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Civic Faith

Rich Harwood, President & Founder of The Harwood Institute, has spent over three decades developing the idea of Civic Faith—a philosophy that holds that placing people, community and shared responsibility at the center of our shared lives will create a more hopeful society. All of The Harwood Institute’s work is rooted in Civic Faith.

4.) Central to Civic Faith is a covenant—a civic covenant.

Programs, processes and technical approaches are all important to carrying out ideas and initiatives, but nothing substitutes for the relational nature of community and society. We must forge productive relationships, trust and mutual accountability among us—and nurture these, pay attention to them, make them vibrant and alive. Only then can a shared society work.

1.) At the heart of Civic Faith are people.

Their lived experiences, what matters to them, their aspirations must be at the center of all we do. People’s dignity is paramount. So is the need to recognize people’s desire to express their agency, together—to bring about progress in their own lives and in our collective lives. But too often people are left out, overlooked, pushed aside, rendered inconsequential in our society. Their dignity denied. People must always be front and center.

5.) Hope is vital to Civic Faith.

More than anything else, people want a sense of possibility and hope—to believe that tomorrow can be better than today. Through our words and actions, we each get to choose whether we will engender authentic hope or false hope. False hope gives rise to fear, mistrust and cynicism—and pushes people away; authentic hope is the fuel we need to put one foot in front of the other and take actions that strengthen communities and transform lives.  We get to choose.

2.) Civic Faith is rooted in the belief in people’s innate capacity to shape their own lives and our shared lives.

Each of us longs to be part of something larger than ourselves. Each of us has gifts, talents and a relentless power for good within us. Under the right conditions, we can transcend our self-interests; surely we will never agree on everything, but we can forge a common good.

3.) Civic Faith is grounded in a conviction that community is a common enterprise that we build together.

We cannot create the kind of shared lives we seek on our own, going it alone. The idea of individualism is a hallmark of American society; but so is the fact that our communities and country are made great only by building them together—each and all of us, together. In these times, when we can feel isolated and alone, we must remind ourselves of this enduring truth.


Creating a Culture of Shared Responsibility

Shared Responsibility is about how we create mutually reinforcing actions that are rooted in a sense of common purpose.

In many ways, Shared Responsibility has been at the heart of our work all the way back to 1989, the year after we were founded. With support from the Kettering Foundation, we began work on a project called “Youth At Risk.” The idea was to help communities take action in ways that mimicked how communities respond to a natural disaster.

After disasters, communities innately self-organize themselves, coming together to forge a sense of common purpose to take highly mutually reinforcing actions—both big and small—all without a lot of formal coordination. The coordination usually kicks after some period of time, producing highly official actions that overshadow, even crowd out, the community’s more natural responses.

You can think of these early actions as being “complimentary”—or mutually reinforcing—where a community takes shared responsibility for itself.

Shared Responsibility leverages and integrates both big-ticket actions and human scale actions. Both are critical. Both essential. This framework releases us from the burden of having to “fix” major problems like failing schools or the opioid epidemic. “Fixing” these problems are simply not possible. Attempts to do so will fail and breed more cynicism.

Shared Responsibility is about getting on a more hopeful trajectory and creating community together. We care about what we create.


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