Paul Wenske, senior community affairs advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, provided opening remarks at the recent U.S.SourceLink conference. Here are a few excerpts.
We are all part of the story. The community where we live is part of the story. Where we work and play is part of the story.
I like to think in terms of a community narrative, maybe because of my past life as a reporter. A narrative is the thread that runs through a story and holds it together, whether it’s a book, a movie or just you sitting on a park bench telling a friend about your day.
It has a beginning, middle and an end. The beginning introduces us to the problem; the middle explores how the problem affects us, the community (which can be as large as a nation). The end is the resolution, how did we deal with the problem – how did we overcome obstacles to find solutions and remove barriers to these solutions. And how do we feel about ourselves now?
Thinking like this for a moment, we ask: What kind of a resolution are we looking for? What will success look like when we get there?
You know, human beings are programmed to succeed. Who wakes up in the morning and says, today I’m going to fail? And yet, at times we do sabotage our efforts. Indeed, one of the greatest story lines in American literature pits man against himself. We become defeatists, faultfinders, we give up, we say we tried that before and it didn’t work.
Still, we know people and communities do overcome big obstacles and succeed. And why is that? You can say they are strategic, they measure everything, work hard. Yes, all of that. But there is something more at work.
· They have a creative spark, courage to try new things and a bold vision that provides direction and leadership.
· They approach life’s challenges with a transformative entrepreneurial spirit. They see creative possibilities in problems.
· They set a goal for themselves and like a heat-seeking missile they go for it. Sure they might waver, but their confidence in the goal gets them back on target.
You need to believe that the story will lead to success. You need to believe, like people believed a young president in the 1960s who said that before this decade ends we will put a man on the moon. Or like a young preacher who said that one day black and white children will hold hands together.
Can you comprehend the barriers to those notions when they were said? Can we relate those inspiring narratives to community-minded entrepreneurship? Sure.
We can apply an entrepreneurial spirit to creating communities where people want to live, have access to jobs, raise their kids near schools, parks and grocery stores – and enjoy entertainment and the arts. And we can harness new technologies to connect all people to mainstream services and opportunities. We can create communities that have a resilient sense of place – self-sustaining worth.
It’s what success looks like. So what’s your community narrative?