I Heart Pittsburg! (Part 3)

(Part 5: Community-Driven Tour 2008. To read these posts from the beginning of this 2+ month tour, click here.)

Thursday, October 23

It is Thursday. We are scheduled to spend some time before lunch with Dorothy Bassett, the dean of Duquesne University’s School of Leadership, with whom we worked to re-craft the Masters in Community Leadership program.

I like Dorothy a lot. She is warm and direct and genuine, and I appreciate all of that. Our first phone conversation almost 2 years ago was prior to our planning work with the School of Leadership. I remember being nervous about that first call, and that Dorothy’s complete lack of pretense immediately replaced my nerves with honest enthusiasm for the opportunity to work with her energy and intellectual curiosity.

Working with Dorothy during our planning sessions with the School of Leadership had been awe-inspiring, if for no other reason than she was entirely present and fully participating after having arrived, sleepless and jet-lagged, from Duquesne’s Rome campus – yes, that’s Rome, Italy – just hours before!

And so now, as we fast forward to this day almost 2 years later, I am looking forward to what we have been told will be a short meeting, as Dorothy has other appointments. After that brief meeting, we will enjoy lunch and after-lunch discussions with the Nonprofit Leadership Institute team. It will be a full day.

Since our planning work, the School of Leadership has added an assistant dean, Michael Forlenza (another Michael – how confusing!), and Dorothy has asked him to join the discussion. As we all focus on what is possible for the school to move to the next level, the conversation quickly catches fire. 30 minutes into that meeting, Dorothy and Michael F. both rearrange their afternoon plans. The next thing we know, we are all heading to lunch together.

The conversation moves back and forth – from envisioning what education can be at its transformational best (and how Leadership Education is certainly about nothing less than transformation – of individuals, of organizations, of communities), to the nitty-gritty realities of trying to make such a program a success within the bureaucratic layers of a university structure.

How to give the program’s infrastructure the time it needs to build and grow?

How to teach instructors to teach via distance learning, to take full advantage of all this new medium is capable of achieving for their students?

How to build strength into the program from the inside out?  How to engage the students themselves in building the program to be extraordinary?

By the time we part after lunch, it is almost 3pm. We know none of us will be able to tame the myriad possibilities floating in the ether around each of our brains.

The day has gone in a direction we never imagined, and so we spend what little time remains with our friend Michael (Kumer), discussing the ultimate conversion of the Nonprofit Leadership Institute into a fully Community-Driven Management Support Organization.

How can a management support organization / “nonprofit” resource center teach only what aligns with Community-Driven principles, and refrain from teaching classes that go counter to such principles (cooperative vs. competitive resource development approaches, for example – or governance aimed at community results, vs. governance aimed at the means – or community engagement vs. marketing…)?

How can such an organization avoid measuring success by tallying workshop attendance figures (the same “output” indicators they teach other organizations to avoid), and instead begin asking the critical questions that will lead to real indicators of systemic change?

On the heels of the invigorating discussion at lunch, our brains are too tired to focus much on these topics so late in the afternoon. Instead, Dimitri and I head back to the hotel to rest up a bit, after which we will head out into rush hour traffic to meet the NLI’s Allison Jones and her husband Kevin for dinner.

Allison and Kevin adopted us during our first visit to Pittsburgh several years ago. Allison runs the Boards by Design program at the Nonprofit Leadership Institute. She is young and alive and pure delight – a 40 Under 40 winner, and one of the most charming individuals one can hope to meet. Her husband, Kevin, is sweet and brilliant – a computer guy who loves bicycling (talk about a kindred spirit with Dimitri!). Allison and Kevin  are both choir singers, which is how they met. One cannot help but love being with them – not to mention that they find the BEST places to eat! (This time we are devouring a feast at Legume, which we cannot recommend highly enough!)

We hate to cut the evening short – after how huge this day has been, it feels overwhelming to think that it is actually tomorrow that is the BIG day – two workshops with a convened lunch discussion in between. In addition to the normal cold I have been enduring all this time, I now have no voice. To top it all off, by the time I crawl into bed, I realize I will have 5 hours sleep at best.

No sleep, no voice, and now I am coughing. What a way to head into a double-header…

(For the next post in the series on the mad adventure that is the Community-Driven Tour 2008, click here.)

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