If you’ve got the gift for friendship that Raymond Jetson has, why not use it? The pastor and former state legislator has friends in Harvard places, where he was a fellow of the Advanced Leadership Initiative, sort of a combination of boot camp and academic booster shot for promising leaders from around the country.
From a small city in the South, which some of his fellow Fellows might consider an exotic locale, Jetson’s connections have peopled a stream of visitors to the Baton Rouge area since 17 of his classmates visited in September 2010.
Some of them were Jetson’s teachers at the ALI events and many were the fellow Fellows, many of them distinguished in various careers. One of them was the CEO who took Trader Joe’s into a nationwide chain; others had made successful careers in law, medicine or other fields. And when they came to Baton Rouge, they sang for their suppers at what have become annual summits hosted by the Jetson-led nonprofit MetroMorphosis.
Some of the speakers have been very high-profile indeed. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a famous professor of leadership studies at the Harvard Business School, was the keynote speaker in 2013.
This year’s keynoter for the fifth MetroMorphosis summit was James P. Honan, of the Graduate School of Education, who teaches nonprofit management and works with not only nonprofit leaders but elite circles of major funders — foundations and donors — whose expectations for nonprofits might not necessarily be the same as the nonprofits’ view of their own goals.
Honan suggested to Baton Rouge leaders at LSU’s Lod Cook Conference Center that the community ought to aspire to “collective impact,” focusing on a critical area of community need and mobilizing around that priority. The idea is that high-performing organizations would find new and perhaps unexpected benefits in collaboration.
Easier said than done; Honan’s talk was in part a bit of an abstract disquisition on the basic principles of what “collective impact” might mean. He is, after all, an academic.
But as with others among Jetson’s ALI friends, he’s an academic who works with the national and international leadership of the nonprofit sector, and with major funders. He listed several examples of communities that combined a targeted goal with an intense collaboration among nonprofits, government and businesses of varying goals and ambitions.
Among his examples were cities not that much larger than Baton Rouge. In Louisville, the community worked together on college completion. That was pushed by a collective effort organized initially not by a college president but by the mayor, looking ahead to the economic prospects of a city lagging in degree-holding workers.
Other efforts included Cincinnati, where the focus was on early childhood education. In Raleigh, a collective effort was focused on grooming leadership capacity for the community.
Honan talked about the “backbone organizations” that helped provide leadership and continuity to wider community efforts.
That leadership discussion dominated small, breakout groups of Baton Rouge participants who talked about the how-to questions posed by Honan’s talk.
In one of the groups, younger leaders frankly critiqued how the leaders of many organizations are set in their ways, interested only in doing things the way they’ve been done before. Mine was not the only gray head perking up at that generational criticism.
If Baton Rouge is going to generate “collective impact” on a community problem, what will it be? Whatever it is, it should be attacked collectively, not by any single initiative. A bit of wisdom from a funder, also a musician, was passed along to the group by Honan: “We need more ensembles and fewer soloists.”
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.