Remembering the Shift Akron Experience

On May 7, 2019, Leadership Akron along with Torchbearers held an interactive workshop designed to include local leaders in discussions surrounding change in Akron over the next decade. Torchbearers that were on the planning committee were Vish Bhatt (Co-Chair) and Andre Campbell. As a follow up, we sat down with Torchbearers events co-chair, Alicia Robinson (2017 member) to talk about her experience as a discussion facilitator at the event.

So Alicia, what was the Shift Akron event like for you?
It was an amazing experience, I got to serve as a facilitator for the event, which focused our discussion around community building in the Akron area. We received training on facilitating dialogue around a variety of topics, including diversity. As an emerging professional, I appreciated meeting with key leaders in the community and forming new connections with them. It was also a great opportunity to have time to discuss the big questions like: what could we do to make Akron a better place? At the end of the session  we were able to report out on the ideas we generated and then we shaped these ideas into realistic action items to take back and implement within our own organizations.

What were some of the ideas that arose when those big questions were asked?
People talked about having better representation from diverse perspectives and thought. There was also a call for balance between increasing training for supervisors, that manage people with varying identities, without making it mandated. At my table, we had an interesting conversation around the role nonprofits play in shaping community change. We also came to the conclusion that corporations should support the community through funding of successful nonprofit solutions. We saw this cycle of investment as a win-win-win: an empowered community results in empowered employees and customers, which allows businesses get better and further invest in the development of communities they serve.

What were some tools you will take away?
We were able to do a SOAR analysis. This is similar to a SWOT assessment, but the focus is on strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results. This changes the dynamic of the conversation to focus on big dreams and a wide vision. While going through this process our discussion evolved towards equity and access and how it all starts with education. We realized there is a need to have consistency across the types of education we’re giving.

When we look at the different academic scorecards, from Hudson, to Aurora, to Akron Public Schools, there are big differences in the way students are performing. All of these discrepancies lead to deeper issues in development down the line of an emerging adult. It becomes clear that the quality of your elementary school, middle school, high school education leads into what type of college and/or post-secondary opportunities you have, which leads into the job opportunities that you have. So career development really starts a lot earlier than a college degree. It definitely is a bigger conversation to have so we can ensure we strengthen our pipelines to economic enrichment for all.

Who was an inspiring member that you got to meet?
Robert DeJournett. I originally met him through Eric Chojanciki through Torchbearers and we spoke briefly on the phone, but we met face-to-face as facilitator training partners. He is the Vice President of Opportunity and Inclusion at the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce. He showed the confidence of a leader and a person who was really passionate about Akron.

What is one change you hope to see as an outcome of this event?
I hope to see us come back together and creation specific bite-sized initiatives with deliverables that can be launched in the Akron community that impact change. I would love to see how the actual actions come into play.