October 2020 – Dylan McCain Allen

Central Florida knows how to come together. So why can’t we work together?

Our community is so good at building a network and making connections to ideas and people that matter. When we can, we love to collaborate. But, we don’t cooperate well at all. 

To me it feels like trying to sweep a floor with a pile of straw. Sure, you could grab a handful and go to town, but wouldn’t it be so much more effective (and easier) if you string together the straw into a broom?

Even worse, at times it feels like the straw got upset there wasn’t a string in the first place and instead of weaving into string it just hops out of the house for someone else to deal with.

It might sound loony, but it’s no more loony than how many collaborative efforts have disintegrated before they could do more than the bare minimum. 

My project both during my time as a Crave Leader and now as a member of its Advisory Council is to develop community beyond a network of like-minded souls. I seek to galvanize the collective passions and possibilities of our region to model change-making for the people and places that are called to something greater.

Groups reinforcing disaster resiliency and offering coordinated intervention services have come and gone seemingly with each passing disastrous event, making it nearly impossible to plan for, prevent, and mitigate effects of future incidents. Some exist today, but at times their coordinative strategy is at best questionable and their longevity is far from assured.

There are no cooperative agreements or regional strategies to develop children and neighborhoods mindfully. There are countless who are passionate about our local ecological resources, yet few avenues to align with various government-created sustainability initiatives.

We even had a gathering of social sector leadership called The Collective for a short while before it collapsed almost as soon as it began. Some previous attendees told me they felt it was good about networking, but they always left not knowing what they would do differently the next day.

And that missing next step—and the capacity to actualize it—appears to be the common denominator.

How are we so Hell-bent about getting into a room, but become skittish to say and do the generative things that would make demonstrable differences in people’s lives? 

Is it fear of the consequences, the unknown, or perhaps the commitment to “something more”? Is it some sort of existential crisis between wanting change and concern over what that change really means?

Is it that we’ve been traumatized by having good ideas shot down? Might we be concerned that we aren’t the “right person” to be in the room? 

Are we so burdened by the deep-rooted inequities—which we in the social sector combat everyday—that our courage numbs at the realization of such complexity?

Has our passion and purpose been brought to its knees in the face of competition for resources?

Or, might the issue be of a functional nature? Could it be that these agents of change don’t really know how to make change? Are we all proverbial salmon just swimming upstream unknowingly into a bear’s mouth? Did we all really expect the broom to tie itself?

Beyond the complexity of social change, we’ve also entrenched ourselves in a tough system of everyday operation. We toxify our missions by treating people as helpless hand-out seekers rather than working with—or even for—them. When it’s time to gather resources and strategy for the mission, the people we seek to empower are often the last of whom we ask for insight from. 

We should explore community-centric fundraising to make sure our financial engine is built in equity and not by the very powerhouses that might actually perpetuate the problems we seek to solve. We each hold our biggest dreams close lest they be illuminated by others, and that withdrawal from shared visions leads the social sector to a scarcity mindset. 

Rather, an abundance mindset would remind us that with more than 11,000 nonprofits in Orange County alone: we have the resources to do just about anything; we just don’t know how to position them carefully.

The first steps would be for both institutional leaders as well as everyday townsfolk to learn about critical concepts like the dangers of toxic charity, the efficacy of Asset-Based Community Development, and the cooperative possibilities unleashed by Collective Impact.

Furthermore, we need to have a conversation about the place of the social change agent in our society. What are the baseline mindsets one should have entering this work? To what extent should every agent for change understand human-centered design innovation as well as inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA)? 

And most vitally: do we value these vigils of liberty, egalitarianism, and community enough to recruit them effectively and compensate them competitively for the mountain-moving effort they beat into the ground every day?

I admit I add yet another layer of complication to what already seemed impossible to overcome. That’s what I signed up for, though. I’ll take on any challenge to make sure Central Florida’s children grow up in a community that cares for their future, one that wellness and opportunity is only a neighbor away, and one in which the human and natural ecosystems intertwine to sustain a plethora of options for creative and meaningful self-actualization.

Crave seeks those who share some fire for something more, then hands the Crave Leader a map on which to draw their own path.

Crave is the breeding ground of connection and cooperation. We are sharing the tools for change and the skills for responsible and generative impact. Our community is redefining what “community” means. 

We are delivering that “something more”.

Dylan McCain Allen