LRI looks to create national network

Leadership Rhode Island is generating widespread interest in the co-creation of a national organization that would harness the power of Community Leadership Programs — and their 750,000 alumni — to address societal problems collaboratively, civilly and positively.

Mike Ritz ’07, executive director, and Michelle Carr ’14, deputy director, announced LRI’s intention to get Leadership United States (LUS) up and operating by the early 2020s during a conference of the Association of Leadership Programs (ALP) in Louisville, Ky. on Oct. 29.

“At a time of great divide and lack of civility in the country, I can see no better time to formally establish a coast-to-coast network consisting of four decades of leadership alumni conditioned to listen, explore and celebrate different perspectives, be civilized with one another, and then take action to help find better solutions to critical societal issues too complex to solve alone,” Ritz told the community leadership executives at the conference.

“The access to answers and the sharing of knowledge should not be confined by arbitrary geographic borders,” he said. “Most assuredly, our nation’s leadership program alumni have the talent, resources and relationships to overcome big challenges. We just need to connect them and ignite this powerful network.”

For more than a year, Ritz and Carr have been exploring the idea of a national organization with colleagues at community leadership programs in other cities and states. Nearly 50 executive directors of these organizations have expressed interest in becoming founding partners of Leadership United States.

The organizations on board are located in all four time zones and represent both urban and rural communities in red and blue states, Ritz said. Some are independent leadership programs; some operate as affiliates of Chambers of Commerce.

Approximately 300 Community Leadership Programs are affiliated with ALP. Ritz estimates that there are as many as 500 other community-based programs in the United States that could be drawn into Leadership United States.

After a presentation on the concept of Leadership United States at the ALP conference, Carr and Ritz asked the participants from 22 community programs in 12 states to imagine how LUS could help both their local organizations and the nation. Their thoughts were jotted down on post-it notes.

On the impact of LUS on their respective local organizations, attendees envisioned increased revenue, growing membership rolls, developing prestige, and having the opportunity for feedback and coaching to develop better programs. One saw LUS as giving community organizations relevance and a stronger sense of purpose.

On the impact of LUS on the nation, the executive directors had several ways of saying that it would promote civil civic discourse, “get good stuff done,” develop new connections, mobilize change and motivate action. One person saw the start of a movement that reaches the “tipping point of people who care” and who are equipped with skills “to do something about it.”

To test the viability of inter-state alumni cooperation, this year’s LRI Xi II teams followed a two-step process for their Leadership in Action projects. First, they talked with local stakeholders to determine pressing issues in such areas as economic development, criminal justice, education and health, in Rhode Island. Second, they talked with leadership organization executive directors and alumni in 15 other states to find out how that need was being addressed elsewhere.

The most effective project teams hosted the internal (Rhode Island) and external (out-of-state) stakeholders together in a single meeting, connecting and building new relationships through the use of video conferencing technology, Ritz said.

“In nearly every case, executive directors knew exactly who our class members should talk to. Many of them were alumni elsewhere, and gave warm introductions to make the meetings happen in short order,” said Ritz.

“The busiest of the busiest made time for what they viewed as their sisters and brothers of the community leadership movement from Rhode Island. We’re all one big family that would benefit greatly from spending more time and sharing best practices with one another regularly.

“That’s what Leadership United States is all about!”