Turning “We Can’t” into “We Can” to Support Every Child
We explore how, in the era of endless crises, super-sized brainstorming can lead to thriving families, schools and communities
Way, way back in my college days, I had a short consulting project designing a new parade at Disneyland. I remember turning in initial sketches and being told, “You need to think bigger and bolder if we are going to amaze our millions of visitors.”
When I started working for the government, filled with enthusiasm and ideas, I remember being told by my supervisor, “Please don’t pitch big projects that might get us bad press.”
There exists two worlds, with one being the private sector where companies only exist because of thinking-outside-the-box to beat the competition. The other world is the public sector, where pitching bold, new projects, policies and protocols is not always welcome. If you have worked in government, you know the drill: stick to what’s been done before, don’t rock the boat and follow the chain of command.
I am not saying innovation can’t happen within government, it’s just that public sector bureaucracy can be stifling and new ideas can sound scary, especially if a particular pilot project doesn’t work out as expected and the local news reports, “Again, another waste of taxpayer dollars.” Historically, risk is rarely rewarded in the halls of government.
That was then, this is now
Crisis has changed everything. You’re reading a blog that’s part of an institute that’s pitching one of the most groundbreaking, never-tried-before, strategies in the nation: 100% New Mexico. Our mission is to ensure 100% of residents have access to ten vital services for surviving and thriving. That’s about as big and bold an idea that anyone has ever pitched and, yes, this is coming from higher education that’s part of state government. The point is that we have entered a phase in this society where the innovation known to be the driving force of business is now fueling the public sector. And not a minute too soon!
I am here to talk about the role of state and local government as problem-solvers, making measurable and meaningful change that lifts everyone up. We have entered an era of thinking about never-tried before solutions and that’s important in this era of overlapping crises that include an ever-changing pandemic and disruptions to healthcare, education and employment. This is not the time to simply tinker around the edges of our biggest inter-connected challenges. There now exists a movement of innovators and change agents, in both the public and private sectors, committed to thinking as big as one can to ensure 100% of our children and families can thrive.
The courage to face challenges
Ignoring challenges has gotten this nation to where it is today, a place where a confused and frustrated public is unsure of where the country is going. How can anyone know what’s really going on when a million websites, news programs and robocalls are all tell us different things about our health risks, our capacity to run schools safely and our job security. The good old pre-internet days almost sound good.
While there are thousands of problems to solve, we believe we are best off starting with the basics that focus on surviving the week in unstable times. We start solving our biggest social challenges by asking one simple question:
How we answer that question is to ask parents across our counties if they can or can’t get to medical care or behavioral health care, along with eight other vital services. We learn, from our 100% County survey, just how challenging it can be to access the services that make raising kids easier. In addition to assessing service barriers within a county, we also take a close look at both historical challenges and recent ones like the pandemic.
Consider these six questions that focus on quality of life:
- To what degree is healthcare out of each reach for residents in some counties, along with a healthcare provider shortage (greatly exacerbated by COVID)?
- To what degree are there underperforming students in under-resourced public schools, along with a teacher shortage?
- To what degree is there a lack of transportation in rural and urban areas that mean car-free residents can’t access vital services (including testing, vaccines and treatment)?
- To what degree do our children endure adverse childhood experiences, abuse, neglect and trauma that overwhelm child welfare, which also faces worker shortages?
- What percentage of our parents, including mothers of newborns, live in an unstable home where household members endure food insecurity, substance use disorders. untreated mental health challenges and interpersonal violence.
- What percentage of our students are concerned that their education might not align with future job markets, causing anxiety, depression and hopelessness?
Seeking answers leads to innovative solutions
Each of these six problems referenced above were all firmly in place before and when viewed through the lens of the pandemic, can today appear impossible to fix. That word “impossible” is what keeps all of us in New Mexico (and every other state with equally moritifying problems) in an unsustainable and hopeless status quo. Am I saying, “All problems have easy answers?” Not at all. I am saying, let’s create the public space to allow for impossible ideas to be discussed, debated and researched for potential return on investment. Let us allow innovators to pitch never-tried before solutions in our capital, county commissioner meeting rooms and city halls.
We each face a daily torrent of distracting and disempowering voices streaming in from Washington, DC and around the world. Talking heads on social media offer the crisis of the day and there is no plan to move us forward in sight. We need to shut out the clutter to empower outside-the-box thinkers and problem-solvers. Now is our time to innovate our way out of the chaos and insecurity we’re in. We know how to begin.
100% means every family can access vital services
Our 100% New Mexico initiative, now being implemented in 12 New Mexico counties, is focused on looking at the problems we face and identifying solutions. For initiative members, called 100%ers, we are futurists who see the glass half full and have a vision of New Mexico where every child, along with all their neighbors, can thrive. We are turning the science of innovation into real world solutions. What this means, on the practical community level, is that county stakeholders are asking, “How do we ensure all county residents have access to medical care?” and “What are the barriers and ways to remove them?” What they don’t say is, “It’s too big a problem to even think about.”
A point that needs to be made is that while billions of federal dollars may be available to “build back,” we must work to ensure that all 33 of New Mexico’s counties have the innovative thinkers and grant writers to apply for funding. We want every city to be able to access much-needed infrastructure-building funds.
Our 100%ers across New Mexico are working today to build a future that empowers every family, grows the work forces of healthcare, education and social work, and supports entrepreneurial thinking throughout the public and private sector. Amid hundreds of community projects focuses on increasing service access three are the centerpiece of our initiative:
- Creating a 100% Family Services Center: A one-stop hub for access to ten vital services for surviving and thriving
- Transforming schools into fully-resourced community school with health centers that work in alignment with local medical and mental healthcare providers
- Ending the digital divide so that every household can access web-based services and education
Nothing is impossible from our point of view, including ensuring that ten vital services are accessible to 100% of families in their community, at their schools, at accessible family centers, or online. In this phase of chaos, this is no time for closed minds and small-mindedness. The era of radical innovation, thinking bigger and bolder than ever before, has arrived to make every child’s health, safety and education a priority.