No more task forces, please!

Audience members listen during the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force presentation in March.
Audience members listen during the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force presentation in March. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Next year, I anticipate the announcement of a civic committee and another task force to address social problems like housing, education, etc. There will be a press conference to announce the co-chairs (one corporate, one community, of course), followed by a three- to six- month process of seating the committee with just the “right” people. They will try to keep the committee small. However, to be inclusive while accommodating corporate interests and legacy civic leadership, they will end up with an unwieldy group that is too large to be effective. Then, a year will pass because it is difficult to coordinate high-profile schedules. But there will be at least two community conversations (perhaps a high-profile out-of-town speaker!) to buy time and demonstrate progress.

We don’t need anymore committees.

Charlotte can’t afford to suffer the consequences of ineffective civic leadership any longer. The ugly truth is that none of us who serve on such committees pays the price for our inability to make tangible, substantive change. It’s not our kids who don’t get the educational opportunities all kids deserve. We are not the ones losing our homes to gentrification. We have jobs, incomes and enough stability to have the luxury of volunteer time.

Instead, we need more startups.

Startups are designed for action and production. A startup team is composed of people with the skills to do something, the drive to make it happen and the time to work on it. There is a reason tech talent is in high demand in the startup community – people are trying to build things, not talk about them. A civic committee, such as the economic mobility task force, is typically a group of leaders who have connections to community, business or philanthropy. They bring perspective, access, and influence – all of which are valuable for elevating public discourse, but not executing solutions.

Amy Chiou

Startups test small measurable ideas and focus on getting traction. They build prototypes and minimally viable products to share with early testers, so they can learn from them. The process of build, measure, learn and then build again better results in a viable market-tested product. It’s more effective than trying to dismantle generations of systemic problems in 90-minute committee meetings and substantively more inclusive than a listening tour.

Startups acknowledge the value of time and work by paying for it. Startups approach their work as full-time. Committee service is different. It’s a casual feel-good effort that competes with volunteer time and Netflix marathons. Entrepreneurs operate differently – they swap services, pay contractors and give equity. Any in-kind work is limited, and most people don’t work for free for long. You get what you pay for – nonprofit or for-profit status notwithstanding.

For 2018, I challenge all of us to question whether another committee is necessary and to reallocate community resources – time, talent and treasure – to building solutions. We have enough reports. Let’s have a contest for ideas that address the recommendations and invest seed funding in promising and exciting ideas. Let’s pool resources to support social entrepreneurs with the things they need – full-time salaries and benefits, work space, high-speed internet, mentorship and coaching. They will succeed or fail faster than it takes to plan the next community discussion or place another ghost-written op-ed by a corporate executive.

Every day, social entrepreneurs dream of a better world and then wake up and work to make it a reality. If we’re serious about changing things, we should start by changing how we go about changing things.

Chiou is the executive director of Queen City Forward. Email: amy.observer@gmail.com