02 Mar 2020 CAUSE & EFFECT: Small Conversations Can Spur Big Ideas
When we envisioned the design of Collaboratory as a regional resource to champion the social, economic and environmental sustainability of Southwest Florida, we were very intentional that it be much more than merely a physical place in midtown Fort Myers.
From its inception, we’ve considered Collaboratory a space, a mindset that extends throughout the region. The community’s embrace and support has made clear that the infectious energy of civic aspirations to elevate the common good cannot be bound by four walls. It’s the personal connections people feel to the causes they care deeply about that fuels the promise of our shared future.
Reflecting Collaboratory’s mission, we were pleased to support On the Table, an initiative that seeks to connect people and ideas from a range of perspectives in order to establish what residents see as the challenges and opportunities in their communities.
Launched last Fall, the program replicates the annual civic engagement effort “On the Table®,” which was developed by The Chicago Community Trust in 2014. Since that time, it has generated hundreds of actionable ideas from tens of thousands of Chicago-area residents and has expanded into more than 30 communities across the nation.
Here in Southwest Florida, gatherings took place over the course of a single day and provided a chance to hear from an array of residents as they gathered over mealtime conversations and began to develop the type of vital personal connections that allow us to explore how we can work together to make our communities stronger and more resilient. Follow-up surveys provided an informative baseline of insight into what some residents consider to be our foremost challenges and opportunities.
Designed to gain a deeper understanding of the issues most important to residents, the gatherings brought together approximately 1,000 Southwest Floridians around more than 150 tables. Volunteer hosts facilitated discussions based on topics suggested by their table mates or used guided conversation prompts focused on a range of community strengths, needs, opportunities and actions.
Participants met in individual homes, office conference rooms, neighborhood restaurants, coffee shops – anywhere there was space to come together in a shared effort to discuss what they saw as the most pressing issues facing Southwest Florida.
I had a chance to visit a dozen tables and listen to my SWFL neighbors. The genuine care, passion and engagement they felt for their communities as they shared what was in their hearts and on their minds was truly inspiring and will help define areas on which we as a community can focus our efforts.
Following the gatherings, 320 participants completed surveys. Eighty-three percent of survey respondents reported being involved in community and neighborhood activities and believed residents like themselves can make a significant impact in improving the community.
The survey also identified concerns and challenges, with respondents possessing a strong sense of hope for the future: 72% were more hopeful about what the future holds for their community, compared with only 28% who were more worried.
Despite the overwhelming positive tone, however, there is much work yet to be done. The surveys revealed a need to bolster the equitability of opportunities that underpin our future. And we can’t overlook the fact that we didn’t receive feedback from all ZIP codes in the region. If you are interested in learning the full results of the survey, it’s available online at www.floridacommunity.com/ottresults2019.
The first On the Table Southwest Florida was an encouraging start to increasing our understanding of how best to advance a sustainable quality of life for everyone who lives, works and visits this place we call home.
Many participants and those who didn’t have the opportunity to gather around last year’s tables have asked about future On the Table events. We believe we are stronger together, so stay tuned for an exciting announcement by a coalition of community partners dedicated to expanding the reach and inclusivity of the voices around the table. We know small conversations can spur big ideas.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
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 $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $85 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