Jeff Edmondson’s farewell as Executive Director of StriveTogether.
In this issue of Hey It’s Danae we share Jeff Edmondson’s farewell as Executive Director of StriveTogether. Jeff founded the StrivePartnership in Cincinnati in 2005. As he often says, a group of committed community leaders, including Nancy Zimpher (our former Chancellor of UW-Milwaukee), determined that the status quo for kids needed to change and that a commitment to ensuring that every child, cradle to career, will be successful, needed to be broadly made.
Today, StriveTogether is a partnership of 72 communities, including our Milwaukee Succeeds partnership and under Jeff’s inspiring leadership these communities have all committed to changing systems to ones that work for every child’s success.
I wanted to share Jeff’s farewell below and to thank him publicly for his inspiring, charismatic and authentic leadership! In my short two years as executive director of Milwaukee Succeeds, I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to engage with Jeff in ways that his words will always be part of how I remain inspired for our work, as challenging as it can be sometimes. Words like, “look for the coalition of the willing,” and “commit to failing forward,” and “crush it!” and “you’re simply the best,” resonate and give me the much needed strength to persevere alongside all our Milwaukee team and partners.
Jeff will be the Managing Director for The Ballmer Group and he will remain an active member of our StriveTogether board of directors. So, he really isn’t leaving us; rather he’s changing seats of influence.
Here is Jeff’s gracious farewell.
See you soon,
My only solace at this moment is that this is not a “farewell,” but instead a “see you soon.” Very practically, I will be with you at the annual Cradle to Career Convening this year in Phoenix and every year going forward. No matter where the road may take me, I will never miss an opportunity to engage and be inspired by the incredible vision and commitment that this Network holds collectively and the members exemplify individually. And in full transparency, the pain associated with this loss of my current role has not been quite as hard as I thought. Don’t get me wrong — there have been many, many sleepless nights. Lots of tears. It’s hard to let go. But overall, I remain fully confident in three truths:
- You all own this work. I see it in the feedback we are getting about the emerging strategic plan, just as I did before when you agreed on the six core outcomes, established the Theory of Action, and set the Proof Point goal. And the video collage many of you contributed to and that I will hold dear forever, captured the depth of your commitment to the vision and the honor I have had to shepherd it. You are making it happen on the ground and will continue to. I have no doubt.
- You have a deeply committed team supporting you. The StriveTogether team, along with our emerging Board, has demonstrated a steadfast commitment despite a host of storms. They, led by Jennifer Blatz who has been working with me for over a decade on this work, are nothing short of the most resilient people I have ever met. But their resilience is bound in a deep faith in all the Network members. They want to do and will do whatever it takes, continuing to model servant leadership in a myriad of ways, to ensure we all achieve our shared results.
- Our country needs this work to develop local solutions to local challenges. As our political and social landscape at the national level remains in flux, the belief this work puts in local communities to solve local problems — not through a cookie-cutter solution, but a contextualized framework — has never been more important. And we are going to not only find a new way of doing business in communities, we will exemplify for others how people can work together across historical racial, political, and economic divides to solve the most complex problems that can inform policy work at the state and national levels. Such a clear example has never been more critical.
So as I lean on these truths to comfort an aching heart, I also want to lift up a few insights. I boiled it down to five, even though there are literally hundreds to pull from. But these are the ones I hope you will hold close, especially when times are tough:
- Results Are the True North – Whenever I have been lost in any discussion — personal or professional — I can find the right path again by working with whoever I am engaged with to agree on our shared result. We meander in this work when we assume we all agree where we are going. But when we make what is implicit about out intended goal explicit, we can find our path forward. This is true as a national Network, a local partnership, or with a single partner. If we keep the results front and center, we can and will find our way.
- Collective Impact Irony … It’s All About the Individual – We can know the result and wait for the group to help achieve it, or we can begin by modeling ourselves how others in the group can achieve it. This does not mean going lone wolf. But it does mean that after we know the shared result, we leave any meeting with actionable commitments, whether about gathering data or activating partners. The bottom line: Individuals using data in disciplined ways to change their everyday behavior is what makes collective impact come to life. And further, we have often said, “Partnerships move at the speed of trust.” Nothing builds trust like partners modeling behavior change to contribute to a shared goal.
- Quality Over Quantity – When the StrivePartnership was born in Cincinnati, we ran out of the gates with 23 Networks around any topic anyone cared about. And after the collective impact article was published, we let anyone and everyone join in the Cradle to Career Network because it was fun to be the new hot-ticket item. But we were not headed toward real results in either case. We felt good, but weren’t doing good. So we learned that even though it meant making the door a bit harder to get through, quality overtook quantity to achieve real results. And as communities start being honest with partners about the individual and systemic behavior changes this work requires, they are starting to step up to the higher bar, meet the challenge … and accelerate the progress toward real results.
- Capability AND Capacity – The social sector has been all abuzz about “capacity building” for years. While this is important — you need the right roles and the right people to play those roles to be successful — it is actually the capability of those people, whether staff or partners, that really matters. And the key competencies, drawn from Results Count and Continuous Quality Improvement, are not typically part of most coursework social sector leaders experience. They are things like understanding the difference between technical and adaptive challenges; being able to own your own biases and confront equity issues; and using data to not just admire the problem but, as a tool to take more informed action. We need to build these capabilities intentionally across communities to sustain progress over the long-term.
- Courage to Connect Actions to Outcomes – I recently heard one of our team members speak of the “Walk Talk Gap”. There are so many people who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. The question is why. And I would say that it boils down to having the courage to connect actions to outcomes: to really take a close look at what we are doing now and ask honest questions about the real impact we are having on the results we hope to achieve. Further, are we impacting only certain children? And are those who are most vulnerable being left behind? If we can have the courage to ask these questions — and share our “failing forward” moments all along the way — we can and will advance outcomes for kids and communities.
To close, here is one final truth: You will always have me as an advocate in your corner. Always. So many of you have turned down or left much easier jobs, some even putting off retirement, to take on this maddeningly complex work. I know that. I feel that. I will never forget that. Thank you and never hesitate to reach out as you will have a listening ear and helping hand on the path to supporting the success of every child, cradle to career.
Former Founder & Executive Director of StriveTogether
Managing Director of the Ballmer Group