SIMO: Here’s Looking at You, Rams

rams jerseysThe Stratiscope offices are filled with artifacts from years of community work in Los Angeles and around the country. Sharing these posts ensures they don’t exist buried in an office but can live online forever. The SIMO (Stuff In My Office) serves as a reminder of why we do what we do.

In my office, I don’t shy away from proclaiming my fandom. Conveniently, and coincidentally, I found myself pursuing an undergraduate degree in St. Louis, MO, shortly after my local Rams football team departed for the same city. So, I stuck with them. They didn’t let me down, and the Greatest Show on Turf captured the Lombardi Trophy in the year 2000.

Strangely enough, it was this event that became an eye-opening experience about the hometown my Rams and I had temporarily left behind. Only five years prior, the UCLA Bruins Men’s Basketball team had won the NCAA Tournament, and the celebration in Westwood required riot police to fire rubber bullets to disperse a crowd that was flipping cars, ripping street poles out of the ground, and throwing beer bottles at officers. If that memory eludes you, you may likely recall the helicopter footage over Downtown Los Angeles, following bands of Angelenos wreaking havoc and destruction in the streets after the more recent Lakers’ championships.

Like many Rams fans that championship year, I was among the throngs flooding the downtown streets of St. Louis after the Super Bowl victory. But I didn’t see riot police. Nor were there gangs of delinquents bent on destroying public and private property alike. The celebration was markedly more “Care Bears” than “Mad Max.” And for this, I applaud St. Louis and the fan base. Respect and civility abound.

Welcome home, Rams. I hope our hometown fans can behave with the dignity and class you’ve grown accustomed to in St. Louis.

Further reading: L.A. is Pretty Artistically Talented
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rounded_corners_Neal_A_avatarNeal Anderberg works with organizations, coordinating outreach efforts, strategizing partnerships, evaluating brand effectiveness, and advising on management and fundraising efficiency. He enjoys sharing knowledge and insight, but thrives on collaboration, and is passionate about helping others use their passion to make an impact. Check him out on LinkedIn.

Celebrate the Impact Makers

make-a-difference_stratiscopeEvery day, impact-makers diligently, positively–and oftentimes thanklessly–shape society. And often, that work directly affects our hearts, minds, and lives.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the sudden, tragic passing of a good friend – a stark reminder of the fragility of life and the ephemeral nature of our time here.  The presiding clergyman at the funeral made note of the overwhelming, standing-room-only crowd filling the chapel and let us know that, in all his years, he had never seen such a turnout at that cemetery, a testament to the impact our departed friend had made upon us all.

To look out among the crowd, to see the family and friends there to celebrate a life, to recognize the reach her life had had, even in such a short time, was impressive, to say the least.  I’m not sure even she could have known the extent of her impact.  How does anyone?  The priest that day, in one moment, recognized this.  But most importantly, he recognized it aloud, and thereby gave a certain validity and added appreciation of a life well-lived.

Every day, there are impact makers diligently, positively, and oftentimes thanklessly, shaping society, affecting our hearts, minds, and lives.  Don’t let them go another day without the appreciation and gratitude they deserve.  Thank them. Celebrate them.  Now.

Recognize them.  Aloud.

Further Reading: Dear Impact Makers

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rounded_corners_Neal_A_avatarNeal Anderberg works with organizations, coordinating outreach efforts, strategizing partnerships, evaluating brand effectiveness, and advising on management and fundraising efficiency. He enjoys sharing knowledge and insight, but thrives on collaboration, and is passionate about helping others use their passion to make an impact. Check him out on LinkedIn.

 

Why I Started the City Impact Lab

city_impact_lab_stratiscopeSometimes, ideas, like chemicals in a lab, come together. Whether it’s a big flourish or a small fizzle remains to be seen, but it’s all a part of the adventure.

I’ve worked in the city of Los Angeles since high school. My first jobs were public-facing in retail, and after returning from college, I started teaching high school English in Watts. Traversing the city each day from my home in the San Fernando Valley into South LA, I saw various aspects of the city in new, thought-provoking ways. So when the opportunity came to work for the city that I had been driving through since I got my driver’s permit at 15, I took it.

For the next 11 years, I worked for the City of Los Angeles as a city employee (for 4 different elected officials). Every day was different than the last and couldn’t really prepare me for the next. It was an honor to serve, regardless of the capacity.

So, when I finally left formal government service (employment), I knew that I wanted to stay engaged in the civic dialogue. I subscribed to digital newsletter updates from elected officials, advocacy groups, and nonprofits as a way to stay informed. With a flood of one-way communication in my inbox, this was a good strategy to keep me updated, but it wasn’t, perhaps, as effective in keeping me truly informed or as engaged as I wanted to be. I went to advertised meetings and meetups, but there was something missing. I still felt disconnected from my city.

During these same, last 15 years, I maintained regular communication with the high school colleague who had led our campus’ service initiatives. He and I would meet regularly to talk about ideas to help LA and its citizens. Those ideas morphed over the years from strictly nonprofit, to financially nonviable, to identifying the true need of the populace: education and strategies for engagement and, above all, the ability to connect with others doing good work for and in the City.

So, after over a decade of observation and conversation, a few job changes, and a knowledge that a growing family would soon change my ability to start new things, I launched the City Impact Lab in 2014 to achieve the things that I didn’t see any other group truly doing: bringing people together to share passion and strategy in order to advance causes that make an impact in Los Angeles. 

I had co-founded Stratiscope a year prior knowing this new company would focus on supporting those doing good work. We consciously decided against becoming a nonprofit or B-Corp. because we believed a business in the United States could be dedicated to making good things happen without sacrificing the sound business principles upon which this nation was founded. (Lofty, I know, but it’s worked so far.)

After getting settled those first few months, I returned to this idea of an entity that could bring people together to help them advance their stated “good works purpose” (what positive work they were driven by and wanted to do). We looked at coworking spaces, civic incubators, startups, and other emerging civic initiatives to bring people together to solve city issues, but what we found were others focused too heavily on technology to bring people together rather than bringing people together for the sake of connection and mutual understanding. We began with the Social Impact Breakfast program, which has now grown to a monthly series with over 50 attendees coming to hear strategies from those working day to day to improve Los Angeles. We have also developed a round table program, a reflections program, and a variety of other activities for the sole purpose of bringing together and providing support and resources for those working to improve LA in the way that they believe is best. The City Impact Lab doesn’t say, “This is what needs fixing and this is how to fix it”; but rather, we ask, “Where do you see an issue and how can we help you get to where you see the city going?”

First time attendees and others ask, “Why a lab?” They get that “city impact” is focused on making an impact in the city, but a lab? My experience with laboratories is limited, as my coursework in high school and college focused more on history and writing versus chemistry and physics. But my limited experience is summed up, thanks to an undergraduate science class where the professor mixed two chemicals in an auditorium full of 300 eager students. He knew his audience, and he knew the visualization of the mixture would captivate the attention of the poets, athletes, and undecideds. He teased us with a preview of “Now, when I add this [pointing to a beaker half-full in his hand] to this [pointing to one just barely full on the table at the front of the lecture hall] — get ready. Watch what happens.”

We were all prepped and on the edge of our seats. He poured. There was a slight fizzle. Nothing really happened. That was that. The professor uncomfortably chuckled, muttering something about this not being what was expected. “Hold on,” he said, looking around at the packages on his desk, reading labels and seemingly checking expiration dates on the chemicals. Bottom line: it’s safe to say the experiment didn’t work the way he expected. We all learned something that day, and that lesson inspires my understanding of the lab: you can try things, and it might not work as expected, but everything you do is an opportunity for improvement.

This is a big, complicated city, and not everything works every time to address its challenges. But with a large enough roomful of people at the edge of their seats, the solution is there. We just need to keep trying, together, to realize the vision we each individually hold and share for the City we all call home.

Further Reading: City Impact Lab

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rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. John is committed to serve Los Angeles and support it as a laboratory for addressing issues in other cities, as well. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge

IMG_1576Sometimes, you may be asked to lead a project, but the reality is that you are not in charge. You may have a boss, board, or a funder who is in charge (well, they may think they’re in charge), but as a leader working to manage a project or group, you must find a way to move the effort/agenda forward while respecting the authority who gave you the challenge and privilege to lead.

Consider these approaches to lead when you’re not truly in control due to other forces at work:

1. Be responsive. When you’re leading (especially for a community effort or public initiative), many questions will come your way from various sources: your boss, your colleagues, and sometimes strangers. No matter what, respond to requests and phone calls. The simple act of indicating you receive the message I’ll research and answer shows you’re on top of the situation at hand. This also means you don’t wait a few days to respond once you have the answer, either. It may take weeks to resolve requests from those delegating authority to you or that you’re serving, so keep them updated as to your progress, especially if it takes more than a few days to resolve their request.

2. Be invested, but don’t take it personally. You must care about the work you do; but when you’ve been delegated authority, though not given complete control, make sure you know precisely what you have control over. Becoming too invested may result in a less successful outcome because of the unrealistic pressure you put on yourself.

3. Define success for you in your role. Sometimes, the task will have clear, public goals and outcomes; but as a leader, you must create your own personal measure of success. This may not stray from the publicly stated goals, but the way you deal with them as a leader will determine your level of stress, or rather, the accomplishment you achieve. A little stress isn’t a bad thing, but you can’t let yourself be solely reactive, chasing the initiative’s many moving parts.

4. Know when to say “no.” If you always say “yes,” it shows responsiveness in the beginning but will likely create unrealistic expectations of you for others. Set boundaries for how and when you work, and know what works for you in terms of managing the people and project. “Managing up” is essential in an effort where the delegate’s authority has not been fully relinquished…and knowing how to do it may be one of the measures of success for you.

5. Proactively communicate. Though much of your work may be about responding to requests and serving a boss or other authority, most successful projects result from you taking the reins and driving the effort. One sure way to demonstrate your authority (without overstepping others’ sense of ultimate authority) is to proactively communicate progress and updates without being prompted. Offering solutions, setting benchmarks, and providing specific feedback and insight will demonstrate your capacity to lead and establish your authority to govern the project at hand.

Effective leaders can often be tapped or asked to lead sometimes difficult initiatives or projects, but just because you’ve been asked to lead doesn’t mean you’re in charge. Respecting authority and truly leading requires the awareness of process, personalities, and politics. To lead when you’re not in charge is not impossible when you have the right approach.

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rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. He helps to manage committees and councils made up of various interest groups. Follow him on Twitter andLinkedIn.

 

Why Cities Work

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State and Federal government enact laws and regulations, so why do cities exist? Is it to impose more laws, or is there something more at work here?

Most Americans live in cities. Even if it’s not NYC or LA, most of us live under some form of local municipality, township, or even county. The point here isn’t that we live in urban or suburban areas, but rather that we live in places where “peers” govern (set policies and enact laws) affecting our daily lives in very personal ways.

Can you get a plastic bag for free or not when you shop at the grocery store? How fast can you drive on a local road? What’s the local sales tax rate, if any? How far (or close) are buildings allowed to be built from the the roadway or an adjacent structure (or the protest line)? What are the fees associated with filing applications for things regulated and overseen by the local government? All of these issues (and many more) are decided upon by the local city or county — but why?

At its core, the purpose of a city is to help its residents extend their lifespan. It improves the quality of life for those who live there and, therefore, helps citizens live longer, healthier, safer lives. Recreation, public health, public safety, zoning — all laws have motivations behind them, but if everyone involved knew the goals, some laws would move faster and others would be left to the private sector to handle.

Having worked in and with local government for years, I have come to understand that the purpose of a city must be clear so elected and appointed leaders, city staff, and the citizens all work together toward a mutual understanding of why they are there. Few cities have a true mission going beyond “provide great customer service” (or things along those lines), but they should.

Imagine if the adopted mission of your city was to preserve and extend the lifespan of residents: would certain taxes, policies, and laws even be controversial? With a clear purpose, any entity — even a big city like Los Angeles or a smaller one like Columbia, Missouri — could be more effective at serving its constituents and operating.

Extension and enhancement of your life exist when protection has been achieved. Demand your city have a clear purpose and you’ll equally protect and extend your life, along with those of your neighbors.

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rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. He has worked for elected officials directly and serves dozens of others in other capacities. Follow him on Twitter andLinkedIn.

 

An Alley Runs Through it: Turning Ugly into Opportunity

Stratiscope alley1Cahuenga Boulevard is a vital artery connecting the Valley and Hollywood. It may not be as famous as its parallel thoroughfares, Vine and Highland, it meanders past some of the City’s great landmarks including Universal Studios, the Capital Records building and the Cineramadome.

A few years ago, Cahuenga Blvd. business owners teamed up with the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance and City Officials to turn a rat infested alleyway into a neighborhood gathering space. All of the junk was removed and replaced with permeable pavers. Individual restauranteurs created outdoor dining spaces and a local landscape architect turned blank walls into vertical garden space. 

Stratiscope alley2

The alley is now building a reputation for the place to be for Saint Patrick’s Day.

In a densely populated concrete heaven, finding a neighborhood “place” can be challenging. Inventorying eyesores and imagining brighter possibilities for dreary alleys or dumped-on medians, opens a world of placemaking opportunities.

Further Reading: There is Where You Make It

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rounded_corners_Angela_B_avatarAngela Babcock works to make neighborhoods better through engaging all stakeholders and solving problems. She assists those who most could use a helping hand and celebrates community resilience. Check her out on LinkedIn.

Why You Should Donate To Your Favorite Non-Profits Before Midnight

taxes StratiscopeIf Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and previously commercialized holidays (like, say, Christmas) haven’t depleted your savings yet, beware.  This week your email inbox, if it’s anything like mine, has been visited by every non-profit organization that ever had me in their contact lists.  Why?  End-of-year giving, of course!

Forget the generosity of the holiday season.  This is the time of year to donate your money before the tax man closes the door on your 2015 bookkeeping.  While the reality of these solicitations seems to truly tackle your innate desire to skirt a higher tax bill, consider the true impact this cultural phenomenon possesses.

If it weren’t for non-profit organizations in the first place, most social services would likely be delivered via government or your religious institutions.  Government taxes you, your tax dollars are divided between a variety of social needs and then your government distributes these funds as needed.  HOWEVER, in our society today, our government is empowering you with a unique ability.  Essentially, YOU can choose how such monies are spent before the tax man ever gets his mitts on your wallet.  The government will tax you less, if you have taken the time to donate monies to charitable causes!  The ball is in your court, America.  You choose what causes are important to you and your community.  You make the difference.

And if it’s the end-of-year tax break that drives you, so be it.  But if a New Year’s resolution to change your community is the impulse, that’s just as good too.

Signing off for 2015, and wishing you and yours a bright and prosperous new year.

Further reading: Are you up to Speed for 2016?
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rounded_corners_Neal_A_avatarNeal Anderberg works with organizations, coordinating outreach efforts, strategizing partnerships, evaluating brand effectiveness, and advising on management and fundraising efficiency. He enjoys sharing knowledge and insight, but thrives on collaboration, and is passionate about helping others use their passion to make an impact. Check him out on LinkedIn.

The Business of Government in Business

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This fall semester I once again taught “The Business of Government in Business” at Mount Saint Mary’s University.  It’s an exploration of the roles and responsibilities of government, specifically as it relates to the business sector.  And I love it.

I know how nerdy that sounds, but it’s true.  This might be my Star Wars.  I was looking forward to the class for months.  We examine political battlegrounds where industry and government have clashed over the decades, and we discuss the reasoning and strategy behind regulations from various federal departments.  But before you assume this is a Business VS. Government class, rest assured there’s a positive spin here.  Fact is, your local, state, and federal government can be quite the ally.  But understanding the landscape (politically, culturally, and sometimes literally) makes all the difference.  What earns you a seat at the table?  And how do you keep it?

The text we use in my course is an easy read called “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading”, by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky.  While the book’s really all about what it takes to be a good leader, the takeaways are incredibly appropriate for my course.  Indeed, if you’re recognizing the need to work with government, as opposed to around it, in spite of it, or blatantly against it, you’ve already taken the first step into a leadership role.  And with the right leadership tool belt, you’ll be able to effectively navigate the waters of cross-sector partnerships and cooperation to ensure that government’s role in your business is that of friend, not foe.

Further reading: Getting your Non-Profit up to Speed is a SNAP! 
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rounded_corners_Neal_A_avatarNeal Anderberg works with organizations, coordinating outreach efforts, strategizing partnerships, evaluating brand effectiveness, and advising on management and fundraising efficiency. He enjoys sharing knowledge and insight, but thrives on collaboration, and is passionate about helping others use their passion to make an impact. Check him out on LinkedIn.

Big City/Small Town

stratiscope hometownNever forget: Wherever you go, there you are.

On a recent visit to a small town in December, I got to go to the community Christmas party. On a cold (and I mean cold–15 or so degrees) and snowy Thursday night, half of the town’s 250 residents showed up to the brand new community center with their pots of homemade soups and desserts. They joined as neighbors to celebrate the season and to bask in the warmth of the building they all helped raise money for, replacing the potato cellar that had served as the communal dining hall in years past.

I felt nostalgic at the real sense of community these residence enjoyed, gathering for no other reason than that they lived within minutes of each other. If only this sense of neighborliness could exist in the Big City.

Today, a friend and I enjoyed warm beverages while seated at an outdoor, sidewalk table in considerably warmer weather than what I experienced during my small town visit. As I told him about my potluck soup dinner, I paused to say hello to a man walking a couple of cute dogs. The pups stopped for a quick sniff and we wished each other Happy Holidays. This happened again a few minutes later with another dog walker. I looked around and people smiled at each other as they passed each other on this slightly busy sidewalk off a much busier boulevard.

The coffee shop owner who situates seating to invite mingling with passers by. Pedestrians willing to pause for just a moment to acknowledge a stranger can happen anywhere. It reminds me of one of my favorite things: neighborhoods are what we make of them.

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rounded_corners_Angela_B_avatarAngela Babcock works to make neighborhoods better through engaging all stakeholders and solving problems. She assists those who most could use a helping hand and celebrates community resilience. Check her out on LinkedIn.

Getting from Plan A…to Plan D

post itsWhen one door closes…
When life gives you lemons…
When at first you don’t succeed…

…and other euphemisms explain that things don’t always go the way you had originally hoped. It’s such a tired lesson, we’ve cleverly softened the blow time and again.

If you’ve been frustrated by roadblocks at seemingly every turn, there’s a good chance you’ve tried working with government on some level.  I’m looking at you, neighborhood council members.  Before you think I’m just telling you to keep your chin up and keep fighting the good fight, rest assured there are success stories out there in which to take solace.

Take the case of the Palms Neighborhood Council‘s Land-Use Committee as your paradigm of hope.  Recognizing a lack of open, green space in this most dense community on LA’s Westside, the plan in 2005 was to find land for sale, buy it, and make it a park. The roadblock? No affordable land available. Even during the recession, land was at a premium in a neighborhood ripe for multi-family, transit-oriented development.

Plan B: Acquire existing LA City-owned land, like the recently closed fire station, and build a park there.  The roadblock? City government decided to -sell these properties instead, citing the City’s financial woes as the priority over this underserved community’s park needs.

Plan C: Work cooperatively with a local middle school to open several acres of soccer fields, basketball courts, and baseball diamonds to the community after school hours and on the weekends.  The roadblock?  The school cited insurance and maintenance concerns and refused to play out any negotiation for a solution to the community’s needs.

Plan D: Re-build the one local pocket park in Palms to better serve community needs.  The roadblock?  Money – but compared to the millions required to buy a separate lot, this was relatively attainable.

Herein lies the true lesson learned through this process.  When exploring Plans A, B, and C, the representatives of the Palms NC had only the righteous belief that more park space was needed, and looked for support from government to make it happen, from beginning to end.  In fact, once Plan D was settled upon as seemingly the last resort, steps were taken in-house to move forward and develop a specific plan for the land.

Community events were organized to garner stakeholder input, a landscape architect was partnered with to design an appropriate blueprint, what little funds the Palms NC did have access to were earmarked, and even more community input was sought online and in-person over the course of almost two years.  Having plowed forward this far, the hurdle would still be money – a significant percentage of the project.  Yet once city departments and elected officials realized this project was shovel-ready, they were happy to assign funds, from various sources, to complete the project.  It was the perseverance, the dedication, and the resilience of the Palms NC, over the course of almost 8 years, that gave the community’s needs a solution that government would/could take to the finish line.

Playing Monday-morning quarterback…
Hindsight being 20/20….

Well, you get the idea.  Isn’t that grassroots effort the way it was supposed to work all along?

Further reading: What’s Resilience anyway?________________________________________________________________________

rounded_corners_Neal_A_avatarNeal Anderberg works with organizations, coordinating outreach efforts, strategizing partnerships, evaluating brand effectiveness, and advising on management and fundraising efficiency. He enjoys sharing knowledge and insight, but thrives on collaboration, and is passionate about helping others use their passion to make an impact. Check him out on LinkedIn.