1. IDENTIFY the problem you will address

“The country is confronted by economic and social disparities that have proven all but impervious to public and private efforts for nearly four decades… We believe that the lack of more significant progress signals that the country’s efforts need to be expanded and retooled.”

—Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins, Creating an Opportunity Society (Brookings Institution Press)

You are committed to making real change in your community or in your field of work, but where do you start? Your first step is to identify and describe the problem you are trying to solve.

Certainly there is no shortage of issues to tackle:

  • Unemployment in 2011 remains above 9% for the nation.  For African Americans and Latinos those rates are even higher (over 16% and 11% respectively)
  • The USDA reports that in 2010 more than 40 million Americans, the most ever, participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps)
  • High school graduation rates for students of color are as low as 33 percent in our cities, and more than 60 percent of African-American males who drop out of high school at some point find themselves in prison.
  • The number of foster children, many abused or neglected, now approaches one million a year.
  • Some one million prisoners will be released back into communities each year, and two-thirds of them will eventually be re-incarcerated.

We will only see results when individuals like you challenge themselves to rethink and rebuild the unsatisfying approaches that our own communities are taking to solve our most pressing problems. And as you well know, others across your community will have a role to play. Together you can begin to create sustainable change that improves lives across the board.

Just imagine:

  • If every person took one new step to help make his or her city a better place to live, what would it be?
  • If every mayor broke down one barrier to drive more effective solutions, what kind of change would it bring?
  • If every community galvanized around one new idea to improve its neighborhood services, what kind of difference would that make?
  • If every philanthropic, non-profit, and civic leader held their actions and alliances to a new standard for results, who would benefit and who would lose?

Next: RETHINK your community’s current approach