Karen Smith joining MDB Insight!

23 09 2017

karensmith     MDB-Insight-Website-Logo

A private-sector consulting firm with a mission to “improve the world”? Whose values and vision align with your own? Whose team members are passionate, creative innovators? Sounds like the perfect place to work if you’re a community builder – and that’s precisely why Karen will be joining the team at MDB Insight as a Senior Consultant effective October 2nd.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, MDB Insight is Canada’s leading economic development consultancy specializing in connecting communities with opportunities. Their core practice areas also include workforce development, community development, cultural development, business development, strategic planning, and research and analytics. The firm has worked with hundreds of cities and towns, rural and urban, large and small, across North America with the aim of helping those communities and the people within them to thrive in the 21st century economy. As a member of the senior team, Karen will add her enthusiasm and experience to the firm’s established roster of accomplished professionals from across the country and will be working from MDB Insight’s Hamilton office.

To connect with Karen in her new role, pop her an email – ksmith@mdbinsight.com. And be sure to check out MDB Insight’s web site, featuring the firm’s blog and This is Not a Newsletter (TINAN) as well as resources and links of interest. You can follow us on Twitter (@MDBInsight) and on our Facebook page (MDB Insight) too!

Success Together

24 02 2011

Many readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of Hildy Gottlieb’s work  (Creating The Future) and I apply a number of her concepts and principles in my practice (thanks Hildy, you spread the love so generously). One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is a topic Hildy has ranted about many times, and a fundamental question Hildy is always asking: what will it take for the community benefit sector to achieve genuine success (or, the flip side, what’s stopping that from happening?):

Success in the Community Benefit arena doesn’t come from being the smartest and the fastest and the best. Yes, you may become the best funded organization. But success in the Community Benefit world is about – well – Community Benefit! And none of us can do that on our own. It is clear that this sector’s potential can only be reached if we link arms together to create the healthy, vibrant communities we all want. To accomplish that, many of the systems we rely upon in this sector will need to shift, from competitive systems that keep us apart to systems that encourage and nurture interconnectedness and interdependence. [Hildy Gottlieb]

Amen to that.

So, I’ve been thinking about that shift and how to support it. I’m wondering about the figurative linking of arms and how that might tangibly or literally be accomplished in a typical community. There are no shortage of inspiring examples on a global scale (just in these past weeks the Middle East is full of them). Examples can also be found within the ranks of the collective impact movement (see: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact/). So what about here, within Hamilton neighbourhoods? How do small community efforts grow to become community benefit successes? That’s been occupying my mind of late, and steering me to seek out viable answers. It seems vital that our local community benefit organizations be encouraged and supported in efforts to join together…to find strength in numbers and influence in shared vision. I’m not talking about merely “collaborating” here, where agencies remain independent and separate while joining together (or appearing to do so) for select purposes. That kind of collaboration has been a diversion for many organizations (particularly small ones with very limited resources) and ineffective for many others. As a requirement of many funders, collaboration has become a challenge for organizations who might be far better served by genuine efforts at unified, targeted advocacy and action. Time-consuming and ineffectual partnerships have kept more than one organization from realizing true innovation. Carefully assessing when, how and with whom to partner is a missing step in many collaborations…it’s often simply a requisite step in the grant application process. To shift from “expected” collaboration to instead focus on shared community outcomes (or collective impact) will take some time and some genuine effort. But I can hear Hildy yelling, “yes, but think of the possibilities if it happens!” and that very thing is what has me giving this considerable attention.

Be the change, the Gandhi-inspired mantra, requires that we model our efforts according to the outcomes we seek. When it comes to local community benefit and the sector upon which so much rests, that means some considerable adjustments will be needed. Stay tuned.

Our 20th Year!

9 02 2011

EnMark Associates officially opened its doors as a consulting firm in May, 1991. That makes this our twentieth year in operation. It’s a milestone I’m proud of, and one I plan to mark in several different ways. We’ll celebrate, of course, but also look for “pay it forward” opportunities. I will find ways to acknowledge those whose help and contributions have strengthened the firm over the years, as well as those whose personal support and mentorship have meant so much to my career.

Oddly enough, the landscape of our “not-for-profit” sector (I’ve decided I much prefer the term community benefit sector), for the most part, hasn’t changed all that much during the past two decades. Agencies still call on us for the same types of support and counsel that were needed back in the nineties, and the community as a whole still struggles with many of the same challenges that existed in 1991. That’s largely disappointing. While I can look back at specific successes – innovative projects, effective programs, even considerable change initiatives – the sector as a whole remains burdened and overwhelmed. Ironically, it’s this very sector that houses so many of the organizations on which we hang the future of our community…those that will eradicate violence, end poverty, inspire young people and turn our diverse challenges into shared accomplishments. A pessimist might say this does not bode well for our collective futures.

But an optimist, like myself, sees that there are some fairly clear causes for the stagnation (and, yes, sees the successes that are shining examples of what happens when it does all come together) and sees that there is great potential in targeting these causes. And that is where I hope to focus my practice in the years to come. I am inspired by the countless volunteers who continue to drive the engines of our community benefit sector despite its shortcomings. I am heartened by the occasional glimpse of visionary thinking that emerges around community planning tables. And I am challenged by the work to be done in harnessing the knowledge that’s out there and applying it towards action that will achieve results.

Some of my current interests in this regard will begin appearing more often in this blog and on EnMark Associates’ web site. These include new approaches for funders, shifts in community thinking, and governance basics that realign effort with desired impact. I’ll be looking for new opportunities to apply what I’ve learned about this community in ways that will significantly better this community…not just as a consultant, but as a concerned and engaged citizen (more and more these two are inextricably linked). As the anniversary of my consulting practice draws nearer, I am reminded that I have been a fortunate observer inside the gritty workings of this community, where an up-close and unobstructed view has afforded me some unique and very valuable experiences. Some of these were awe-inspiring. Others were heartbreaking. But all have given me insight and taught me in one way or another.

The talented individuals whose work has been utilized by EnMark Associates over the past 20 years have helped organizations in virtually every corner of the community benefit sector – health, social services, culture, housing, education, municipal services, community services, volunteerism, advocacy, planning, funding, policymaking…the list goes on. We have worked with front line staff and with board members, with seasoned CEOs and energetic youth. Our services have been directed towards student hunger, poverty, substance abuse, mental health, sexual health, child abuse, teen pregnancy, homelessness, supported housing for seniors, accessibility, transit, emergency food, children’s development, public health, residential services, violence prevention, trauma services, crime, community development…and others.

That’s an incredible array of experiences from which to draw, and an abundance of inspiration for what comes next.

Karen Smith