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Shared growth strategies start with a new table

“It will be spread around like peanut butter, to no lasting impact.”

That’s what many of us felt would happen when it was announced that Louisville would be receiving an unprecedented $388 million in American Recovery Plan (ARP) funds in March 2021.

The city of Louisville does not have a shared vision for growth or for investment, and this presented one more instance where “someone” would be receiving funds, without a process that people could trust.

Or the city government would absorb the funds and spread them across the status quo programs.

Or each one of the larger nonprofits that could handle the reporting requirements for the funds would receive some funds for their incremental projects, and no one would receive enough to make a real difference.

A few of us decided to see if we could get the city to invest the funds strategically for maximum impact. But how?

Gathering the group

We agreed we would start with a sit down with other civic leaders to talk about the problem and potential approaches. When starting to make a list of potential attendees, we were very intentional that the group have a high degree of gender and racial diversity.

The group of nonprofit execs, CEOs, consultants, and entrepreneurs gathered were 5 women and 5 men, of whom 5 were white and 5 were people of color.

Everyone knew someone and none of us knew everyone. Yet when we began the discussion, we were able to very quickly build a shared understanding of the problem and potential solutions. Like in 15-20 minutes.

Everyone began listening closely to one another as it was immediately clear that each person brought a more diverse lived experience and, correspondingly, different insights as to the impact and consequences of different approaches.

The very diversity of outlooks became the strength of the plan.

And everyone understood that. Through respectful and thoughtful sharing and listening, the decision making process was something all could take pride in.

That day, we created a strategy where 100% of the ARP funds would be concentrated in the qualified census track neighborhoods of our city, split as $100 million for each of affordable housing, workforce development and early childcare.

We decided to put the ideas into a presentation, with a few people taking the lead on drafting and design, and then everyone would fan out to their networks and relationships to communicate the plan and gather feedback.

We encountered roadblocks

We faced pitfalls in reaching out beyond our circle to get buy-in for the ideas created. The pushback was mostly around the process of citizens getting together to form a shared strategy and then trying to influence others.

Community leaders asked:

  • Why wasn’t I at the table?

  • Under whose authority are you seeking buy-in for these ideas?

  • Why would you create a new group that we have to deal with? It would be easier for us if you work with the existing structures that we already are stretched to cover?

Government officials protested:

  • We already have a process for this decision making so we cannot change it now.

  • Our staff and consultants are experts on these areas so you will need to run them by our team first.

The ideas won the day

But, process concerns notwithstanding, generally people were very interested in the ideas themselves.

Our group had created ideas that resonated broadly and deeply among business leaders, politicians, policy makers and community leaders.

And that is why shared growth has to start with a new table.

Because today’s marketplace conditions demand better ideas, that engage and excite all stakeholders – funders, customers, associates, communities. Organizations, whether companies, nonprofits, or governments, that want to be relevant for the future need these better ideas.

When you start with a diverse group, and center their voices in the decision-making process, the very diversity of outlooks becomes the strength of the plan. With these approaches, ideas emerge for better policy, program and resource management more easily than most would imagine.

We’ll talk more in our next post about what a new table is and how to create it.


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