WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Sound Off: Rethinking Social Impact

By Patrick Brien, posted Mar 13, 2020
A movement is building in Wilmington. A movement that brings equity, diversity and inclusion from a distantly perceived value, a “nice to have,” a “sure, someday,” to something that we do now, something that we live daily.
But to operationalize this transformation, to solidify it in the fabric of our society so that generations to come may benefit from its embrace, we must think differently about systemic change.
Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Put simply, what got us here will not get us there. And ours is a past we shouldn’t embrace as a blueprint for the future but rather a lesson in what happens when finite outlooks suffocate the equitable potential and possibility of the infinite mindset, of a world built for the next generation and for all people.
We need to build a new system to break the old one.
But the outcome of this process cannot be transitional change but rather generational change. We must realize that this new approach is not just a way of thinking or doing, but a new way of being, of existing, of infinitely operating to further social, economic and health transformation. And because we’re looking at generational durations and not general elections or annual campaigns, the priority of thorough data collection, storytelling and the construction of a common language are of the greatest priority. We must believe in it and we must demonstrate the resiliency required to see it through.
So how do we do that?
The idea for the Cape Fear Collective was inspired by the unity displayed throughout the community as it came together to rebuild after Hurricane Florence.
We saw the power of the region when it united for a common goal. If we can rebound from a devastating storm, together we can break down some of the systemic inequalities facing our neighbors. CFC is an effort to harness that resiliency, strength and collaboration, and operationalize it in an equitable and innovative way.
The first step is to listen, to bear witness, to learn and to leverage every available resource and advantage.
For the Cape Fear Collective, that means utilizing cutting-edge technology to establish a publicly accessible data platform that shows the health, economic, environmental and housing issues facing our community so that we can build a true understanding of the symptoms we face.
By taking outdated public metrics, breaking down their methodologies and leveraging community partners from across the county, we will use locally available data to bring each metric up to real time. With real-time data, we can spend less time being ambiguously right and more time being precisely wrong.
We can fail fast and track impact.
Once we have an accurate and current snapshot of what ails our community, we must understand how we’re organized to treat those symptoms.
There are over 1,100 registered nonprofits in New Hanover County, and we’re going to interview every single one of them to create a social impact network analysis that provides insights into resource ratios, gaps in services and opportunities for growth. This mapping is a critical component of understanding how we’re organized in the current system and sheds light on opportunities for organizational realignment.
And then, to honor both the data and the person or organization each statistic represents, we will fill in the spaces between the numbers with stories of resiliency and the challenges our community faces through our Collective Voice platform.
No one joins a movement because of a statistic. Movements are created by people, for people.
Once we have the data, both the quantitative and the lived experience, we bring it back to the community to start a conversation about the soul of our region, cherishing the decades of heart and sweat equity that have come before us, laying bare the outcomes of our darker and more sinister chapters and building a movement to an equitable future for all people.
Improving a system is not about optimizing the actors. In most cases, they are achieving amazing results on limited resources and amid extremely difficult conditions.
True systems improvement is achieved through strengthening the relationships and connective tissues between those actors and building an operational infrastructure that supports the development of a shared consciousness, a shared understanding of the ecosystem and our function in it so that each actor can flourish in their role as a change agent.
Let’s build a new town square where members of our community can redefine how we approach social progress and start shaping our future.
A future where everyone has a chance to thrive and prosper.
These are lofty goals. It won’t come fast or easy. It’s going to take a thousand little victories. We need your help.
Join us.
Patrick Brien is CEO of the Cape Fear Collective, a social impact organization based in Wilmington. Prior to his work with CFC, Brien served as the director of strategy for the University of Global Health Equity, a new health sciences university in Rwanda. Brien began his career in the U.S. Army where he spent a decade leading units in combat operations in Afghanistan.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The Greater Wilmington Business Journal and WilmingtonBiz Magazine publish a regular series of op-eds about ideas for sparking economic growth in the region. If you have a column topic to be considered, email [email protected]
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