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Sharing Our Growth: The Initial Leap of Imagination

This is the second in a series of posts that will tease out key ingredients from the exponential growth of Share Our Strength over the past few years.

Why did we decide to change?
Because good is not good enough.

For a long time everyone was satisfied with the seeming success of Share Our Strength.  We distributed hundreds of grants a year, asked little for little in return and were very popular as a result.

But those of us leading the organization were not satisfied. We knew what we were doing was good, but also sensed it wasn’t good enough.

We were suffering from a failure of imagination.

And imagination is a vital instrument of leadership.  For centuries writers, philosophers, visionaries, businessmen, and changemakers have acknowledged the importance of imagination. As far back as the 1500s, Frenchman Michel De Montaigne wrote on the “force of imagination,” declaring “fortis imagination generat casum” (“a powerful imagination generates the event”).  Imagination makes it possible to envision and create a world which does not yet exist but is within our grasp:

  • No one thought it realistic that college graduates without teaching degrees could succeed in underserved schools until Wendy Kopp and Teach For America imagined it.
  • No one assumed that a pharmaceutical devoted to developing medicines for neglected diseases like malaria could operate as a nonprofit until Victoria Hale imagined it and created the Institute for One World Health.
  • No one conceptualized how to break the generational cycle of poverty in a concerted, holistic manner until Geoffrey Canada build the Harlem Children’s Zone, where some of the nation’s poorest children are now testing at or above grade level.

At Share Our Strength our initial failure of imagination was to focus on feeding people not ending hunger. We had no specific goal and therefore no way of knowing whether we were moving towards it.

We were unsatisfied with not being able to quantify our impact, and therefore to assess, if only for ourselves, whether our hard work was paying off.

How did we decide which change to make?
By focusing on something important enough to matter but small enough to win.

To define our goal we thought about the writer Jonathan Kozol’s advice to pick battles big enough to matter but small enough to win.  This struck the right balance between inspiring but not completely out of reach.  And so we refocused our broad-based anti-hunger efforts on a specific subset: hungry children in the United States and realized it was possible to do more than just feed kids, that we could actually end childhood hunger.

We pivoted from being the grant making intermediary that we were for two decades, to designing and leading a national program of our own that committed to achieving specific, measurable goals toward an end to childhood hunger.

Once we made that leap, everything changed.

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About Billy Shore

Billy Shore is the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit that is ending childhood hunger in America. Shore is also the chairman of Community Wealth Partners, a Share Our Strength organization that helps change agents solve social problems at the magnitude they exist.

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