A great guest post from our professor, Dr. Lora Warner!
This is the third year I have taught Strategic Philanthropy, and there are moments within each class that remain with me each time. This year’s class is no different.
This year, four groups of students with shared interests studied a community issue that they cared about: expanding arts opportunities in GB, homelessness/housing, treating addiction, and the mental health of youth. Student groups researched, talked with people, and studied each issue thoroughly. In doing so, each group become a really strong proponent of its own topic. The class of 17 developed some natural alliances and divisions as they promoted their own causes. One Thursday afternoon, we voted tried to choose one issue to work with. The group deadlocked! Passions were high. I heard some “us vs. them” and “it’s not fair.” It was really uncomfortable. One wise student suggested we let this rest over the weekend and give it a break. So we did.
At that point, I couldn’t help but think that we were like Wisconsin: polarized, divided, and a bit angry at each other. For me, this class has always been more about “creating citizens” than awarding money. The money is a tool, an incentive for students to engage and learn about the community. So, painful as it was, we had wandered into a cool learning opportunity.
When we returned on Tuesday, we tried using the creative problem solving approach of “Getting to Yes,” by Fisher & Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project (one of their assigned readings). It was amazing…I don’t think any of us wanted to continue the semester feeling like there were winners & losers in our class. We created mixed groups of one member from each previous group and first sought some common values or agreed-upon approaches. This resulted in a decision to focus on the needs of youth, and programs that helped people better themselves. Then, the groups tried to creatively combine those four previous topics of concern. At that point, I had no idea what might happen.
This was when several groups came up with the idea that became the unified goal for our class:
Our goal is to improve the quality of life for at-risk young persons (ages 12-25) with an innovative approach to the prevention or relief of any of the following: substance abuse, homelessness, or mental health problems. We especially encourage proposals that incorporate the arts.
It was quite an inspiring process for all of us. Soon, we’ll select a program for funding that we feel will address these important issues in the community.