When a neighborhood reaches out for help, the traditional approach is to start by inquiring about its needs—to ask, “What’s broken here?” When a neighborhood reaches out to Angela Blanchard, she asks entirely different questions: “What’s your story? Who are you connected to? What are your aspirations?” Blanchard has never heard of Inclusion as the HOW®. Yet in her presentation—on a conference call sponsored by the Plexus Institute—we heard a compelling story of the power of inclusion to create profound change.
Blanchard heads Neighborhood Centers, Inc., whose 60 facilities in Houston and the Gulf Coast serve 340,000 clients every year with a range of programs, from education and immigration advocacy to senior services and tax preparation. As part of its mission, the agency works to build neighborhoods and communities by starting with what—and who—is there.
Neighborhood Centers only goes where it is invited and starts with the requested project scope. In the process, however, the advocates who work for the agency dig deeper. “People might come to us, for instance, and say, ‘We need a community center,’” Blanchard said. “And we say, ‘Let’s start with building a community.’”
Much of what follows echoes our 12 Inclusive Behaviors. In the next step, the advocates listen as allies to the neighborhood’s residents: hearing their aspirations, paying attention to their stories, discovering what each resident can bring to the community. Eventually, the advocates link to the residents’ ideas, thoughts, and feelings by turning what they hear into the cornerstone of the community-building project. In all phases, they strive to create a sense of safety for everyone involved.
Inevitably, the project entails bringing people together. In one neighborhood, where education was a major issue, Neighborhood Centers convened a wide array of stakeholders: parents, children, case managers, teachers, and neighborhood center directors, in a bilingual setting so that everyone could contribute fully. “For many of them, this was the first time they had the chance to see one another’s humanity,” Blanchard noted. It is easy to imagine someone, in arranging this meeting, asking who else needed to be involved to understand the whole situation.
The most impressive echo of Inclusion as the HOW, however, lies in the results. Of the neighborhood mentioned above, Blanchard said, “Since we brought everyone together, we have noticed tighter bonds among these different players. Everyone is more aligned toward raising healthy kids.” They are, in the language of Inclusion as the HOW, working for the common good and shared success. Of her work generally, she noted, “As people start by seeing their connectedness, as the neighborhood aligns around its aspirations, the problems tend to recede into the background. There is nothing more powerful than a community in touch with its own aspirations.”
From this alignment and connection comes a tremendous surge of energy—very much like the energy released in Inclusion as the HOW organizations, when people are valued, heard, and seen.
Just as the presentation reflected elements of Inclusion as the HOW, so did our takeaways. We saw the potential for knowledge transfer, as several of us plan to take the lessons of this call into our volunteer efforts. Most important, we noted the potential of Inclusion as the HOW beyond the realm of our clients. Inclusion as the HOW has already transformed organizations. Imagine what it could do when unleashed on the world.
John Backman, Julie Bush, Monica Kurzejeski, and Ruhama Eshete contributed to this post.