Creating the Future: Through Engagement, Openness, and Compassion

Last summer, I responded to a call for volunteers from Creating the Future. Having read The Pollyanna Principles, and having loved every single page, I applied to become the new board recording secretary and documentarian. To my splendid surprise, I was chosen to be one of two volunteers for this position! While my personal life has prevented me from fully participating over the past few months, my time with Creating the Future has been an amazing learning experience. In this blog post, I would like to share a little more about the organization, because it is so wonderful and you are going to love it, as well as what I have learned about the practice of social change leadership through this experience.

Many years ago, when I was a young nonprofit ingénue eager to learn all I could about the field, I subscribed to the mailing list of an organization called Help 4 NonProfits & Tribes Institute. At least a decade later, while a participant at the annual conference of my statewide nonprofit association, I was introduced to the aforementioned book - The Pollyanna Principles, which was written by one of the founders of Help 4 Nonprofits & Tribes. So much of what was written in that book resonated with my own views about how nonprofit, or as author Hildy Gottlieb and fellow Pollyanna readers call them, community benefit, organizations could and should function.

You see, having worked in the nonprofit, that is, community benefit sector for so many years, I had transformed from an ingénue to a leader. I no longer took for granted or even necessarily accepted what the nonprofit establishment purported to be best practice. I longed for something more, something that more completely aligned with my values and my vision for a more beautiful and vibrant world.

I found that in The Pollyanna Principles. This book deconstructs many of the assumptions pervading the nonprofit sector that I found so frustrating at all levels of practice from line staff to executive director to board member. It shows how good nonprofit leadership is more about creativity than control, leading to change rather than constriction. It emphasizes humanitarianism, possibility, and true partnership rather than bureaucracy, problems, and paternalism. The Pollyanna Principles demonstrates that long-term, systemic, exponential social change is possible through simple, everyday actions. It is highly aspirational and visionary, yet it is also relevant and realistic for organizations of all sizes.

Creating the Future is a relatively new nonprofit organization, founded by Hildy and business partner Dimitri Petropolis, to demonstrate The Pollyanna Principles in action. The organization is creating a healthy, vibrant, and compassionate world where people are living their fullest potential both individually and collectively by exploring and experimenting with the most effective and practical ways to make this change possible. Creating the Future provides workshops and immersion courses, offers an online resource library, facilitates R&D discussion groups, and serves as a living laboratory.

It is in this last area that I have been most engaged in the work of Creating the Future. My role is to participate in monthly online board meetings and to engage the broader Creating the Future community in the board's work through a monthly blog post.

Through this participation, I have learned so much about working and living in community. I am taking what I have learned with me; I am actively connecting and integrating these concepts into my own ideas and experience through my research, writing, and practice as a community change leader. I hope you will also find some of these ideas helpful for your own social change leadership and the work of your organization.

Engagement - When I was first asked to be a recording secretary, who isn't a board member, I thought I would be a silent observer who studiously took notes while the board members explored ideas together. I was wrong. I, along with the other recording secretary, have been actively engaged in all aspects of every board meeting. We are encouraged to participate at a deep and meaningful level. All of Creating the Future's activities engage the broader community of learners and practitioners through participation, conversation, and collaborative action. My blog posts aren't just a report back of what happened at board meetings, they are a means to involve others by asking questions to further explore the big ideas, as well as the details, that emerge through board conversation.

Openness - As a living laboratory, all of the activities of Creating the Future are open to the public. Board and other planning meetings are not only broadcast online, but anyone watching is encouraged to participate via Twitter, to ask questions and add their ideas. And the board listens and responds to those tweets! Deliberations and decisions are intentionally shared throughout the community. There are no secrets and everyone is included. Every Creating the Future activity reflects its core values and vision. And by demonstrating those values in action, other organizations can see how they, too, might do the same.

Compassion - The staff and board is an amazing group of talented and accomplished people. They are also some of the most kind and loving people I have ever met. Hildy and Dimitri often express their appreciation for my involvement in an authentic and touching way. I truly feel like a part of a caring community and that my contributions - however small they may seem to me - are valued and important.

There are so many additional things that I have experienced and learned through The Pollyanna Principles and Creating the Future, much more than I could possibly share in one blog post. I encourage you to become part of this community, and to join us in creating the most amazing future possible for our world.