Restoring the American Dream: Strategies to Be The Change•
Opportunity Nation’s working session for Opportunity Leaders in February, after the first Restoring the American Dream series event, was purely focused on collaboration to answer three specific questions related to strategy. Our conversations reinforced that direct action, grassroots efforts and community organizing are paramount in the work of enhancing equitable living standards.
At times, one person can feel powerless- and not without cause. In my experiences within the public sector, this principle holds true: there is power in passionate, organized people.
For current and future Opportunity Leaders, and for ANY young leaders, here are valuable strategies to be the change you want to see.
I. Grab attention on the local (and state) level.
Get to the ROI
Get right to the return on investment (ROI). To do business well, you must understand the self-interests and values of your associates. The principle of WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is useful across all sectors. Any strategy which aims to gain a voice at the local or state level must prioritize a well-developed value proposition. When other people fully understand how your requests align with their desires to requests with haste when they understand how failing to deliver will be a detriment to their own interests. Understand the principle of quid-pro-quo and develop your plan of action with it in mind!
Give, and Give, and Take
Again, the principle of quid-pro-quo is paramount. To be successful in seeing change occur, you must be willing to serve as a readily available resource. Offer your services, insights, or support rather than only asking for your requests to be fulfilled.
Organize the Community
Hold regular town hall meetings. Invite youth organizations made up of youth, and focused on youth development (such as Boys & Girls Clubs) to attend and present their perspectives. Invite elected officials to hear the issues and policy platforms of their constituents. You can also put media on your side by contacting a local newspaper editor to publicize the planned event. Create a social media campaign with a hashtag. Most importantly, understand what community members are experiencing and equip them with the tools to advocate for themselves.
II. Use data to support your claims.
Speak to the Layman
Jargon and vague statements are often indicators of a lack of deep understanding. When using hard facts and figures, keep the translation simple. The goal must be to engage both subject matter experts and laymen in the room. Be direct, include an explicit example, and use some form of visualization! Plenty of people will be glad to hear a concise description of the facts, and how exactly the insights lead to the next steps.
Train Others to Use the Tools
Using analytics tools and data resources, such as the Opportunity Index, will improve the position from which you encourage others to take action. Post a video on how to understand a feature of a tool. Create a graphic that illustrates the data-driven insights. Hold an informal training session to cover the capabilities and basics of a tool. Sharing your technical knowledge is invaluable because it creates a common knowledge base, which consequentially strengthens your call to action.
Make Data Work For You
Think of data as a brick. Use data in the beginning to set realistic and timed goals. This is the cornerstone of your platform. Then, use the data sets to build a narrative. This storytelling, backed by empirical evidence, is the foundation for your argument. The beauty of data is the cement never dries, so there is always room to realign and readjust for new bricks. This allows for up-to-date and accurate reports which can reveal trends from year to year. Finally, “throw” the brick through the windows of your elected officials to affect change! Your data-strengthened platforms will effectively confront state and local leaders, and will motivate them to consider your evidence-based initiatives.
III. Support your community on an individual level, daily.
Define your personal values and keep each of your actions within the frame of your principles. When you behave as if no one is watching, yet bear in mind that at any time, anyone may find out, you develop a reliable sense of judgement for yourself. When you make decisions you believe are best, despite the potential judgements of onlookers, you project confidence. At the same time, you must be prepared to honor your word and take responsibility for each decision you make. The idea here is to make decisions as if you are watching, and ensure which ever action you choose you take pride it.This mindset keeps you away from the destructive fear of being judged or misunderstood, while it simultaneously holds you accountable for your actions.
Connect and Communicate
Be a mentor: Any person, younger or older, can share wisdom to expand our minds. Allow a person to understand your goals, motives, action plan and progress. When you are open to questions and do not shy away from potential awkwardness or misunderstandings, you create a covetable mutual opportunity. A mentor need not train nor explicitly teach. A mentor leads by example. A functional (and fun) mentor-mentee relationship is one where both parties are comfortable being who they are, the communication is consistent and each person’s expectations of growth are clearly established early- though remain flexible throughout the relationship.
Empower Others with your Personal Experiences.
You are the story you tell. Enthusiastically participate in conversations you find meaningful. Write letters to elected officials, post those letters on social media and generate a vibrant dialogue about policies that matter to you. When you serve as a consistent source of information and informed opinions you become a point of access for others. When you share stories, trends in your industry, tools, or interesting literature, you become engaged and simultaneously engage others.
As an Opportunity Leaders Advisory Council member, I gain invaluable demonstrations of leadership. I witness skills such as public speaking, brainstorming in groups, thinking to solve complex problems, and both sides of constructive feedback. Simultaneously, I practice such skills firsthand.
The role reminds me to be the change I want to see, I must have an intentional voice at the table. It reinforces that leaders of any kind must think as individuals, and produce unified action among groups. To effectively lead one must actively listen to what others say, evaluate their points of view and decide what to do next with the new perspectives you uncover. Leaders plan with reasonable expectations in mind, and pursue their goals with intention. We all must live according to our values. As an Opportunity Leader you will follow-through, you will follow up, but you won’t simply follow.