increasingly more concerned with the ability to connect our policy work with our outcomes work. And I’m curious from the three communities, what that journey has been like, if that is something that you are experiencing any tensions in connecting your policy work, to outcomes work in this post 2020, post pandemic, post George Floyd world. So I opened that up for all three of you, but really curious about how that journey has looked and how, Haley, to your point, the evidence that’s necessary to have a strong argument is being accomplished at the present state.
Yeah, I mean, obviously, I’ll speak but I would say that, you know, as a policy practitioner, and someone who works in legislation, I can see myself obviously, with two things. And you said earlier, yes, there’s the legislative side. But I also don’t want to get something passed, that doesn’t have the demonstrable impact that we all desire. And so that evolution that you speak about is something that we definitely have to keep our eye on the prize, especially with our partnership, you’ll have people who try to influence the construction of our strategies. And they’ll get something that’s anecdotal, like, well, this person over here says we should do this, let’s just do what they’re doing over here. But well, what they’re doing in another community may be instructive, but not necessarily. So that should be cut and paste and placed in Memphis, because there are different contexts and contours of how our challenges are confronting our community. And so we make sure we narrowly tailor it to that. And so I feel like the journey has been one of making sure not only policy practice in terms of just pure advocacy, because Memphis has a lot of advocates, if you’ve seen anything on the news, as of late in last couple of years, you’ve seen the activists be really loud and vocal, but is the policy practice in terms of around like, let’s don’t just shoot and get it wrong, let’s shoot and get it right.
And so understanding that is making sure that like, this skill set is being transferred to all the partnership and to people who work in the space to really dive deep on the evidence and give them confidence as policymakers or as policy influencers, that process or pathway that we take to try to improve the lives of millions. And we pass legislation or legislation the General Assembly has to be really foundationally steeped in what’s going to work based on what has worked in other locations, or what has not worked in other locations and taking those learnings. But I think it’s a journey that’s still ongoing, right? It’s not a destination. It’s a journey, right?
It’s like perfection, you’re constantly trying to improve that. And so I would say, in my time being with Seeding Success and a part of this national partnership, I would say that the concern around a really strong policy practice as a pedagogical framework to ensure that you’re having evidence that would hit the outcomes that we want. It’s something that has been evolving and improving over time. And I still think we have a ways to go. But I think the more from if it’s plan that we’re doing is going to be that real, I wouldn’t say panacea, but it’s going to be it’s going to show us significant growth, right and connecting multiple systems into one integrated aligned framework that hopefully will reach those outcomes, but keeping your eye on the prize of that. So that’s just my take on it. But I’m sure Ryan and Stacy have more insights that could be reflective of that.
Appreciate that. Hey, Stacy or Ryan, are you all on this journey as well?
“There’s no way you can look at maps for where the digital divide was for our students…When you look at that map, side by side with a nearly century-old redlining map, [they] are frighteningly similar.” — Stacy Schweikhart, Chief Executive Officer at Learn to Earn Dayton in Dayton, Ohio
Yeah, absolutely. And I really love this podcast because I learned so much and it’s the same is true today is listening to Ryan and Haley. And, you know, I think the journey that we’re on that I think is going to be incredibly powerful is we’re building a policy agenda at the neighborhood level with residents in Northwest Dayton. So, Dayton, for those of you who don’t know, is tragically still one of the most segregated cities in the country. And part of our early work, you know, when you talk about 2020 was bringing in an exhibit called UnDesign the Redline to Dayton to show the lasting legacy of redlining. Redlining started right up the street in Ohio, the legacy is long and deep. And there’s no way you can look at maps for where the digital divide was for our students. When the pandemic hit about the when we mapped the students across the county that didn’t have an internet connection. And when you look at that map, side by side with a nearly century old redlining map, are frighteningly similar. And so we know the legacy and so part of it was bringing that exhibit here and then getting it not just in one place, but moving it around the entire region into the suburbs. I mean, it really sparked the conversation and raise awareness.
But then doing really deep resident led work in Northwest Dayton, hundreds and hundreds of residents have been a part of a process over the last two years led by a resident steering committee, and a member of our team to really come up with their power of place resident driven agenda vision for Northwest Dayton. And so much like the work that Haley and Seeding Success are doing, there’s a policy agenda that underwrites that whole thing. And so that’s how we get to scale. Like it’s neighborhood policy. And it is what the residents recognize, must be true for their vision for the future for their families and their neighborhoods to be so but accomplishing the policy objectives that are in the agenda will impact families across state and across the county and potentially across the state. And so there are things in it, like early childhood education is one of the focus areas in the resident plan that the residents really brought forward as a critical priority and quality affordable childcare. There’s no surprise there. And then living wages for early childhood educators. And so, you know, that aligns we do work at the statewide level with Pritzker and with Groundwork Ohio on that PN-5 space that precedes the what we have historically thought of as the cradle to career continuum.
But you can see how all of this work links, it’s all deeply connected in the K-12 space, K-12 education, which is another focus area of the resonant vision, we ended up taking action faster than we anticipated and working with a long standing community rooted organization to apply for Promise Neighborhoods, and secured the first Promise Neighborhoods investment in Ohio, really first in the Midwest, just shy of $29 million, that will go towards the resident vision and their policy pieces in there, too. I mean, so that there’s a lot of work there. And then there are local policies for accountability for landlords and LLCs around housing that we really know we have to tackle some of the funding mechanisms for affordable housing developments that has to happen at the state and federal level. And then there’s a really interesting piece of the residents brought forward about building sort of a tapestry of culture in their community and attracting arts organizations and supports for business development and entrepreneurship. So we’re working on all those things.
And then, you know, something that I think is interesting, when you think about policy, it’s not typically what you think of as far as legislative policy. But one of the things that we did is the residents led, approximate grant making process, where they accepted proposals for $1.5 million from nonprofit and community serving organizations in and serving Northwest Dayton. And they made 100% of the decisions about where those funds should go, which organizations got them how much and for which objectives. And that process is changing philanthropic policy, here in Dayton. And just last week, I was part of a presentation to philanthropy, Ohio, to all of the foundations across Ohio, talking about proximate voice in grant making. And so that is, it’s a different system. It’s a different systems transformation. But that is one that I think is critically important if we can, if we can also shape philanthropy to be more inclusive, and to value and give power to the voices of those most impacted by the services and programs that they are funding. That’s a huge system shift that I think is a big win here.
So Stacy, we can appreciate where you all were designated as a system transformation, partnership, or recognizing how you are eyeing the philanthropic space at the state level as a level of change. Ryan, tell us about San Antonio and Bexar County. Are you all experiencing any of the tension in the rub that lots of the other partnerships were coming out of 2020 and feeling the need to continue to hold evidence and outcomes just as important and equal to the types of policy measures and agendas that you’re developing and being led by youth?
“Silos are the enemy of success.” — Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Chief Executive Officer of UP Partnership in San Antonio, Texas
Absolutely. So I want to build on what Haley said earlier, which is silos are the enemy of success. And I think one of the fundamental questions for all leaders and institutions and cities and states and us as a country, in general, coming out of the pandemic is we kind of come out of this more isolated or more connected. And I think the reality is that both have happened, we’ve come out more isolated or divided in some ways. And we’ve also come out more connected. And it’s the responsibility of us as backbones, to make sure that that connected side wins out in our communities. And that has huge implications both for outcomes and for policy. Let me get real granular and give a specific example. So one of the ways that we chart outcomes is to gather student level data from our partnering school districts, gather the corresponding student IDs for young people served by out of school time programs, match those student IDs, and then build agency level dashboards showing how students are performing in participating out of school time programs for students who don’t have access to that. And we can see, okay, this program is doing a great job with boosting third grade reading this program clearly has had beneficial impact on decreasing behavioral incidents and boosting attendance, this program is doing something great with math. Awesome.
So using that evidence, before and after the pandemic, we’re able to make the argument to local government, that there needs to be continued funding for this program, and wherever possible, more funding for these programs, so this ecosystem can grow. So the challenge is that ecosystem of youth development providers has had is struggling with workforce challenges. They’re struggling, they struggled early in the pandemic with school access challenges, they struggle with just financial stability challenges in the wake of like larger issues and distractions following the pandemic. So I wouldn’t say that relying on that evidence, the ROI is the cost benefit analysis that go with that. And, you know, we found in a very conservative study, every dollar that the public invest in high quality out of school time generates at least $4. In public benefit, there are estimates that are like $20. But that’s just what we can prove for sure, is a four to one ratio, that argument meets many competing demands and fractured thinking is more important than ever. So the continued building out of those dashboards, is as important as ever now they’ll do the next level of this to get back to Haley’s point around, you know, silos are the enemy of success, is we need to both unlock more school district funding for high quality out of school time programs, and state level funding and continue the fight to expand national funding for high quality youth development programs. And there’s many reasons we need to do that. I’ll just pick the school district level to go deeper. Many of our school districts some of them in Bexar County are growing, some of them are shrinking. We really have school districts that are projected to double, and some that are closing schools because of enrollment cliffs. Right now, both are real in a county with 17 school districts. But in that kind of budgetary environment where there’s not a lot of stability either way, whether you’re high growth or high decline.
Evidence is vital. Like we’re not going to win big investments and out of school time programs, and thus big benefits for those students big benefits for the working parents who rely on those programs, big benefits for the growth and self efficacy and creativity that comes for students who get those extra hours of TLC, we’re not going to win that in a budget conversation with school districts that are having to make tough cuts without evidence. So it’s absolutely essential, and that the data itself helps to show how schools cannot thrive in isolation. And out of school time programs cannot thrive in isolation. Because the student relies on both the student journey is not in silos, right? It’s the institutions that the student depends upon, that is operating in silos that disrupts the student journey. And so without those connections, we can have neither the data wins, nor the policy success that we need.
“[There’s a] real tension that underlies most of our work is trying to figure out how to pay for things in a responsible way.” — Haley Simmons, Chief Public Policy Officer at Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee
And I would say Josh, too, I think one of the other tensions that we have, and I alluded to earlier is this tension in the policymaking field where, you know, the pandemic demonstrated the huge amount of need. It demonstrated where if you had it flush of dollars coming from the federal government, how it can be mobilized, right, we reduce childhood poverty across the country, the biggest reduction in I don’t know it was a generation, right? But the challenge that we face is that our local policymakers have this financial tension where they know they need to make investments, but they don’t know how to make it without disrupting the economy, right? They’re worried well, hey, if I raise taxes to pay for X program that Ryan is looking at or Stacy’s looking at, Haley’s looking at, am I going to do that at the expense of the very jobs that maybe the parents need in order to keep the engine of the economy going?
And so I think that tension is a technical one, but it’s also a political one. I think the best way to explain it here in Memphis is that we have some of our we have a bifurcated government, we have a city government, this legislative body and the county government. And then within the county government, there are six other municipalities. And the municipalities and the one in are raising revenue to fund new high schools that are world class. But the representative that sits on the county commission is looking to lower taxes for everyone, while at the same time the municipality may be representing is raising taxes. And so there’s a real tension around how do you achieve these ends, while at the same time putting investment and so I think the way in which we’re trying to frame it for our partners and for the leaders to say, look, if you just raise taxes in general, without a plan, yes, it’s a cost. There will be blowback, there will be externalities, or unintended consequences. But if you have a well-crafted plan, that’s based on what residents want, it’s based on evidence, and then you can show the return on investment, it’s an investment, it’s not just a cost that you’re letting. But that’s a real tension that underlies most of our work is trying to figure out how to pay for things in a responsible way.
Y’all, I want to back up and ask you something that’s much more centered in your person, because we all have to show up in our jobs as a person and fulfill a role inside of a system or institution. And I don’t want you all to be humble, none of you out there making humble salaries or in humble positions. I really want to extract something that the listener can maybe relate to. I want to ask you, Ryan, I’m gonna come to you first. I want to ask you, what is it about your person that makes you successful in this work, to have somebody else’s mind or behavior change, so that policy can be leveraged to improve the outcomes that you and your community hold as a central and as an objective?
What is it about you that makes you effective in this space? And what is your learning curve? And I want to ask that of each of you, Ryan, I’d love for you to take a shot at that. I know a little bit about your upbringing, and about who you are as a person. And so those are the kinds of things that I think about for myself is, you know, how do I activate myself in the best way, and make a contribution, so that everybody can agree to take one step in the same direction? Just one step. So what is it about you? What do you bring to this that is contributing to making you effective in this space? And what’s your learning curve?
“There’s no change without neighborhood change.” — Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Chief Executive Officer of UP Partnership in San Antonio, Texas
This is a podcast unto itself, Josh, it’s a big combo. And I appreciate the question. Let me just start with the learning curve. My learning curve is infinite. You know, if you think of knowledge as a sphere, everything we know is inside the sphere, everything we don’t know is outside the sphere. As the sphere grows, our contact with how much we don’t know also grows, our awareness of our own ignorance also grows. And my sphere is still small, but it’s big enough to know how ignorant I am. So the learning curve is infinite because of the ignorance. You know, sometimes in this work, we think about the base layer of changes the neighborhood, the neighborhood is essential. There’s no change without neighborhood change. But the base layer of this work is the nervous system, the human nervous system, the vagus nerves that run through our bodies, our breathing, our connection to our own heart, our ability to routinely daily flush stress, to keep our hormones in balance, our ability to access our own mind, our ability to give ourselves permission to rest. So I am very hardcore. On optimizing my nervous system. I take breaks when I need to take breaks, I meditate, I practice Tai Chi, I move I walk, I work out, all of those things are I would be who knows, I don’t want to know who I would be without those practices. You know, I’ve had times in my life, where I’ve not been able to work out because I’ve been on a cane, I’ve had serious physical pain, then breathing and meditation becomes even more important, right? My nutrition becomes even more important in those moments. But if I cannot take charge, in strengthening the regulation of my own nervous system, then I cannot be the receptive connected leader that I need to be to put my own agenda and my own ego in the backseat to really lead a backbone is to hold emptiness so that other people’s agenda can be put first and foremost in relationship with one another and then advanced, right. And if I can’t hold that emptiness, then I can’t be a high-quality backbone leader and I cannot hold that emptiness. I cannot put my own ego on the backburner unless I am taking care of myself at the nervous system level.
Ryan. I appreciate that. Thank you for that candidness. Stacy or Haley?
“It’s not just a marathon, it’s an ultra-marathon. We are trying to influence change that we will never see the impact for.” — Stacy Schweikhart, Chief Executive Officer at Learn to Earn Dayton in Dayton, Ohio
For me, I think, like the core of who I am, I think I’m really persistent. And the work that we all do. It’s not just a marathon, it’s an ultra-marathon. We are trying to influence change that we will never see the impact for and so it’s just recognizing that and I think as a pretty high as cheaper to a goal oriented person, there are days when I have to just say to myself, it’s not all going to happen today, Stace. Like just, it’s okay, one thing at a time. And I think it goes a lot to what Ryan was stating, just taking care of yourself, but also not giving up. I mean, doing this work, you get no, and you get legislation that you had in and you thought it was a sure thing disappear at the very last minute. That’s a reality of this work. And if you if we, as the leaders of this work, allow ourselves to be discouraged by those things to the point that it stops or halts, interferes with our momentum, you know, we won’t get there. So it’s just kind of taking the things in stride and remaining persistent and positive. And I think for us also just deeply, deeply committed to knowing that it takes more time to do this the right way.
What’s your learning curve, Stacy?
Oh, I mean, I’m with Ryan, I am a lifelong learner. That’s also a reason I love this work. But the learning never ends. What we are trying to impact is so complex, that once you figure out one piece of the puzzle, there’s another piece that changes. That actually is the reason other than making a difference in this world, which obviously, I think is inherent to all of us. But the complexity of it is actually that mental challenge is a big part of why I do this work as well.
Thank you, Stacy.
“The policy landscape…is a connected tapestry. If I pull one thing, it’s going to have a ripple effect that other things.” — Haley Simmons, Chief Public Policy Officer at Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee
I will say that Ryan hinted on the foundation of what I think is important, I obviously have to take care of myself, you know, being a father of two, with a third on the way, in the midst of responsibilities to get into a pandemic with that, I really took time to say I need to focus on my mental health, my physical health, because my kids need me, my family needs me, my community needs me. And so I had to first you know, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I take care of myself first before I can begin to help the community self-actualize. But as you are speaking, also thinking about other things that I think makes me successful as someone who works in a state that has an island or two of blue and of sea of red. And so how do I work constructively within that space and really change hearts and minds. And so I kind of jotted down a few things that pertain to me. But I’d say the first thing that helps me change the mind of a policymaker is knowing my audience. I’m not the audience, I’m not the policymaker, I can help influence them. But it’s not about me. It’s about connecting the constituency that I’m working with, and connecting into that person who is the original decision maker, I would say that then leads into making sure I have my message crafted with them in mind, not me, right, I’m not coming in, if I’ve worked with, you know, we have a range of groups that fit the political spectrum. But if one of them is more progressive, I can’t take that very progressive coded language to a conservative, they just, it’s just going to fall flat. There’s a gulf there.
And so I have to really be mindful of that. I think other thing is understanding that like, the policy landscape is a tapestry. It is a connected tapestry. So if I pull one thing, it’s going to have a ripple effect that other things. So that means when I’m making my messages or to policymakers, it’s understanding the Venn diagram of what they care about, and showing them that there’s an overlap for this thing that we care about, and bridging the gap between those things within the messaging. And so for example, if we’re talking about early childhood education in the state of Tennessee, and particular thing that I think all of it was really focusing on the country, the education space is third grade reading.
Well, I’m making an argument about third grade reading as a two generation approach. And I tell the policymakers in Nashville, that if you care about the education success of child that you also have to care about the parent of that child also. And so we can do a strategy this to generation that helps in the short term, improve their scores to third grade reading, that connects their parents to opportunities. And that really resonates with them, because we’re keeping the message in mind and tying things together that they’re really concerned about.
I also say that want to make sure that like, there’s no substitute for having passion for something, it’s infectious. So if I speak with passion, it exudes that passion to all the others in the room, and it gets them excited as to why they want to talk about a particular topic. If you’re boring, bland, it goes nowhere. And so I really tap into that. But I think one of the last things I tried to focus on that I think has been particularly helpful for my CEO and the rest of our colleagues I’m here is that I really tried to hammer into our community partnership, that policymaking is also about having a political capital bank ledger. You can only spend proportional to the amount you have. So you’re talking about Stacy, about you know getting no, I tried to avoid no because I want to know exactly how much political capital I can’t ask for them to support a place matters, power place investment. If I haven’t built the relationships given time for them to see the work, potentially even done political candidate selection and other event, like I have really have to make sure I have a full ledger proportional to what I need to have done. And so I think that’s a technical side of it, a passion side of it, a personal side of it. And those things combined, I think would make me successful. I’m sure there’s probably a longer list, but I think that’s a really good start.
“There’s no substitute for having passion for something, it’s infectious” — Haley Simmons, Chief Public Policy Officer at Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee
What about your learning edge, Haley?
I feel like I’m a lifelong learner. I’m a very geeky intellectual at times, to the point my wife, laughs and rolls her eyes, but lovingly, obviously. And I, a good example of that, I was watching a show the other day with my wife. It’s like one of the matchmaker shows on Netflix, and a character had something written on their arm. And before he even say what it was like, oh, that’s, you know, that’s Lord of the Rings, blah, blah, blah. My wife just looked at me, like, you’re such a geek. I love learning. I will literally, like go through my Google’s feed and I’m like, learning about astrophysics and learning about how AI is going to disrupt, you know, the job market, like, I love to learn, because I think it’s all connected. And so I think that’s something that I try to pass on to my kids and people around me that learning can be fun. It can take you on new adventures. And so don’t ever stop. Ending school is not the end of your learning journey.
You know, Ryan and Stacy, I heard something, as Haley was speaking that I want to ask you about as well, that’s like, what is the art that you employ? And this is very connected to the first question I just asked you about, like, what is it about your person, but there’s this art, and there’s the science of policy and politics. And I’m curious about the art that you employ to build consensus, Ryan, when I heard you speak about holding a container of emptiness, that’s maybe one way as I understood, like, ah, that’s his art, his go to, is to hold this place that’s waiting to be filled with others interests. And so if there’s something different from that, I’m curious for both you and from Stacy, what’s the art that you’ve employed, as you’re building consensus in this world of policy and politics?
“How can I see people the way they want to be seen, and in turn, ask them to see our work the way I believe it deserves to be seen?” — Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Chief Executive Officer of UP Partnership in San Antonio, Texas
For me, Josh, it’s the art of mutual recognition. How can I see people the way they want to be seen, and in turn, ask them to see our work the way I believe it deserves to be seen? And where that gets tricky is when I or they fall short? And then it becomes the art of how do we come back together? How do we practice accountability? How do we deepen our commitments to this work and or to one another, so that we can get back to mutual recognition?
“If you really are holding the community trust, you’re holding the trust of the residents.” — Stacy Schweikhart, Chief Executive Officer at Learn to Earn Dayton in Dayton, Ohio
So one of the things that I try to talk to my team about is having this mindset that nothing breaks us, right? That there can be times where, you know, something strays from where we thought and hoped it was heading, but just sticking at it, and also not giving up on a partner, or on a person, you know, that it is maybe there’s something more complicated going on that we that isn’t known to us, or, and you know, really, the root of this work is conversation and relationship and trust. That’s what it comes down to. And so I really, even if something goes sideways, there have been very few instances in my work where I haven’t been able to have the conversation, learn more about where that person is or where that partner is, or that legislator is, and find a way through. And I think it’s just, again, like I said before, like, that takes a lot longer than just saying, All right, well, they’re not with us anymore, but we’re going to keep going.
And I think if you really are holding the community trust, you’re holding the trust of the residents. If you’re holding the trust of your partners, and really in the work that we do, if you’re holding the trust of your legislators, you have to do the hard work of reconciling and having those conversations and getting back, somehow finding a way to get back on the same page to the shared vision.
Well folks, as if this was scripted, there’s not a finer way to end a podcast on this topic. And so Ryan, Stacy and Haley, I truly, truly appreciate your time, your candidness, your thoughtfulness, and sharing with our listeners, some of the concrete and technical ways in which you are helping to advance your local communities and your states in a direction that is improving outcomes in an equitable fashion. And more importantly, just really, really thankful for the types of spirits that you all bring to this work, and for sharing what you have in the hopes that someone out there listening will be inspired to stay in the fight, and to reach out for some learning from the important and critical work that you’re leading in your communities. And so folks, thank you for joining us today. Stay connected with us by visiting strivetogether.org where you can get the latest information through our monthly newsletter. You will also find transcripts of our Together for Change podcast series, case studies and more.