Written by Deborah Nankivell
As I reflected on my past 28 years in Fresno, what came up is gratitude.
So many people have made the work of the Fresno Business Council (FBC) possible.
As a transplant with different civic DNA in my heart and bones, my early days were difficult. I felt like a Dodo Bird. (They are extinct.) I had no idea within the so-called “Golden State” was a region struggling with concentrated, chronic poverty and the inevitable reactions.
When a handful of courageous business leaders decided they had to do something, our journey together began. What we have learned, who we have become, and what happens next is up to all of us. We are all responsible for the prosperity and wellbeing of our community.
The FBC is a business civic group. These organizations emerge in a time of community crisis. In Cleveland, the mayor defaulted on bonds and the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. In Fresno, the crisis was chronic, the roots were deep and largely hidden, and the work was multi-dimensional, meaning we would have to become the change to lead, teach and do it. Ken Newby made it simple — we would have to change the way we think and work together.
Thanks to brilliant colleagues from the James Irvine Foundation and Collaborative Economics, we were offered new civic DNA, a visual that helped people understand that working in sector siloes to fix social and economic problems was futile. The economy, social equity and environmental conditions are interdependent. Only wisdom—we have called it civic stewardship—could elevate the thinking to a higher level so we could see the big picture, embrace an entire ecosystem of essential parts, and chart a path toward North Star goals. Today, many call this inclusive prosperity and wellbeing. Historically, as expressed in founding documents, this meant honoring the intrinsic value of everyone and working together to achieve liberty and justice for all.
We recognized that the image of overlapping domains wasn’t enough. Most working in these arenas don’t want to cross boundaries. The cultures and incentives are different. We added a fourth circle to create a container, a space to think and act together to advance the greater good.
One of the last projects I was working on when I led Common Cause/MN in Minnesota was civic renewal. Business leaders were concerned that MN’s civic DNA was deteriorating. The WW2 generation did not see the commitment to stewardship in the Boomers, so common to their generation. The Humphrey Institute recruited a class of community leaders to study the perils of power addiction. The University of St. Catherine teamed up with members of the legislature and the media to host a retreat with folks from all branches of government, academics, lobbyists, and business leaders to figure out what to do. To a one it became clear — we had to find a way to ensure a united focus on developing informed, enlightened and engaged citizens. The founders warned us — self-governance would fail if we did not do this. Eternal vigilance was essential or like others before us, we would default into old models of dominance and oppression. Our experiment in self-governance would fail.
In addition to adding the fourth circle, Fresno added another ingredient. The ten community values. Ashley Swearengin and I came up with a draft of the first eight based upon members of the FBC who embodied them. The FBC board added disclosure of conflicts of interest. Kurt Madden helped refine them based upon the input of 400 people and added asset-based approach. In essence, they are a new social contract, informed by the new civic DNA. They are a new way to conduct the community business.
For some the focus has been on a moral imperative, anchored in spiritual values of our founders. For others it has become fiercely practical as leaving anyone behind results in an ever darkening, compounding shadow of desperate people and social costs. We are finding ways to hold the tension between accountability and a merit-based approach and compassion, recognizing developmental stages of every individual. This requires wisdom, the blending of science and spirituality and an integration of the masculine and feminine perspective. A healthy family is a microcosm of this integration where children are seen, safe and supported for who they truly are. A healthy community takes this to scale.
The challenge in simple terms is to figure out how to get the best thinkers, feelers and doers working together to advance the greater good. We all have different perspectives, strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. A healthy family and a healthy community are team sports. We need a constellation of stars and circles of stewards to move forward. We need to concentrate intention and build at will coalitions, not concentrate power and foster the danger of power addiction.
The stage is set. The lights are on. Will you play your part? We all have one — our highest and best use. The responsibility side of citizenship is a call to everyone to contribute to the civic sector, America’s Sacred Space.
Thank you to extraordinary people who have been my mentors, partners, and colleagues. This includes the presidents of the FBC — Dick Johanson, Ken Newby, Alan Pierrot, John Welty, Scott Rhodes, Kurt Madden, and Mike Betts. Others in my wisdom circle include Pete Weber, Tony Carr, Mike Wilhelm, Cathy Frost and Allysunn Williams. Foundational mentors include John Gardner, Archibald Cox, and Neal Pierce. Hands on colleagues include Genelle Taylor Kumpe, Kurt Madden and Ashley Swearengin. Plus, countless others who have touched my life through their books and counsel.
May 2022 amaze us all.
Deborah Nankivell, CEO of the Fresno Business Council, shared this year-end message with members of the organization formed by business leaders to effect meaningful change in the Fresno community.