01 Jul 2019 CAUSE & EFFECT: Connecting the Dots for Change
In a lineup of nearly identical sea life drawings, one of the pictures seemed a bit out of place. I always looked forward to picking up my youngest child from summer day camp because he enthusiastically shared stories and remnants of his day.
When he took me to the art wall to collect his daily masterpiece, I noticed the creation that didn’t resemble any of the others belonged to him. The project was a dot to dot puzzle that revealed an image if you followed the numerical order in connecting the dots.
I ask him to tell me about his drawing and he explained that he just thought it would be cooler to connect the dots out of order to see what would happen.
This is a philosophy he has carried with him throughout his 18 years of life and it has been a valuable lesson and reminder for me as I serve our community. I have seen some of the greatest progress and change happen in Southwest Florida when people, ideas and organizations are connected in nontraditional ways.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, once shared he thought connecting the dots of our lives wasn’t possible looking forward, but rather looking backward, while trusting that the dots will somehow connect in the future.
At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation our team likes to think of ourselves as community dot connectors for change. Sometimes we can see natural synergies in the future, but often we don’t see the results until we look back.
Our job is to create the opportunity, resources and space for connectivity. We are so committed to bringing people together we partnered with the City of Fort Myers and the Community Redevelopment Agency to create a physical and virtual space we call Collaboratory, designed to support our community in making impactful connections.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated our 1,000th community meeting in the new space. Although we achieved this milestone of hosting press conferences, roundtables on issues, meetings on access to mental health, greenways and trails, economic development, community wellness, workforce development, retirement celebrations, board meetings, nonprofit board trainings, fundraisers and the launch of several new initiatives, we understand that the work of connectivity that influences and moves the needle on community change is still in its nascent stage.
Recently a colleague was encouraging me to join her at a networking event and shared she had been going for years and knew most everyone involved. This would be great for me as she could introduce me to new people, but I asked if she had thought about going to similar events in which she could connect with folks she had never met. It challenged me to examine how I was spending my time and being more intentional about expanding my exposure to new people and ideas. Change is not in the hands of only a select group of leaders or influencers. Change happens when a diverse group of people with different skill sets, visions and viewpoints find a way to connect for the greater good.
In the world of grantmaking we stress the importance of including the end user in the design of the program, and provide a space for nonprofit leaders to meet, spend time together and discover potential collaborations. Last year nonprofits that received funding from the Foundation created 46 unique new partnerships as a result of being connected to one another. We created the space for them to connect and they created the new ideas.
We can get accustomed to connecting our dots in the traditional, most comfortable ways. But this can be limiting in bringing new ideas and partners to the table. The best part of all of us is that we are different, but we need to capitalize on that reality by seeking out unique and varied connections.
In pursuit of more intentional connectivity, the Foundation is dedicated to finding ways to expand the level of integration of meetings and events happening in our space and around the region. This means we must find ways to connect the dots in different ways.
What data, information, knowledge or inspiration is happening in one meeting room that could be valuable to a gathering happening down the hall or in another building or county? If you are having the same meeting with the same people all the time, who could you invite to the table to bring a new perspective or viewpoint? In the upcoming year we will be working to put people and processes in place to collect, curate and connect information and ideas.
Just image the picture we could create for Southwest Florida if we connected dots in a whole new way.
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. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $6.8 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $126 million, it has provided $78.2 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. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com.