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Innovative Solutions to Intractable Problems – Planning a Future We Can Aspire To, Together

By DAVID JENNINGS, UNITED WAY OF SUMMIT COUNTY BOARD MEMBER, AND DIRECTOR OF THE AKRON-SUMMIT COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY

My first exposure to United Way was in 1977, when I was hired, just out of college, to be a social worker at the Children’s Services Board. As I leafed through the United Way pamphlet they had given me, I was struck by its message – that if if we dream big and work hard together for the common good, we can build a better future for each other.

In Akron, we take pride in our spirit of collaboration and hard work. And most importantly, we aspire together, as a community.

Yet despite our collective efforts over the years, our community faces many issues that stubbornly resist change. Too many children start kindergarten without the preparation they need to succeed. Too many people suffer from chronic illness. Too many families are trapped in poverty, with little hope for escape.

Intractable problems call for innovative solutions. If the obstacles that keep our community from thriving refuse to change, then we must come together to find new strategies for overcoming them.

That is why, in 2016, United Way of Summit County set out on a new path in pursuit of increasing its impact and effectiveness across the community. Following the lead of several innovative United Ways in Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, and Nashville, our local United Way has already made significant progress, and there is still more to come.

As a United Way of Summit County board member, over the years, I have witnessed firsthand the willingness of United Way’s volunteer leadership, staff and community partners to examine its work in the community with clear eyes and minds open to change. As chair of United Way’s Community Impact Task Force – which is working to integrate the fund-raising and community impact sides of the organization – that openness to change is crucial to our task.

Rather than continuing to fund agencies based on history or habit, our task force will identify the best opportunities for investment that will result in lasting, measurable impact on people’s lives. We are now in the process of having in-depth discussions with over 400 different stakeholders from throughout our community – from civic, corporate and neighborhood leaders to agency leaders and active members of the philanthropic community. Together, we are identifying key areas of concern and exploring new opportunities to build synergy between existing community agendas.

We will look beyond outdated assumptions, and instead listen to the needs of the people in our community. By next spring, we will develop a series of Bold Goals, to guide us as we work towards a better, more prosperous Summit County.

We will announce these Bold Goals at United Way’s Annual Meeting on April 25. They will be our stake in the ground as we push for more focused and effective impact across Summit County. More importantly, these goals will serve as unambiguous benchmarks, enabling us at United Way to report our progress to our donors, volunteers and the community at large through meaningful, measurable results.

Time, and many discussions, will ultimately reveal what those Bold Goals will be. What we can say now is that they will represent shared priorities and a future that we, as Akronites, can aspire to together.

Learn more about United Way and how it is working towards a better future for Akron and Summit County at uwsummit.org.