Editor’s Note: Susie Bowie is the Executive Director of the Manatee Community Foundation (MCF). Founded in 1998, MCF partners with our citizens to strengthen and enhance our community through philanthropy, education, and service—now and forever. Susie practices the principles of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Hundreds of individuals in the region have attended the Public Innovators Lab underwritten by The Patterson Foundation to inspire individuals and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.
Earlier this month, I received some great feedback from a guest column in the Bradenton Herald focused on a book called “Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust” by Adam Kahane.
Kahane asks readers to be more conscious of their efforts to convince everyone else that their viewpoints are right and become open to changing their own thinking.
Most of the responses to my column went something like this: “I really enjoyed it. If only more people would do this.” But I wonder if the central point was lost… It’s not about other people doing it. It’s about you doing it.
With the privilege of working in a philanthropic or a nonprofit organization comes the responsibility to make sure your own ideas about the nature of problems and solutions are given a release to constantly evolve. At Manatee Community Foundation, we partner with donors, nonprofits, and citizens and to get the best results for our community through charitable giving. Sometimes we need to take a step back and remember that we need to be prepared to walk out of a meeting with a different perspective. With the complexity of issues facing us every day and the new data that constantly emerges, preconceived ideas about solutions—even the problems—can’t be a focal point. The Harwood Institute concept of “turning outward,” arriving without the answer in mind already, is the same concept. This practice takes discipline, self-awareness, and patience with yourself and others.
I have enjoyed being part of civil conversations taking place in Manatee County where we see a real difference in the way people work together and create possibilities. For instance, more people recognize that communities cannot arrest their way out of the opioid epidemic. Transitioning to understanding addiction as a public health crisis, not just a law enforcement issue, we can start to build real possibilities for turning it around.
Yolie Flores, senior fellow with the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, recently reflected on her observations from around the country to local audiences, thanks to The Patterson Foundation. Communities that move away from blaming the school district, judging parents, and insisting on English language-only have greater levels of success, she said. For some, this approach involves a radical change in thinking. But the data is clear. Community engagement, investments in parent education, and nurturing multi-lingual home life are pathways to change. It’s happening here because we are listening.
If you are open to being more present with others, agreeing on the solutions does not have to be a prerequisite. Arriving with openness and being willing to change your own thinking can take us far in collaborations. It’s the only way to go when we need everyone at the table, and we do.
You can reach Susie Bowie at SBowie@ManateeCF.org