Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Passion for Creating Community


             I especially like the podcast we are releasing today because it conveys the pure passion that two experts have for my favorite of all foods: bread! 

Mark Furstenburg is the James Beard award winning owner of Bread Furst on Connecticut Avenue (and before that, Marvelous Market)  His career spans working in John Kennedy’s administration on poverty issues – to feeding Washingtonians at his bakeries. He’s 78 years old, first turned to baking at 50 and opened Bread Furst at the age of 76. It is never too late!  Corby Kummer is a brilliant writer and restaurant critic who takes us behind the scenes for a fascinating look at how restaurant reviewers write their reviews.   As you will hear, their passion for food also translates into a passion for creating community.

You can find the podcast at http://addpassionandstir.com/the-disappearance-of-poor/  and as always, if you enjoy it, please share.
 

Billy

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Aligning Strategy to Values - from Houston to Syria


Dear Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners colleagues:

            I want to piggyback this brief note onto Chuck’s email yesterday (about our $50,000 grant to the Houston Food Bank in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's devastastion)  because I am so proud he and his team acted quickly in response to the need in Houston and because it was not only the right thing to do but also represents an often overlooked dimension of strategy.

            An event like Hurricane Harvey often poses a dilemma about whether we can respond without distracting or diverting ourselves from our strategy.  But that can be a false choice and a misunderstanding of where strategy’s power lies. Strategy should allocate and align an organization’s resources against its top priorities – in our case, our No Kid Hungry campaign.  But strategy should also reflect and reinforce the values of an organization and its team. Those two definitions can be at tension if you let them be, but for great organizations strategy is both. It always will be for us, and that’s why we responded and will continue to respond to the unfolding situation in Texas and Louisiana.
 
 

            Effective strategy can’t be formulaic. It must adapt to changing circumstances while remaining on course toward goal. And it must reflect and express the values of those implementing it – values of compassion, community and generosity.   So it is incumbent on each of us to not only stay focused on our priorities but to look up from what we are doing and connect it to what is going on in the world.

We’ve had an incredibly positive response to our grant to the Houston Food Bank from some of our most valued stakeholders.  And it comes shortly after grants we made to Save The Children and others to save lives in Syria and Somalia and deliver school meals in Haiti.  Such grants are only a small fraction of our budget, but a large part of the values we embody.  That makes them strategic too.

Billy

Sunday, August 13, 2017

a letter to my colleagues about Charlottesville


Dear Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners colleagues:

            When I went to Charlottesville for Share Our Strength at the end of April, having lunch outdoors on the pedestrian mall dotted with bookstores, restaurants and shops, I couldn’t help but think how civilized and gentle a community it was. It will be again someday soon but in the near term our memory of it will be marred by the ugliness we witnessed Saturday.

Our work at Share Our Strength focuses on ensuring that kids grow up healthy, strong and ready and able to contribute to society.  Implicit in that is that the society they will be joining is worth getting them ready for in the first place. When racism, bigotry, hate and discrimination encroach on that society, the focus of our efforts must expand to address it. Otherwise, really, what’s the point?

It doesn’t erode our commitment to nonpartisanship and bipartisanship to assert that the President’s failure to condemn racism for what it is, is a deeply disappointing affront to every American who loves our country and the values it represents. Thankfully many Republican and Democratic leaders were united yesterday in their explicit denunciation of the white supremacists who converged on Charlottesville and who in no way represent the good people who live there.

In circumstances like these, the question is always “what can I do?” My friend Jonathan Greenblatt, who led the Social Innovation Fund in the Obama White House and is now CEO of the Anti-Defamation League has made a number of suggestions over the past 24 hours about what government officials should do, but has also written: “We should not wait for government: businesses and nonprofits, CEO’s, clergy and citizens.  It’s up to all of us to take a stand against hate. You can tweet, march, donate, mobilize, vote. Action can take many forms,. It isn’t bounded by politics. Only limit is your creativity. Ultimately this is not about political resistance. It’s about moral renewal and recommitting to the American idea.” You can follow him at @JGreenblattADL 

My only advice for now: don’t be silent.

Billy

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When All Else Fails, Give Bipartisanship A Try


The collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obama care has led to speculation in many quarters that as a last resort Congress might give bipartisanship another try. Many consider that wishful thinking if not hopelessly naive. But Share Our Strength’s experience with it’s No Kid Hungry campaign suggests that there are times when such bipartisanship can not only work but produce concrete results that measurably improve lives.
 

            Granted that feeding hungry kids is more popular and less complicated than tackling health care. But it’s still dependent on legislation, government funding, and the commitment of state and local officials to executive efficiently and effectively.  For the past 10 years we have won the support of Democrats and Republicans alike making arguments that have bipartisan appeal:

-          That childhood hunger is a solvable problem

-          That children are the most vulnerable and least responsible for the situation they are in

-          That the return on investing in children pays dividends and saves taxpayers money in the long run.

Most important of all, we have resisted the temptation to attack those with whom we disagree. And the battles we’ve fought have been for the purpose of feeding kids, not for the purpose of strengthening our own political prospects.

As I said, that can sound na├»ve in today’s political culture. But the results speak for themselves: 3 million kids added to the school breakfast program, a majority of eligible kids participating in school meals rather than a minority, and childhood hunger at its lowest level in more than a decade.

It’s a sad commentary that in the health care debate, bipartisanship is considered only as a last resort. But at this point there is no other option.  And as we’ve seen in the effort to achieve No Kid Hungry, that can a be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"The promise of more sacrifice instead of more security" - remembering a more inspiring politics


            This Saturday, July 15, is the 57th anniversary of John Kennedy’s speech at the convention in Los Angeles accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for president. That must seem like ancient history, but one paragraph still points the way to the future both for our nation, and for Share Our Strength, given our bedrock belief that people want to be challenged to give of themselves.

 

            The paragraph is worth recalling because of how courageously different it is from virtually any other  political leader who has followed. Four months before his Inauguration Day call to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, candidate Kennedy foreshadowed that message with this passage:  “The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises--it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook--it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.”   http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25966

Most political consultants working today, Democrat or Republican, would consider that heresy bordering on political malpractice. Campaign speeches promise tax cuts, entitlement programs, small business incentives, more benefits for the middle class.  “The promise of more sacrifice.”?  Have you ever heard such a thing?

            More than half a century later, it takes a nearly cosmic leap of imagination to envision such sentiment in our political culture. But this belief in the capacity of our neighbors and fellow citizens to give of themselves remains alive in the DNA of Share Our Strength and goes to the heart of what’s made us successful – challenging people to share their strength, and as we’ve seen most recently via Chefs Cycle, the greater the challenge the better.  

            Deep down most of us know that what Kennedy said was right and necessary then, and now. There are no easy answers. No solutions that can succeed without more from us. Whatever you believe about the size and role of government, citizen engagement, in a democracy like ours, is essential to make it work.

You can read JFK’s words at the link above, or watch and listen @ https://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/AS08q5oYz0SFUZg9uOi4iw.aspx  They need no further interpretation from me. But I do have an accompanying plea: that you incorporate the spirit of asking more of yourself, each other, and all to whom we reach out, of setting the bar higher, into all that we do.

Friday, June 23, 2017

When Both Parties Put Party Loyalty Ahead of What's Best For Kids


There are many lens through which to view and judge the health care legislation unveiled in the Senate yesterday and now working its way through Congress.

For example, Jared Bernstein, who works with our board member Bob Greenstein at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities writes in the Washington Post: “please don’t lose sight of what’s going on here: a massive transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars that are now being used to help vulnerable families and moderate-income households to the wealthiest households. The Senate bill solves the problem that the poor in America have too much, and the rich have too little. In fact, it solves that problem even better than the House did. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/06/22/the-senate-health-care-bill-is-even-worse-than-the-houses-version/?utm_term=.ae2411601c5b

            But the most important lens for our purposes is the impact on children. For a better understanding of that, take a look at this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.   "The bill fails children by dismantling the Medicaid program, capping its funding, ending its expansion and allowing its benefits to be scaled back. The bill fails all children by leaving more families uninsured, or without insurance they can afford or that meets their basic needs. This bill fails children living in or near poverty, children in foster care and children with complex health care needs whose parents have private insurance – all of these children depend on Medicaid, and if this bill passes, Medicaid will no longer be there for them.https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/SenateHealthCareBill.aspx 

            It’s hard to believe that both parties put party loyalty so far ahead of what’s best for kids – that out of 100 Senators there aren’t even five or ten who could cross the aisle to work with each other on a less draconian, more compassionate alternative.  I hope that when we succeed in ending childhood hunger, we are in a position to teach them what bipartisanship can do.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

From a Disturbed and Disturbing Nation's Capital


Last night I spent a rare evening in our DC apartment, since Roe and Nate are arriving from Boston this afternoon for a long weekend.  Sirens blare often, a Connecticut Avenue constant, and no more or less than usual, but I couldn’t help wondering if instead of a motorcade or a fire, there was something else going on akin to the morning’s horrific story about a madman hunting Congressmen with a rifle and forever changing half a dozen lives if not the culture of our capital.

            There’s been much commentary over the past 24 hours about political adversaries coming together in sorrow and in unity - from the well of the House chamber to the hallways of the Medstar Washington Hospital Center. An aspect of that is undeniably heartwarming and encouraging.  But it’s tethered to a deeper sadness that this is the best we can do – that this is what it takes to remind a diverse group of basically good human beings to act human.  Still, after years of relentless political warfare, even the briefest of respites is welcome.  Especially if it creates some muscle memory so that in the days ahead there’s a reflex to put caring ahead of accusing, kindness ahead of counting votes.

            By late in the evening some of the usual cable news combatants were already retreating to their corners, tentatively testing whether the appetite had returned for using the day’s events to taint their adversaries. But it was only some – and that’s progress.