ComNetwork Gumbo

Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Communications Network Fall 2013 Annual Conference conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by  Chris Wolz, President/CEO at Forum One Communications.  Follow Chris on Twitter – @cwolz.

Chris Wolz“So, what’s gumbo?” Nam-ho Park asked when the steaming bowl was put in front of him the night before the conference. I was a little stunned that my colleague, a certified world traveler, was a gumbo newbie!  So I gave him my best explanation of the good things that can go into a gumbo, the importance of okra, how to make a roux, etc. He ate it and really enjoyed it. (We then moved on to the crawfish etouffee, which required another explanation.)

I’ve been thinking about what went into the “gumbo” that was the Communications Network conference this year?  What were the juicy morsels that I’ll remember, and tell others about?

First, the rich roux that bound the whole event together was, as always, the fascinating hallway and dinner table conversations.  The network is a collection of bright and passionate people who (let’s admit) really love to talk!

Next, I’ll remember a lot of what author David Simon had to say, such as his brutally frank comment that:

“Until we build some other kind of America, this (i.e. NGO and foundation work) is just triage.”

He said this after saying how the economy in the US simply did not need the volume of workers it once needed, but we’ve not filled the gap with anything else.  He spoke of the despair that he saw on street corners in Baltimore, where drug hustling was often the most dependable employment.

I also enjoyed Simon’s sentimental comments about his home New Orleans – saying, even if New Orleans were whipped off the map today, it would have already made a huge contribution to the world – the gift of African-American jazz music.  I loved being there – and on Thursday night in about three hours heard three good jazz groups, for the low price of three drinks.

Junot Diaz warmed my heart when he spoke about the importance of writing, and about his passion for teaching writing. He said, “it is in writing that people think their most complex thoughts”, and also that he taught writing at MIT not to find the next Melville, because “everybody should write!”

I also enjoyed his comment about how the older we get, the more “we let our complexities show.” Some of us let ‘em hang out all over the place.

I missed, but heard a lot about Beth Kanter’s session on capacity building and training of nonprofits. I followed the many tweets of her comment that the goal in training should be to be more the “guide on the side” than “sage on a stage.”

There was a lot of talk about the continuing downward spiral of the newspaper industry, which I know is poignant for the many former journalists in the Communications Network. It’s also rather old news. I’d like to hear more talking about the exciting things the Knight Foundation is doing to push innovation in the media and news sectors. I’m a big fan of their work.

A session tagged #BluePrint14 featuring Lucy Bernholz and others got a lot of attention, discussing the likely trends in the NGO and foundation sector in 2014. Lucy is working on pulling together her predictions, as she has in prior years, and I’ll be watching her tweets for the update.

Finally, it was wonderful to be in New Orleans, my first time!  I enjoyed a lot of conversations about the culture and development of the town, post Katrina. I saw and heard a lot of optimism – for example this great work to improve the health of the community – recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in its “Roadmaps to Health” prizes. See this video.

You’ll see how much I referred to tweets by people from the conference. I think one of the best uses of Twitter is to track interesting comments when at a conference, and also to refer to when trying to write a recap ;-)  Here’s a link to see the tweets from the conference with the #ComNetwork13 “hashtag”.

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