Here’s to more “Progress” in 2014

On the way to work on my first day at SVP Dallas – back in June of 2012 – I noted to myself that among the things I already loved about my new job was the easy commute. I marveled at my good fortune: not only had I landed my dream job but unbeknownst to me, the physical location of my dream job was a short 7.2 miles away. On at one exit up Central, off two exits down LBJ later. Google promised a 13 minute drive. It couldn’t getter simpler – or better – than that.

My bliss lasted a day.

By 8:00 p.m that evening, half of the overpass that linked the off-ramp to my office building would be gone, part of a scheduled demolition and reconstruction that would last the next 18 months to complete.  Over the course of those 18 months, the 13-minute commute Google promised would become an unpredictable trek where familiar routes disappeared overnight and new ones materialized with the relocation of orange cones. The promise of the project was increased traffic flow and faster travel times. But in the interim, all we got were delays and excuses for showing late to meetings. While the route I took to work changed on an almost daily basis (and depending on how late I was running), one thing did not change, the simple route I delighted in on that first day, was anything but. “Progress,” some optimist called it. “Annoying” was more like it.

Fast forward 18 months almost to the day. Thanks to a newly-expanded overpass and express lanes built into my stretch of the highway, my commute is now down to a predictable 11 minutes. Lightspeed by Dallas traffic standards. Cue my bliss.

Here’s what I learned from this so-called “progress.” Besides forcing me to find creative ways to get to 12900 Preston Road, after a few months on the job at SVP Dallas, I discovered my first-hand experience with highway construction is the perfect metaphor for the capacity-building work we do.  Building capacity in nonprofits promises to expedite and expand the delivery of effective, life-changing programs to our neighbors that need them most. The promise is speed, efficiency, expansion. But before we see any of that, we get traffic jams, detours, and closed exits.

Demolishing and re-building the infrastructure of high-potential nonprofits is a lot like the work going on outside my office window.   For the nonprofits on the receiving end – SVP investees, it can be messy, disorienting, intrusive, frustrating, and it almost certainly slows things down before anything resembling efficiency or increased capacity begins to takes shape.  The complexity of mapping new long-term plans and improving existing practices while continuing to deliver high-quality programs is like relocating concrete barriers and bulldozing new lanes all the while semis and cars whizz by at 60 miles per hour. Just like the cars aren’t slowing down while “progress” is being implemented all around them, the needs our investees meet among the families and children they serve are no less serious and urgent.

The challenges faced by our community are being met by heroic and often overmatched non-profit agencies like PediPlace, TAIMH, and the Investees in our Social Portfolio. The work of SVP is to come alongside them like their overnight highway construction crew, helping build the wider, faster lanes and on-ramps they need to ensure that more families and children receive the life-changing services they provide.

So, in 2014, here’s to more messy, frustrating, slow “progress”!

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