Sal Castro passed away today. He was part of an amazing vanguard of Chicano leaders who inspired many youngsters to fight the system that treated them as second classes citizens and do something revolutionary…go to college and graduate.
The example he set, leading his students in the “Blowouts” of the 60′s and encouraging them to love themselves and their culture, changed my life. As a “lost” kid trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, Sal Castro and other leaders like Cesar Chavez and Corky Gonzales, opened my eyes to what was happening in our communities and they inspired me to do something about it. Sal helped awaken a passion in me that drives nearly everything I do today.
We should all pay respect to the man who lived his life for others. A tireless educator and one of our community’s most fearless advocates.
I was doing some reading last week and I came across some awesome blogs and articles from the scholar celebrity, Clayton Christensen. He’s most known for coining the term, “disruptive innovation.”
It’s a fascinating concept, and one that has inspired some of the biggest names in business to change the way they do business. Most notably Steve Jobs, who was depicted in his posthumous biography grappling over Christensen’s book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”
So what is disruptive innovation? If you have 8 minutes check out this interview with Clayton himself. If you have half that time, here’s the answer:
Disruptive innovation doesn’t call for something new per se. It’s the act of taking something that exists (product or service) and making it more accessible.
Because accessibility is key, disruptive innovation often emphasizes access for the “bottom of the pyramid;” folks that can’t afford the product and service at its original price.
I love this theory for two reasons:
It’s relatively simple to understand.
It challenges leaders to consider a “new market,” even though that market is not new, it’s the folks at the “bottom of the pyramid.” And unfortunately, the folks that make up that section of the consumer pyramid is growing.
I think there’s a lot of opportunity for community development practitioners here. With our experience, we can think of a multitude of products and services that could be more accessible for our constituents. And, we can probably imagine the ways in which they would use those services to improve their lives. In many cases, we can say we have a firm understanding of this “new market.”
By connecting the dots and adding a dash of creativity, we can craft a variety of disruptions that will change the lives of the people we work with and the systems that preserve the status quo. Here are some probing questions:
How do we design financing products that make capital accessible to low-income people? Can we disrupt financial markets by modifying existing products so more people can use them?
How can we democratize City Hall? Can we make the building more accessible to constituents? How do we disrupt policymaking so new laws serve the people more effectively?
How can we lower the cost of healthy food so it’s more accessible to the poor? Can we create a “new market” for kale and other food not found in low-income neighborhoods?
Can we make healthcare more accessible to the poor? Are there delivery systems we can design that will disrupt the healthcare system and create new markets for them to look into?
What disruptions would be helpful in your work and for the constituents you serve? If we look at our work via this lens, we may not only disrupt outside institutions, we may even disrupt our own field. In this case, disruption is good.
I’m having a nice nerdy Saturday evening reading the Harvard Business Review, and I came across this awesome article on President Kagame from Rwanda and how he’s “running his country like a business.”
Pretty fascinating stuff, and it sparked some thoughts on how some of his management philosophy could help community development work here in the States. Putting the human rights violations aside, here are some things I took away from his interview with Justin Fox:
What’s wrong with running things like a business? – Per President Kagame, sometimes its helpful to address an issue with a “glass half full” mentality (his words not mine, lol). Instead of diving deep into learning about a problem (god knows we have a ton of reports telling us that our communities are poor), it can be helpful to focus on existing assets and how they can be transformed to attract investors. Needless to say, one of the most important existing assets are the people themselves, and by working with them, we can find ways to build strong local economies.
Don’t talk too much – I thought it was interesting how President Kagame was only able to answer two questions when he guest lectured in Michael Porter’s class. He got caught up talking about politics and trying to get ahead of what he may have suspected were jabs at his leadership in his country. Being a good listener is an important trait that all leaders should try to acquire; also the ability to answer questions in a succinct manner so the audience can take it in easily and have a chance to engage more.
Start Small - I think its cool how President Kagame can say that the Rwandan GDP is being driven by 3 things – Coffee, Tea, and Tourism. Sounds crisp and focused. What’s cooler is that he knew that there was more he had to do, but he wanted to get a few things done right before tackling other industries. It seems like the service industry and energy may be new additions to his list. In the nonprofit and community development sector, we’re often afraid to start small and are always in a rush to scale things up. Sometimes you just have to start small to get it done right.
Build a Diverse Coalition – I’m still trippin’ out that President Kagame is friends with Michael Porter. But what I love about it is that the leader of the Rwandan rebel army was wise enough to say, “You know what? We need to mix up the expertise here…let’s bring in that dude from Harvard.” That’s just awesome.
There are more tidbits I took out of this great piece, but I’ll leave it at four.
I was in a fundraising strategy session yesterday with some colleagues in Boyle Heights, and as we were ideating on new projects and possibilities, we kept coming back to the idea of “community,” social connections, and the type of environment one needs to cultivate that will allow a community to grow.
What is community?
Webster’s dictionary provides several definitions for the word, all providing great key words for community — people with common interests…, an interacting population…, a group linked…, a unified body…
How do we build more “community” like this in Los Angeles? Surely we’re all part of at least one community, and perhaps even several, but how can we activate different types of communities to change our City and its built environment? Or, how can we build an environment that fosters community?
As we were talking about this, one of my colleagues noted his interest in the idea of the “Parisian salon,” a place where the intellectuals of Paris used to come together to hang out, drink coffee (or some other beverages), chat, and build community. It reminded me of the co-working sessions I have with my friends, and of this short film that one of my favorite fashion photographers produced featuring some of his favorite male subjects.
If you take a look at the film, its obvious that the guys have an affinity towards each other, despite coming from different parts of the world and maybe speaking different languages. They are coalescing around their common community – fashion. And aside from the awesome outfits, I also thought of how the venue (open air seating!!!!!) catalyzed what seems to be such thoughtful conversation. I can only imagine the types of collaborations that must have resulted from this dinner.
We need to create more spaces for people to come together like this. For diverse people — jardineros, waitresses, corporate executives, hipsters, street vendors, techies, etc.— to learn from each other, collaborate with each other, and build community.
Before too much time passed, I wanted to post this awesome lecture Ben Chestnut, the founder of MailChimp, delivered at Creative Mornings in Atlanta. A good friend shared it with me last week, and I watched the whole thing while eating my cereal and ironing my shirt before the work day. Really awesome presentation.
I like the presentation so much because Ben was hilarious and dropped so much knowledge on his career path, his leadership style and how he cultivates creativity at MailChimp. Instead of focusing on outputs, Ben dedicates his energy to fostering an environment where his team can be the best creators they can be. Sometimes they make relevant stuff, sometimes they don’t. But in the end, they produce more than many other companies. And even some of that irrelevant output ends up coming in handy. His workplace seems free, and everyone is welcome to bring their own quirks to the table in all their glory.
I hope that as we work to build a better City, we can employ some of this same spirit of freedom. Freedom to think outside the box, explore new projects, and learn things that may not feel relevant right away, but will certainly make our work more whole.
I just read this article in the LA Times featuring a “Charm School” at MIT. The goal of this series of classes is to prepare students of this prestigious school for the real world that may or may not include fancy dinners, lots of handshakes, and bow tie knotting.
I love the concept and have talked with friends here in LA about how impactful something like this would be in the lives of young Angelenos, many who unfortunately have no one to teach them these “basic” things.
As a product of a single Mom from Mexico, I had to learn to do most of these things on my own. My mom laid a good foundation of manners, but because of her upbringing, she wasn’t equipped to teach me how to tie a tie (I still remember diligently studying the “how to tie a tie” pamphlet I got with my first suit), shave (I learned very carefully), or let alone how to use all the utensils at a fancy chicken dinner.
Truth is, I still get nervous sitting down at those dinners, but I was lucky enough to have landed in a professional environment with people I can copy and who didn’t mind me asking “obvious” questions. I also steal little tips from movies (the dinner scene in Pretty Woman comes to mind).
But what about the other youth who aren’t as lucky as me?
A form of what MIT is doing would be valuable to our kids in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, South LA, and Pacoima. And if they end up in a work environment where they won’t be attending fancy events, they can still learn how to engage with people, how to shake hands, and how to be confident in who they are.
Confidence. That’s the most important lesson these types of trainings can provide. It’s a great feeling to walk into a room, know that you look good, and feel like you own the joint.
And for those guys out there that relate to me, I check out these sites for tips…
Before the day got away from me, I wanted to commemorate today: the 48th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, one of the country’s world’s most important civil rights leaders. He taught me the power of anger (and love), the beauty of having pride in who you are, and the power of knowledge to free oneself and others. (I can never get over how he read the whole dictionary while being imprisoned…talk about a thirst for knowledge!)
He’s a hero of mine for all these reasons, but also because he dressed SHARP. I like to think that Malcolm understood how design and aesthetics influence people. Through his example, he taught me how even clothes can wield power.
Our clothes are an expression of who we are; a visual message about our interests, our tastes, and even our political views. Fashion can be an important tool, and Malcolm brandished it awesomely. Without saying a word, the public can see “this guy means BUSINESS.” Spike Lee captured it superbly in his depiction of Malcolm and the Fruit of Islam marching down to the court-house to rescue their brother. (Note the hat, horn-rimmed glasses, scarf, and trench coat…SHARP)
Here are some actual pictures of the man showing off his swag: great hats, nice use of accessories, plaid blazers, and skinny ties.
This morning, the LA Times had a fascinating article on the drama going on internally at Herbalife and the potential effects it may have on the majority of its distributors — Latinos. The article highlights that much of Herbalife’s business hinges on Latinos (60%!!!). The company relies on Latinos for the sale of Herbalife products and the promotion of the company’s healthy shakes via small “nutrition clubs” that are hosted everywhere from small store fronts to people’s homes. Indeed, just recently I was meeting with a client who was leaving her friend’s home where she gets her daily nutrition shake.
Putting the accusations of a pyramid scheme aside (which are obviously super troubling), there are two things that struck me:
The social innovations that Latinos incorporate into their businesses to reach their target market; and
The importance of entrepreneurial coaching to prepare individuals to run their own business.
The article shares some amazing imagery of a typical Herbalife store front — The Shakira soundtrack, the healthy combo deal for $4, and the warm feel of a club of people coming together around common goals. To me, these attributes were incorporated into this business based on the high emotional intelligence of the entrepreneur and their deep understanding of their market. These entrepreneurs know exactly what their community responds to (because they are part of it), and many companies pay big money for this granular level of market data. It’s no surprise that Herbalife’s big earnings over the years came from these market experts; not by hiring them as consultants, but by recruiting them to sell their products.
But what’s concerning is the majority of folks who sign up to sell Herbalife products, only to be left worse off than before (and with a big batch of shake mix in the garage). Many Latinos have an amazing entrepreneurial spirit, but some need support to develop their ideas, their business plans, and their course of action. I wonder if the likelihood of failure at Herbalife could be reduced if they had coaching and a “club” of entrepreneurs like them who are trying to launch out on their own but need small “interventions” to take their idea to the next level. The entrepreneurs I work with definitely need this, especially if they’re starting with minimal experience and limited resources.
By mixing a little entrepreneurial training with a deep knowledge of their community, we can grow an entrepreneurial class of Latinos in low-income neighborhoods who are starting sound businesses and minimizing risk where at all possible. I’d love for senoras interested in Herbalife to begin asking themselves, “hmmm…esto suena como un pyramid scheme.”
Executive Director at Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN)
Philanthropy | Greater Los Angeles Area, US
I'm an economic development consultant with experience managing place-based, economic development initiatives for banks, grocery stores, and foundations. My work has focused on helping the private sector identify investment opportunities in low-income neighborhoods, researching the informal economy, building private/non-profit partnerships, and training residents to participate in revitalization of their neighborhoods. I have the privilege of being a founding board member of Leadership for Urban Renewal Now, a Commissioner on the City of Los Angeles' Human Relations Commission, an Advisory Board Member for the LA Development Fund, and a member of the LA Food Policy Council. I earned degrees in Business Administration and Urban Planning.
2013 - Present
Executive Director / Leadership for Urban Renewal Now (LURN)
LURN is a multi-disciplinary, nonprofit organization committed to building sustainable communities through research, advocacy, economic development, and advisory services.
2011 - Present
Senior Program Officer, Local Economic Development Initiatives / Community Financial Resource Center
Community Financial Resource Center is a nonprofit, community development organization dedicated to providing lending and asset-building resources to small businesses and families.
Senior Community Specialist / AARP Foundation
The AARP Foundation is the charitable arm of AARP. The organization is dedicated to serving vulnerable people, 50+ by creating solutions that help them secure the essentials and achieve their best life.
Associate / Emerging Markets, Inc
Emerging Markets Inc. is a consulting firm that helps the private sector invest in low-income communities through double bottom line, place-based initiatives.