csisOn August 19, 2016, I had the privilege to graduate with the January 2016 cohort of the Center for Social Impact Strategy.  We shared eight months of intense learning together on material from logic models to social media plans to impact management.

Cutting across all of these lessons was a thread of how to truly create social impact.  The course material is invaluable, but it the experience and the discovery of self during these eight months is where the real change will happen. Here is what I learned:

Show Up.  Seems evident, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.  You can physically be present and never show up. When you shut down your mind, fold your arms, and sit back you project judgment on the group, when in reality, it is a struggle of self-worth. Do I belong?  Am I good enough?  Should I opt out to save face? What I learned is that by showing up-jumping in opening up and embracing the experience-  then you are good enough. All you need to do is get out of your own way.

Upon my initial entry into Houston Hall in March I saw this wonderfully amassed collection of humanity, I wanted to turn and run.  What did I get myself into?  There are markers on the table.  Construction paper.  Look at all those post-it notes! Fear seized me and I was about to call it a day before it even started.

But then I made a decision to get out of my way – to shove fear aside and engage.  And it was remarkable.  I talked to so many amazing people.  I challenged myself to be vulnerable.  I made real connections.  Connections that created relationships.  Relationships that have had an impact on people’s lives.

None of this happens if you don’t show up.

Embrace the Random.  The first night of CSIS we were randomly assigned to a table of classmates.  In my introduction I decided to not just share my job, but share my passion. I am passionate about connecting people.  I love bringing people together and talking about ideas because I love the random connections that ideas create.  I do this by hosting moderated dinner discussions based on Generosity Network’s Jeffersonian Dinners.

Enter Florance McElroy, a selected classmate who, upon hearing my rant, pointed to me and said, “We need to talk.”  It turns out that my decision to share what I was passionate about met a direct need–something that Florance had been searching for for her own community. Random.

Cue Mobile, Alabama five months later and I’m sitting at a table surrounded by community members and nonprofit leaders in Mobile and talking about creating community.  Ideas are swirling.  Connections are being made.  Social impact is inevitable.

Because people showed up and embraced the random.

Post-Its are my friends. I really do love post-its.  They are a visual representation of the random.  A series of words on small squares of paper.  But…

You can pick them up and rearrange them.

You can map them.

You can group them.

You can draw lines of connection.

You can create a picture.

You can start to create an impact. You bring your ideas to light with those of others.

And when you can do that…that, my friends, is how change is created.

And this is how I changed.  And I cannot thank you all enough.

Now let’s get out there and make it happen.