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From a new blog by Peter Karoff at http://hpk.weblogger.com/ comes an essay entitled The Hard Way [ http://hpk.weblogger.com/2003/03/28 ]. The crux:

"These experiences for me, now long in the past, with their mix of naivet´┐Ż, good intentions, youth and inexperience, coupled with a healthy dose of guilt raised a set of questions that I struggle with to this day. These are not principally questions of what impact or results we achieved, which were modest and not long lasting, although that remains the unfinished business. Nor is it about my own motivation and involvement that contains both positive and negative elements of ambiguity. They are simply part of life. The bigger questions center around the immense difficulty in bridging different worlds. The sociology of those who live in newly remodeled kitchens in the suburbs juxtaposed to a family living day-today on the street is like Mars to Pluto and beyond. How we talk to one another, how we relate, how we listen as citizens, may be the most important thing of all. If we do not get that right, what we do will not work. It is also about what we take away from such experiences, to what extent we have learned. It comes back to whether we choose to walk-by, or walk-in.

These events were 30 years ago, but the same kind of mistake is repeated, sometimes on a much larger scale. There is a neighborhood in Baltimore called Sandhurst. In the early 90s, Sandhurst was the site of a comprehensive, neighborhood community development effort. Conceived by the Enterprise Foundation, and funded by a number of national foundations, especially the Annie B. Casey Foundation, it was very ambitious. Unlike our rump effort in the 60s, there were many sophisticated actors in the Sandhurst story. After a lot of money, and several years of frustration, the project failed for essentially the same reasons ours had failed 30 years before. It lacked the filter, the lens of the community, and the voices of those most involved. Not to say that it is easy to define what the community is and isn't. Perhaps that is the very first step in tackling any serious philanthropic or social change work.

And through it all, that hard question from my memorable night long ago in the NAACP office in Boston, hangs in the air - 'Who are we, who am I, to come to a place that is not my own and presume to do good works?"

Okay gang...discuss.


Peter's observations remind me of a point often made in business planning. For a program to be successful, you have to identify a "driving force," or a "champion." As social venture funders and foundation funders look around the emergng scene, I hope they are in touch with the grassroots leaders, and put their money behind a grassroots leader's passion, talent and commitment, rather than trying the manage the "movement" from the top down, or through bureaucratic methods. (Phil Cubeta)

Hi Phil...welcome!

Lots of connections between what you say and the notion of invitation, both in organizations and communities. Doing good "the hard way" I suspect means doing stuff without paying attention to invitation.

Certainly, Open Space as a community practice used extensively by us here at Ashoka is one way to tap leadership and passion through invitation. Right now I am thinking of two other areas that might be interesting to explore.

First there is the initial approach to a community. Without being invited into a community it is very difficult to get to a place where doing good work is even possible. And this begs the question for me about how far we can be outside our own business and still have integrity. I was really struck by Peter's description of his activism stemming froma need to make a difference in a community that was not his own. And sure, the needs in Roxbury MA in the seventies were significant. But the story captures the essence of how hard it is to break out of one's place and get to work.

Arnold Mindell has written about "rank" as a pervasive power dynamic that, unless you are aware of it, becomes an nobstacle to communication. Peter's story about "Soul" is a wonderful reminder of this.

The second area that intrigues me at the moment is how to sustain the inviting, and emergent leadership culture of Open Space in community. Becasue communities are more diffuse, it is both more powerful and more difficult to do this. Good community development is driven by diversity and passion, and that exists in any community initiative. But the fact that communities are so nebulous leads to logistical problems that make it harder to sustain driving force, unless it is simply a mater of inviting and inviting and inviting, I suppose.

Just random thoughts here.


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Last edited April 2, 2003 8:53 am USA Pacific Time (diff)