From Under Our Noses to a High, High Dive

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Guest column by Carlos Huerta, CCT program director for community initiatives, and Randy White, D.Min., executive director of the CCT and associate professor of community transformation at FPBS.

Some call it stealth, an organization that flies below the radar, exercising a quiet ethic of influence by innovative service that keeps producing fruit. But it is becoming increasingly hard to miss the impact the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (FPBS) is having in the community. In just five years it has identified and mobilized overlooked assets in our region toward a healthier San Joaquin Valley. Perhaps the university’s latest emerging miracle, it is quietly making progress in pursuing the peace of the city by believing that the answers to our greatest social, physical, economic and spiritual challenges are already “in the room.” All the talent, all the human and institutional resources needed to pursue the well-being of our region are present in the community. Right under our noses, change is happening.

The CCT is tireless in raising its own capital as a university institution to invest in the equipping of a new generation of civic leaders for the economic, physical and spiritual well-being of the Valley. By pursuing innovative approaches to community challenges, the CCT has remained committed to avoiding a toxic charity approach that has led so often to dependency and exhaustion instead of sustainable transformation. It employs a development approach in four key initiatives:

  1. Social Enterprise—helping institutions and individuals start social businesses that employ people with barriers or solve issues in the community through the operations of the business.
  2. Innovative Financial Literacy—designed in particular for vulnerable populations.
  3. Urban and Rural Latino Leadership Training delivered in Spanish.
  4. City Shaping—including emerging leader civic training, GED study clubs, work-readiness training, ABCD training and a host of other transformational efforts.

Though the CCT will celebrate only its five-year anniversary next month, how many of the following would you have guessed it has accomplished?

  • Catalyzed 32 new social enterprises (a business with a social impact) in the Valley through its Spark Tank Social Enterprise Pitch Fest. These ventures have provided work for people with barriers to employment, and have achieved an almost 70 percent success rate in a field where the national average stands at about 30 percent. More than 50 percent of these social enterprises are also run by minority stake-holders.
  • Trained more than 80 community leaders to reach out and develop more financially aware and responsible individuals, equipping those individuals to avoid predatory lending and other institutional traps.
  • Graduated more than 55 Spanish-speaking pastors and lay leaders from the Certificate for Latino Leaders, delivered in Spanish. About one-third of Fresno’s 500 congregations, many in the poorest neighborhoods, are Spanish-speaking in make-up. Fewer than 5 percent of those pastors have had the benefit of theological or formal leadership training. The CCT provides an inexpensive and convenient opportunity to attain a certificate from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, and cutting-edge training in community transformation.
  • Collaborated with other leaders in the community to lead the largest summit of civic-minded emerging leaders in the Valley, helping hundreds become civically engaged.
  • Developed four congregational and CBO GED Study Club sites in strategic neighborhoods.

From Feature to Foundation: With these outcomes, the CCT has gained global attention, being featured in a British Social Enterprise Journal this year for its innovative approach. And now, it is being invited to become a Leadership Foundation. What is a Leadership Foundation (LF)? In simple terms, it does three things:

  • Works with people of good faith and good will on ventures to accomplish community transformation.
  • Invests in building the capacity of other organizations to accomplish change.
  • Engages in joint initiatives that achieve what would be too large or complex for any one organization.

The CCT has been doing that work all along. This new affiliation in a network of Leadership Foundations will prepare the center for further success by linking local staff to coaching and best practices from community development organizations in 70 cities and 28 countries, providing access to additional funding sources and establishing a more sustainable infrastructure. Here are some ways we hope to live this out in the coming days—sort of a CCT 2.0. Check out these goals:

  1. The Valley’s first Social Enterprise Academy.
    1. Nothing like this exists in the Valley. This is a good example of something that can be done only as a joint initiative, so we have involved other local institutions and significant business leaders. The possibility for economic and social impact is high, from providing under-resourced individuals with self-employment opportunities as well as jobs for their neighbors, to larger social enterprises that engage in poverty alleviation at a larger scale.
  2. Spanish-speaking initiatives
    1. It will expand its financial literacy training in the Valley by the addition of Faith & Finances, a Spanish-language version, to enhance the capacity of rural leaders and institutions to help people in financial crisis.
    2. It will ramp up the certificado: inviting a broader audience and enhancing the capacity of faith institutions to pursue joint initiatives with local civic leaders on neighborhood projects.
  3. Stronger relationship with the City of Fresno
    1. This means mobilizing and utilizing the assets and resources of the faith community—working with people of good faith and good will on specific projects that accomplish community objectives, whether that’s in the areas of homelessness, violence mediation, employment, housing, any number of issues. The CCT may have a formal announcement on this in the near future.
  4. New joint initiatives
    1. Asset Based Community Development Training city-wide with Every Neighborhood Partnership & Fresno Metro Ministries, two local community benefit organizations.
    2. #SoEnt: Fresno Pacific University School of Business & CCT providing pathways for FPU TUG, degree completion and MBA students to connect with social enterprise opportunities.
  5. Growth in all of our barrier-reducing programs to equip our most vulnerable neighbors
    1. Faith & Finances in every concentrated poverty neighborhood.
    2. GED Study Club in every concentrated poverty neighborhood.
  • Work Life Course in every concentrated poverty neighborhood.

It’s time to celebrate and build! Five years means proof of concept. We are changing the metaphor from a stealth approach to something a little more public—like Olympic diving! A platform diver ascends the stairs to the top, tries to perform complex aerial maneuvers with an inspiring beauty and enters the water without splash. The CCT, while operating under our noses at the work of equipping next generation leadership toward the economic, physical and spiritual well-being of our region, is now climbing the ladder to the next platform. Check out our form at cctfresno.org