05/01/2017

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Lessons from 2017 Gathering Of Leaders & an introduction to the Impact Fellows

Three weeks ago, I attended my first Gathering of Leaders conference. As an inaugural Impact Fellow who was attending the 13th conference what I had hoped to get from this experience was new connections and clarity around the concept of impact. How did others define impact? As someone from the tech sector who works in Health IT we frame impact in the scope of bringing ideas that bring about exponential growth. During my time at the event, I learned how we as fellows were working to address major problems and how leaders from other organizations thought of social impact.

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In the image above, you see the 12 Impact Fellows including myself and where we stand in terms of the sectors we work in. We all devote some time to working in the community, but it’s easy to see that I’m the for-profit guy standing among 11 others who work in local government or service. Diversity is important and in a talk by one of the leaders at the gathering they mentioned one of the problems the community sector was facing referring to it as “Crusty ass pancakes.” His argument was that the community sector had a problem in communicating what made each other different. This leads to boring and uninteresting message that looks a lot like pancake mix packaging with no brand. I see us fellows as the fresh and young energy needed to change that message. One fellow spreading this message is Tony who embraces diversity and uses his platform to spread media literacy.

Being A Follower Versus A Leader

One of the fellows Seth mentioned a concept he thought should be the true core of the Gathering. Instead of leaders perhaps we should be encouraging each other to be followers. Titles are nice for making each other feel better but his argument was that true leaders practice humility and understand that the greatest leaders actually are followers. They listen, understand and observe the actions of others to lead silently taking a stand on behalf of the people they serve. One fellow who embodies this for community to me was Dillon. For me, this was a compelling idea especially in a social media age where more effort is in being perception vs action. Action does not always have to be in your own interest and to me, it helped me evaluate my leadership style as one that stands in the shadows rather than one who prefers the spotlight. This then made me think about the connections and relationships I was forming and how that could be executed to deliver true impact.

There were easily over 300 people at this conference in multiple sectors and as I review the data on the contacts I met I realized that most of these individuals were decision makers in their organization who had strong ties to bigger organizations. The power of your network is important and one thing I took from each of the fellows I met was that we each had our own network in our respective cities. In the City of Miami, both Liz and I work in different sectors. Perhaps instead of just working separately which should collaborate more. An idea that has brought me and a few of the fellows together even after the conference.

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The graph above gives a clear view of where our interest and time lies in the framework of what New Profit invests in. Similar to how the White House organizes advisory boards of leaders in respective industries I see the fellows as a committee that represents a new wave that stands on a tightrope between public, private, and community delivering the dream of being of value in our respective industries. While some of us like Jonathan are ambitious enough to start our own schools others like Roquel use her time to influence policy. The majority of fellows live closer in the education space but it’s important to note that the mediums we use in engaging citizens differ.

For Ashley and I, the medium we use is software for spreading our message. For her it is to help youth suffering from Trauma via text and for the work, I do it is with employees choose lower priced same quality prescriptions. We fellows are not all about social impact though and half of us also have economic empowerment at the core of what we do.. If I could measure the Impact of the Gathering the greatest area would be in introducing outsiders who work as young leaders to a group of leaders in their respective industries.

Social Capitalism

There is an old saying that your network is your net worth. It resonated with me during this conference because beyond the big name speakers what we really were exchanging was high forms of social capital. A common problem my fellow and villa mate Christian mentioned about the city he is from is that non-profits work in silos. The parallels I saw in Miami were the same. By us connecting we exchanged methods and contacts who worked in our cities that were breaking past these silos.

As we were fed more ideas, inspirations and innovative approaches to social impact each of us increased in the amount of social capital we had. Many of these ideas and messages will float in the digital space, but I see many of it also moving in our respective communities. I see statisticians like Emily (another fellow) who works as a college advisor being a major asset to her community. That to me is why as Impact Fellows were brought together to the Gathering in the first place.

What I Decided To Take Back Home

All this social capital has to be deposited somewhere. The way I view it is that my work should remain the same but the way I go about it should be a lot more strategic. In the volunteer work I do as see reaching out to more organizations around opening data and sharing open ideas for developers to build tools is the first way of bringing change to the work we do at Code for Miami. Working with Local Government is tough but thanks to fellows like Anderson I realize it’s possible to balance the role of service and innovator even in local government.

At my day job I have accepted the fact that what we do while centrally a for-profit business also is at the intersection of health care, technology, and community benefits. A lot of what we do leaks into how government and people will react to the cost of pharmaceutical drugs. The lives we manage each day on our software platform is a constant reminder to fight for interoperability and transparency for the sake of innovation. I think that’s where true impact and dare I say disruption is happening.

For motivation, I listen to the story of Deonte another fellow and get inspired. For more thoughts and ideas follow my blog iGregoryJohnson.com or email me at G@LinkedIn.Miami.

Read more from our other Millennial Impact Fellows here!