The Admiral Center ‘Catalyst’ Convening brought together celebrities and leaders from sports entities like the NBA and the NCAA and private sector brands including NIKE, ESPN and Coca Cola for a conversation about improving outcomes for men of color.

As regular readers of the Living Cities blog know, the organization believes very strongly in the need for problem-solving networks—creating ‘ one table’ at which diverse groups of leaders can combine resources, knowledge, and influence to drive social change.

The Admiral Center, an initiative of Living Cities, helps athletes and celebrities use their resources and influence to accelerate sustainable and impactful solutions to our nation’s most pressing social problems. As Living Cities has become increasingly focused on expanding its reach through a strategic communications strategy aimed at accelerating innovation through the exchange of ideas in real time, we too have started to think about how our work can catalyze broader change, beyond that which our individual members can effect on their own. While our thinking around this is still evolving, it has been greatly informed by our first Admiral Center ‘Catalyst’ Convening that was held in New Orleans during the Final Four and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This gathering, hosted by Maverick Carter, Lebron James’s business partner, brought together celebrities and leaders from sports entities like the NBA and the NCAA and private sector brands including NIKE, ESPN and Coca Cola for a conversation about improving outcomes for men of color.

Some key ideas that emerged from the thoughtful and engaging discussion that ensued are outlined below:

  1. As light was shed on the underlying problems, these ‘unusual bedfellows’ quickly grasped the need for scale, and also understood the importance of connecting to individual people

Celebrities have an ability both to connect to individual people and to inspire ‘the masses’. This unique positioning presents possibilities for getting to scale while also bridging the gap between individual people and the institutions who care about issues.

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  1. The timeframe needed for ‘real change’ is challenging, but having clear goals and indicators for success can help

I am a business guy”, asserted one of the attendees, “When I start a business, I know that I am going to see results in 14-18 months. How long should I expect to see results in philanthropy?” This question was a clear reminder of the need for philanthropy to get better at articulating goals, indicators for success, and desired outcomes.

  1. Who is responsible for translation?

As we discussed the issues further, the need for creating a new frame for how men of color are perceived and how they perceive themselves kept coming up. One guest asked, “Who is responsible for translating the things that philanthropy is learning and sharing it with the world?” It was really clear that effectively engaging groups like this around major issues could considerable accelerate the efforts of philanthropy by demystifying and sharing new models of change in the communities that we care about and helping to “rebrand” negative images of vulnerable populations more broadly.

  1. Philanthropy can too often talk to itself, and there is a need for new voices in the conversation about old problems

As one of the brand executives present remarked, after hearing comments from foundation executives working on initiatives around men of color, “How is it possible that you guys are doing all of this work, and I have never heard of it?” _One of the foundation representatives responded, _“Because we like to talk to ourselves”, emphasizing the need to include new and diverse voices in the conversation.

As the evening drew to a close, two hours after the scheduled time, the energy that had been created lingered: several people asked about when and where the next convening would be. As we strategize for next steps, I am inspired by the insights shared here, and am very much looking forward to creating a space for these powerful ‘new voices’ to engage in philanthropy.

To see more photos from the event please click here.