I just read an excellent article by Ann Houston from Chelsea Neighborhood Developers (CND) and Hilary Marcus from Neighborworks America. The article talks about the difficult, yet ultimately productive, process that the CND board of directors went through in deciding whether and how to expand their services to Revere. The article offers important lessons for all CDCs considering a geographic expansion or any other major shift in their organizational strategy or focus.
The major thrust of the article is the importance of discussing the governance implications of expansion early on in the process. For me, however, the the most interesting aspect of the article was the discussion of how important it was for the board to reflect on, and respect, both the sense of loss, and the actual loss that might come from expanding to another city. CND has been focused on serving Chelsea since it was founded and the board members joined the board specifically because of their commitment to Chelsea. Would expanding to Revere dilute that focus? Ann and Hilary talk about how the board approached this question with respect and care. The board ultimately decided that expansion would be good not just for the organization but for both Revere and Chelsea. But part of that process was to mourn in meaningful and tangible ways the loss that inevitably comes with change.
In reading the article, I realized that I often fail to respect that sense of loss and fail to take the time with others to mourn and honor the past. Expansion and change are often necessary and good - but they do not come free. Those who might oppose a particular change or expansion are not simply bad people who are obstructionists or narrow minded. They may simply be fighting for the same community and the same people for whom they have always fought. Their sense of loss is often real - expansion can mean dilution for some communities. This should not necessarily stop change, but it is important to give respect and voice to that which is lost.
I encourage others to read Ann and Hilary's important article. I'm glad I did and I hope to apply its lessons as MACDC continues to change and evolve in the coming years. Mourning loss and change may be the key to our future growth and success.