April 26, 2009

Reflecting on San Diego's On the Ground

Home again....and feeling very fortunate to have work that I believe is so right with the world and that connects me to the community of people who share with my values and passion, keep my curiosity AND my faith alive, and challenge me to think bigger and look beyond the next bend.

I'm home from San Diego where I spent two days with forty colleagues exploring the path from resident engagement to resident ownership, with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation as our home base. These were the two days that Grassroots Grantmakers designed to help funders who are working from a "we begin with residents" perspective to explore the path from resident engagement to resident ownership of change. I've written earlier about Grassroots Grantmakers' idea for "on the ground" gatherings so won't give a blow by blow.

Instead, here are some excerpts from the notes that I took over those two days and a quick video that I made with animoto.com, using photos that Kristin Senty, my Grassroots Grantmakers' colleague, took while we were there.

From Jennifer Vanica, CEO/President of the Jacobs Center:
On taking risks.....
The times of greatest challenge, that's the time of greatest innovation.

The first person who says "it can't be done" will be fired.

On the role of the foundation.......
Because we want to inspire creativity, we have had to change ourselves.

On collaboration....
We are working across disciplines that tend to go back to their own corners when left to themselves. That's why we are trying to create structures that tie disciplines together at the hip.

On the Jacob's Center's role......
Our work is about creating platforms for change, helping people believe that their future can be different.

On how the Jacob's Center is positioned as a place-based change-maker......
We walk right down the middle of the non-profit, for-profit divide.

On an essential early learning.....
It became clear early on that we would not have any impact beyond our lifespan if we just made program grants.

On how they work....
We learned to plan/implement, plan/implement......and to plan in 90 day increments.

On planning.....
We flipped the paradigm from developing a plan and then seeking buy-in to first seeking resident input and buy-in, and then working together to develop the plan.

On how they think about their work......
Every piece of our work has four dimensions - social, economic, physical and political.

On how they know where to focus their energy.....
When barriers to what we want to achieve surface, we marshall our forces and attack those barriers.

On their philosophy of working with the community.....
We work side by side, doing with, not for.

The underlying philosophy that guides the work of the Jacobs Center.....
For change to be sustainable, residents must own their own change - they must own the vision, own the plans, own the implementation, and own the assets.
From Bevelynn Bravo, resident leader:
I remember waiting for someone to come in and make changes, but I didn't realize that I was waiting for myself.
Roque Barros on the motivation for change:
We don't care if you came for the wrong reasons....we want you to stay for the right reasons.
So now that you have a taste of the conversation, take a look at a snapshot of our experience together, "on the ground" in San Diego:


  1. The gold star of the day goes to Reemberto Rodriguez who asked about one of the quotes I shared. A typo in the quote made me laugh AND gasp when I found it. It's fixed now. Jet lag, my writing buddy, strikes again! Thanks Reemberto!

  2. A wonderful learning intensive!! I attended looking to understand what success might look like and to understand the challenges inherent in this work. It was immediately clear to me how the community members and Foundation staff were forever changed by the process. I'm still confused about who is Jacobs staff and who isn't. ( That's a good thing) The ownership of the residents was transparent and evident. Jennifer's discussion about the bumps and bruises, disagreements and resolutions reinforced the fact that problems and conflict are inherent in this work and tenacity is a must. The presentation by community members demonstrated how residents are initially reluctant or confused about how to participate in effecting and owning change in their community.

    I appreciate being able to understand what change looks like outside of the lens of the evaluation tool. The things that are not so easily captured in reports or assessements, like transforming attitudes and experiences are most helpful to me in this work for understanding and measuring change and being hopeful about overcoming obstacles. Thanks so much for the opportunity.

  3. Hi Lisa - It was wonderful AND important to have you there. Your thoughtful questions and curiosity about how we (our community of grantmakers) can sync our practice with our intentions - funding from a resident-centered perspective - added so much to the learning. Thank you for being there and weighing in on the blog!