Making time for what you believe in

by | May 21, 2014 | News, Poverty: Analysis and Responses, Systemic change

In “Making Time”,  Mike Clark, the Executive Director of the Germantown Systemic Change Initiative,  reflects on his personal experiences in making time for a project to which he is deeply committed.

Germantown Systemic Change

He writes “I leave conferences organized by the Vincentian Family so energized and full of ideas. But, then what happens? I have all of this inspiration and a boatload of ideas, but what to do with them? I already have a full plate, and don’t have a lot of time to pursue new projects.

I would like to share with you how a group pursuing systemic change in Germantown made the choice to make time, and then made the subsequent choice to make even more time.

Many of the workshop sessions over the past several years have focused on systemic change, empowering people to move beyond the vicious structures of poverty by changing those very structures. I am captivated by and recognize the importance of systems thinking, especially as it relates to addressing our most intractable social issues. Over the period of several years, I often wondered how best to incorporate systemic change and systemic approaches into my work after learning about these concepts and how best to make time for systemic change when the daily demands of direct service require full attention.

After a Vincentian Family conference in Belleville in 2010, a group from the Germantown section of Philadelphia decided to host large group meetings with members of the Vincentian Family, local parishioners, and residents from the community. This was a nice way to create a place for collaboration while discussing systemic approaches to improving the Germantown community. These gatherings would occur every several months, providing a space for relationship building, needs assessment, and discussion around systemic change. In many ways, this was the easy part. The harder part was the ongoing challenge of making this time. I suspect some of you have had similar experiences in working toward systemic change.

We decided that there was a need to turn discussion into operation. We wanted to turn these sessions from a “think” tank into a “think and do” tank. Meetings every few months were great, but what happened in the time between gathering? How do we make systemic change what we do?

We created a backbone organization in order to operationalize systemic change action in Germantown. Collectively, we are attempting to make systemic approaches to poverty prevention, and remediation (not just alleviation) part of our DNA. This comes with many challenges and opportunities, some of which I hope to share with you in this space. Making time was an important first step for us in Germantown, and the concept of making time for change has evolved greatly for us over the past four years.

I also think this is a great space to start a conversation about the nitty-gritty struggles and windows of opportunity encountered in working towards systemic change.


As you might suspect from the last sentence the above is  the first in a series of reflection by Mike Clark of the Vincentian Family  Germantown Systemic Change Initiative, a community-based organization building collaboration and grassroots social innovation in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.  You can see that he and his colleagues will have many experiences and stories to share. We  hope you will join in the discussions adding your own experience of Vincentian Family projects, especially of systemic change.

We hope this will be the beginning of a discussion about experiences rather than just reports about what is happening.

Prior to his current position, Michael worked as the Development Director and as a 5th grade teacher at The DePaul Catholic School in Germantown, where he still sits on the board.

Michael served as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Bulgaria. Outside of working to make Philadelphia the best education city in the world, Michael is passionate about financial innovation in the social sector, community-based design and architecture. Michael is a graduate of the University of Scranton’s Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program, and holds an MPA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government.


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