SOWING THE SEEDS OF COURAGEOUS LEADERSHIP: THE BIRTH OF INCOMMONS
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles about the genesis of InCommons.
"Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant corn they are saying, let's stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another." - New York Times columnist Anne Raver
A shared sense of place and purpose has always been at the heart of the InCommons story, and the guiding principal behind the belief that solutions to community problems are most often discovered within the community, as opposed to the halls of Congress or the ivory towers of academia or the CEO's office.
Like many big ideas, the seeds of InCommons were sown during a series of informal conversations in the summer of 2008 as part of a discussion about leadership development and boosting the capacity for community leadership in Minnesota.
Research showed that fewer than half of community leaders surveyed felt they did not have adequate resources to solve community problems. At the same time, they did not trust positional leaders (elected officials, "experts" or others) to solve these problems. Then, an idea came forth: supporting everyday leaders in solving community problems...with these very communities leading the charge.
As the idea took root, the Bush Foundation and the University of Minnesota conducted a "design lab" - talking with high-profile business and nonprofit stakeholders as well as grassroots-level changemakers - and determined three compelling needs:
Resource Sharing and Connections - How can communities come together and cross-pollinate ideas, inspire emerging leaders and connect people who have challenges with people who have tools, ideas, stories and resources?
Bridging Formal and Informal Knowledge - With the understanding that community leaders are already working to solve community problems, how can we use both real-life experiences and leadership principles to improve the process?
Making Courageous Leadership Visible - To combat a deep-seeded cynicism among everyday leaders, how can we replace the dominant narrative of "government doesn't work" with real-life examples of courageous community leadership?
The notion of a "leadership commons" - a hybrid physical/virtual space for everyday leaders to congregate, share ideas and solve problems together - emerged from these conversations.
For the Bush Foundation, traditionally a grant-making organization, this abstract idea represented a significant reach outside its comfort zone. But in the spirit of collaborative leadership, the Foundation began to explore potential partnerships with organizations whose missions aligned with the emerging project. From that moment forward, the seed of InCommons began to sprout.
In next week's newsletter, we'll explore how a mix of free-flowing discussion, hard-nosed research and creative inspiration has helped InCommons grow and mature.