By Kelly Nowlin, Surdna Board of Directors
Surdna's New Orleans Fund seeks to advance New Orleans long-term rebuilding and resiliency efforts by supporting civic engagement in multiple issue areas, including economic development, education, arts and culture, coastal restoration, and worker's rights. The fund is overseen by staff from across our program areas in partnership with a liaison from our board of directors. From time to time board liaisons travel with staff to New Orleans to meet with grantees, thought partners, and colleagues in the city. Kelly Nowlin recently completed her first year as liaison to the New Orleans Fund and traveled to the city last spring for her first taste of its irrepressible spirit. Kelly reflects on her time in New Orleans in the commentary that follows.
At a recent Surdna board meeting, we spent time deepening our understanding of leadership. Experts in this field discussed that there is a shift today towards collaborative leadership in which leaders seek out other leaders to work together to accomplish goals. This approach resonates with me and with what I observed in the civic leaders in New Orleans. When I asked many of our grantees what keeps them going, they answered that a big part of it is their connection to colleagues and partners at different organizations. When you meet someone like Tracy Nelson, Executive Director of CSED, or Timolynn Sams, Executive Director of Neighborhoods Partnership Network, their passion and collaborative spirit is apparent.
In today's world of technology and social media networks, opportunities to connect with leaders from disparate fields are greatly enhanced. Whether you're building a business or rebuilding a community, collaboration is a necessity. I have spent the last few years building my own online business and had much to learn. I spent a majority of my time reaching out to experts, asking questions, and sharing stories, struggles and ideas. One leader I connected with was marketing guru Seth Godin. Seth has written more than a dozen worldwide bestsellers that have been translated into more than thirty languages. He believes that we all have the potential to be leaders...that we all create our own form of "art." Seth is passionate about helping people to spread ideas and create movements. In his book, Tribes, he defines a tribe as "any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea." According to Seth, "tribes can change our world not because you force [people] to do something against their will, but because they wanted to connect." It's about connecting with people who have similar passions and values and who have stories to tell. This approach has been evident with leaders in New Orleans following each devastating event of the last six years and it remains evident today. It's the groups we belong to -- these "connections" -- that keep us all going.
The six-year anniversary of hurricanes Katrina and Rita passed not long ago and while much work remains to be done I am honored to have connected with so many leaders in New Orleans as they continue to rebuild and inspire.
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