The Compelling Moment

Is this really happening? What are we to make of all the changes occurringaround us now, and what can we do to tap into the emerging energy, momentum, and possibility?  For those of us who seek hope and change, the question is, "Now what?" Here are some quick tips for making our way forward.

In just the last week, there have been any number of changes that are compelling in terms of the possibilities around us. Just watching the Iranian election and reform movement in the past few days has been absolutely incredible. Of course, the usual talking heads on weekend news programs quickly reported that the election results signaled more business as usual: no new openings, no real progress, and no hope! But the people of Iran are demonstrating their yearning to create a more open society and their fundamental desire to re-engage and reconnect.

The same could be said about my recent week in Detroit, the same week GM announced its bankruptcy. As we engaged Detroiters we discovered their own deep desire to reconnect with one another, and to build a community where people know, care for and help one another. There was a human spirit within the community that most onlookers had assumed had been extinguished.

Later this week I fly to San Francisco to join the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp, where 1500 volunteers and leaders will come together to learn how to bring their ideas for stronger communities into reality. I'll be on a panel with Craig Newmark (Craigslist founder) and Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), among others. But one of the breakout sessions will focus on All for Good, a new online platform which, among many cool things, enables people to distribute volunteer opportunities across the Web and on social networks. The site's potential for scale, reach, and engagement is simply amazing; and the fact that it has legs is yet another sign of the changing conditions around us and the potential that stands before us.

But what can we do with these and other signals? How do we tap the potential before us, especially given the role of technology and social media and its power? How might we accelerate and deepen the change we seek? For me, there are some basic points we must keep front and center in anything we do:

1.    Are you ready? While people want to re-engage and reconnect, at issue is who will people trust to create productive and safe spaces, focus on relevant concerns, and create real impact? Whether you are truly ready to meet this challenge will have everything to do with your success.

2.    Have you turned outward? I believe the central challenge of our time is how to make hope real for all people, not just some. This will require that we turn outward toward the community. And yet, so many of us are looking inward, focused more on our programs than the community itself.  This is a challenge of mindset and orientation.

3.    Do you understand the community's context? Creating real change requires that we are deeply rooted in the communities where we work (whether offline or online). We must understand people's real concerns, the capacity for change at any given moment, and the aspirations that people hold. Otherwise, we are simply engaged in window dressing.

4.    Will we authentically engage people? Civic engagement has become a business -- a relatively big business! -- but for people in communities it is about their lives. Will we focus on creating the conditions for people to engage on concerns that are relevant to their lives, create engagement pathways that are meaningful to them, or will people become inputs into our own processes?

5.    Are you focused on impact? Here, we must consider the specific challenge or issue we're addressing, but also how we create the community conditions and capacities for change. Without building the leaders, networks, relationships and norms of a community, we will be left with lots of programs but little community.

6.    How can we create sustainability? There are lots of things to mention here, but one key I believe we must wrestle with is -- metrics -- how will measure change on issues people care about, the conditions for change in communities we must generate, and the boundary spanning organizations and public innovators we need as catalysts for change.

The human spirit is undeniable these days; people want to reengage and reconnect, and to build communities and societies in which they can tap their own potential to make a difference and join with others to forge a common future. This is true from Iran to Detroit to your own community. But nothing is certain. That's where we come in.

I'll be doing videos and Twittering from San Francisco to explore these and related issues. Stay tuned!