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You have to scale down before you can scale up

You have to scale down before you can scale up

There are not enough resources in the world to overcome poverty head-on.

Thus, available resources should primarily be used to empower people to create their own success. This will result in lower levels of poverty over time.

We are making hard-won progress in this regard in the Oak View neighborhood of Huntington Beach. Oak View is something of an anomaly — a one-square-mile community beset by poverty and urban challenges, surrounded by middle-class to affluent neighborhoods. 

At Oak View Renewal Partnership, through the leadership of executive director Iosefa Alofaituli, we have consistently supported mobile health clinics, a youth soccer league, afterschool programs, community gardens, and community cleanups. And our Community Wellness Index shows the needle moving modestly in many areas.

Yet, we had to be honest with ourselves: Oak View would never see a significant and sustained shift in conditions until the main focus was on helping people build their own future – the cornerstone of which is employment.

This is easier said than done. We eventually realized that we had to dig deep down into culture if we were to empower people. What were their backgrounds, desires, goals, and hopes?

We started about a year ago with a board retreat focusing on culture and resident aspirations. Then we engaged a consultant – still working with us today – who specializes in immigrant culture and workforce development. She led door-to-door grassroots surveying and resident meetings to help us determine how to best meet needs.

The result has been our culture-centered Workforce Development Initiative, a collaboration with Goodwill of Orange County, Working Wardrobes, and Wells Fargo. We now offer job readiness, placement, and case management as well as micro-enterprise development. Although the initiative was just launched in June, early results are more than encouraging: 14 job placements and 25 micro-enterprise participants.

We call this approach “scaling down”: building initiatives around culture to ensure maximum resident buy-in. In turn, strong initiatives should lead to greater empowerment, so residents can take greater responsibility for improving their lives and the community at large. Only when change is widespread here may we think about scaling up to other communities.

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John C. “Jack” Shaw enjoyed a 50-year career in management consulting, rising to Vice Chairman of Deloitte before retiring to focus on community development. He is the founder of El Viento Foundation (1997), Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County (2003), and Oak View Renewal Partnership (2006). He is the author of One Square Mile: A Journey of Community Empowerment, which chronicles his work in Oak View spanning more than 15 years. 

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