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Good for Santa Barbara 2017: Noozhawk's 2nd Annual report on Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Sponsored by Montecito Bank & Trust
Good for Santa Barbara 2017

Possibility Lab Convenes Social Sector Leaders for a Day of Connection, Exploration


Leading from Within is well known in local nonprofit circles as the organization that connects and invests in community leaders through a variety of programs designed to empower them.

Created in 2008 by founder Ken Saxon, the organization has invested in nearly 300 local leaders through its four core programs: Courage to Lead, Emerging Leaders Program, Katherine Harvey Fellows and Leading for Community Impact.

Leading from Within believes that meaningful change happens when social sector leaders know and trust each other, enabling them to work together to solve problems for the greater common good.

This concept was the driving force behind “Possibility Lab,” Leading from Within’s first-ever all-network gathering. This full-day event at UC Santa Barbara was designed to help social-sector leaders connect across all of the organization’s programs, and give them opportunities to learn and practice collaboration skills to help them tackle complex community challenges that can ultimately benefit Santa Barbara County and all who live there.

Of the 140 participants, no one knew what to expect from the day, yet all were willing to invest eight hours to explore the possibilities — a testament to the trust they place in Leading from Within.

“This day has been a dream in the minds of us at Leading from Within for a long time,” Saxon said. “We thought we could bring everyone together from each of our programs, leveraging our network to build an even larger sector generating greater impact.

“This day marks the beginning of that exploration.”

Possibility Lab participants represented critical nonprofit and government organizations serving a host of needs in Santa Barbara County, including the arts, education, youth development, environment, health and social action.

Many of Santa Barbara’s leading foundations and philanthropists were also in attendance, as well as community leaders from the local private sector.

“Nonprofits are an economic engine in California, employing more than 1 million people and contributing 16 percent of California’s gross state product,” said Assemblywoman Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, an alumna of the Katherine Harvey Fellows program.

“I am deeply committed to supporting these organizations because I know firsthand the power of this sector.”

The Possibility Lab was facilitated by a team of strategists from Converge, a Seattle-based company that partners with others to tackle challenging social and environmental issues.

After a brief orientation and welcome breakfast, participants in the room were up and out of their seats in a lively “stand-up/sit-down” exercise and “pairing and sharing” with others they had never met. The day flowed quickly from there in what Converge described as “a fast-paced high metabolic process” with group exercises, storytelling, active listening, brainstorming sessions, presentations and plenty of networking breaks.

The day was fast-paced and engaging, and the work was serious. Converge initiated small group discussions in the afternoon sessions centered around four key issues identified by many of the nonprofit leaders as pressing. These issues included:

» Resourcing and how philanthropic funders and nonprofits can work more effectively together

» Social-sector challenges addressing affordability concerns, covering high cost of living, wages and flight of talent to lower cost areas

» The ongoing need for leadership development and growth

» Bridging a divide between the North County and the South Coast

The driving question of the Possibility Lab was “what can we do together that we can’t do alone?” and the power of potential partnerships was evident as answers evolved.

Some of the initiatives discussed included designated housing for nonprofit employees, a nonprofit agreement to level the social-sector playing field (think “Paris Accord”), connecting LFW alumni with board opportunities, and even a matching program, a la Tinder, aligning the next generation of philanthropists with relevant causes.

“I’ve learned that a great deal of trust can be built in a short period of time,” said Jeff Bochsler, vice president of Guaranteed Rate Mortgages.

Maria Garcia-Cacique, director of transitional support at the Santa Barbara County Education Office, said she did not know what to expect at first.

“I was so nervous about attending and really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “But this group of powerful and influential people were so welcoming and inclusive and everyone is invested in moving things forward.”

Rob Skinner, chief innovation officer and general counsel at Montecito Bank & Trust, already is looking forward to next steps.

“The thing that is so exciting is that this is just the beginning and the potential is considerable when we work together as a community,” he said. “I’m excited to see where it leads.”

Saxon urged the group to continue its conversations outside of the workshop, as success of this new, larger network depends on participants’ initiative and leadership.

“The collective power of this group’s intellect, passion and resources is awe-inspiring and represents a tremendous opportunity for our region,” he said.

The Possibility Lab would not have been possible without the support of sponsors Montecito Bank & Trust and Bartlett, Pringle & Wolf, as well as the Leading from Within Innovation Fund.

Click here for more information about Leading from Within. Click here to make an online donation.

— Ann Pieramici represents Leading from Within.

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