Welcome to 2017. I am hopeful that you sent 2016 out with a bang and are feeling hopeful for the year ahead. This time of year provides us the opportunity to reflect on the past while casting an expectant eye to the future, but this year in particular greets us with many unknowns at the global, national and local levels. I am not feeling apprehension as we move ahead rather I am encouraged about the role philanthropy can play in creating opportunities for change.
Although we savor the things that went well in 2016, the change in calendar allows us to consider the things we may want to leave behind. This shows up in goals, resolutions, and midnight promises on New Year’s Eve.
Some things are easier than others to leave in the past as we forge new ground and we apply different strategies and techniques to create the change we want to see in our lives and in our communities.
At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we are fiercely committed to cultivating positive sustainable regional change for the common good. With that mission, we are always examining what needs to be reimagined, refined, redesigned and sometimes abandoned to create a stronger more vibrant community. Reimagining refining, and redesigning come much easier than abandoning. It can be hard to let go of the way things have always been done.
In some of the more difficult moments I am reminded of the story of Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez who in 1519 made a radical leadership choice to leave the past behind. His goals were not exactly philanthropic, he was trying to conquer the Aztecs and seize their treasure. He took 500 soldiers, 100 sailors and 11 ships and landed them on the shores of the Yucatan.
The crew was all in until they realized they were taking on a huge and powerful empire that had been around over 600 years. Suddenly commitment waned and some of the followers made a plan to take a ship and escape to Cuba. When Cortez got wind of their plot he took action to make sure that the rest of his men remained committed to the plan. He ordered that all the ships be destroyed. Some accounts say that he commanded the ships burned but in reality he sunk them in the waters off the coast. Burning sounds much more evocative but the results were the same.
The only way they would get home was to be successful in their quest and take the return voayage in the Aztec ships.
When Cortez’s leadership style is applied to today the translation is this: Going back is easy when you let yourself hold on to the option.
Are there any places in your 2017 resolutions that may need some ship sinking before moving ahead? You don’t have to be conquering an empire to act and to leave certain things behind for good.
With new administrations, new tax laws on the horizon and new issues facing us every day, what ships need to be burned to allow us to see things in different light? Where can philanthropy and community support make new unwavering commitments? Which issues might need us to sink some proverbial ships? Affordable housing, mental health, violence, poverty all seem like good places to start.
Although Cortez and his men were ultimately successful, modern history hindsight begs the question if sinking the ships was the only option. This is true of the community issues and opportunities as well. Abandoning everything old for a single focus may not always be the best plan. Maybe other routes could work equally well.
That is the beauty of philanthropy. Many voices and viewpoints working to unite around causes that matter even if our perspectives are not the same. We can work to align around the solutions we hope to create together. We don’t have to rely on how things have been done in the past but rather learn from those lessons.
That is the journey we must all take together in 2017. Forget the resolutions, let’s redesign or consider burning the ships – but whatever we do let’s commit to moving ahead together.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the foundation has invested $5 million this year in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.