Teamwork and an open source approach to our challenges can replace AdvantageWest

I have talked about the old A-B Vision program Citizen-Times supported around 2002-2003 with Citizen-Times managing editor ‪Josh Awtry and how that kind of forum is needed again. This new ‘community conversation’ program should take up where GroWNC left off.

I think asking what’s next after AdvantageWest closed—and I also say GroWNC should be included as a lost opportunity—are great questions being asked by C-T reporter Caitlin Byrd in her recent article. Her piece is interesting timing in that we were just talking about local entrepreneurship in the Asheville Politics Facebook Group. I don’t think sending everything over to Mountain BizWorks and a few small nonprofits really handles what ongoing Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities work in Asheville and the WNC region might entail.

GroWNC was our local Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities program and ran from 2011 to 2013. It was hosted by Land of Sky Regional Council and served as a good example for us in terms or turning regionalism into value generation around the complex, systemic sustainable economics matters we face. Sustainability strategy is a combination of risk management and innovation. There’s no way we should wait the rest of this year and leave those risks and opportunities alone.

I have that nonprofit program outlined in the form of Sustain Asheville / Sustain WNC. The C-T sponsored event on child homelessness a year ago was valuable and achieved good turn out. These models need to merge and be replicated using the range of system issues covered during the GroWNC program.

We need to keep going and talk about issues like poverty and climate change and develop stories on what’s being done here in Asheville and WNC… and what’s missing in the big picture. C-T only benefits by encouraging the strategy and innovation conversations, activities, and positive ‘collisions’ between individuals and groups that can better enhance a ‘big picture’ response to our community challenges. This work is for organizations like the Asheville Climate Collider and the community housing solution entities to support, just for starters.

The tools to produce and draw the value from this ‘big tent’ approach exist both for live face-to-face and online interactions. That’s not the problem. The problem in part is harnessing community will and leadership territorialism. Of course the resources for the new dynamic, free-thinking, yet strategic nonprofit behind Sustain Asheville / Sustain WNC is still needed. But we can start experimenting now.

This March C-T published the editorial Our view: Appalachian commission shows limitations, successes on ARC progress over its 50 year history. That editorial ends with the idea that, “The people of Appalachia are not looking for a handout, but rather for the tools they need to make their way in tomorrow’s world.” Another recent C-T editorial titled AdvantageWest rides into sunset with solid record mentions the continued need to make regionalism both a noun and a verb, and concludes that, “It’s hard to see how phasing out regional agencies in favor of centralizing efforts in Raleigh is going to make that happen.”

ARC is supposedly one of our strategic anti-poverty platforms. What is the health of our local and regional anti-poverty strategy? Do we understand that strategy and are all government, nonprofit, faith, education, health, business, and just plain folks, with a stake in turning down the impact of poverty in our communities to a near zero factor dialed in and using the best collaboration models possible to get to the ’near zero poverty’ opportunity level?

AdvantageWest was our local ARC program. Was the business recruitment, mild entrepreneurship incubation, and other work of AdvantageWest all we needed…plus the ongoing activities of the above list of stakeholders putting a dent in WNC poverty? I mean, were we moving towards ‘near zero poverty’ before AdvantageWest announced its closure?

We need to expand on what AdvantageWest did offer. The idea that what successes were possible with GroWNC just ended right when the GroWNC benefits were starting to formulate is amazing. We’ve got to get these stakeholders into a large meeting space for a series of strategic innovation workshops to find out if we are done and in good shape…or are there major sustainable systems questions left off the table at present that continue to need powerful attention. Clearly C-T helps focus our attention on important matters that might otherwise go unnoticed. But there’s more to cover and to accomplish. A new community innovation platform is needed.

While these two important editorials on ARC and AdvantageWest are useful, clearly they only point to gaps in our community strategy. We can do more, better, and faster as a community team. We just need to pull together what we’ve got in terms of resources and start looking around for the current and future risks and opportunities our region still faces… despite ARC underfunding and the disappearance of AdvantageWest and GroWNC.

C-T and other local media support can fill out future Sustain Asheville / Sustain WNC online content with articles from their website. Along with OSIC a conventional public website is needed. This work will require a lot of attention gathering from the public as it will be difficult to get a group of people focused on a new open innovation / crowdsource replacement of AdvantageWest. These are new strategy skills for many, but that’s innovation. Things staying the same is not innovation.

The costs and benefits behind turning up the resources for a genuine WNC anti-poverty and other sustainability strategy leading to openly understood and community developed, demonstrable results are not my job to calculate alone. I can only point to this vision as the place we need to head towards… starting now. Let’s create the right innovation and opportunity ecosystem (IOE) for the 21st century.


Posted in Asheville, Innovation and Opportunity Ecosystem.