What a year! Some of you are master planners, but I’m sure no one predicted the craziness that has been 2020 so far.
While we couldn’t plan for this year, and the impacts have challenged us in many ways, hopefully we have adapted, changed lanes and gears, and moved forward to serve our members and communities. I have been proud of the examples I’ve seen of chambers refocusing tactics while staying focused on mission.
Several of you have shared stories of facing challenges directly, taking deep breaths, gathering your teams, and accepting the “if not now, then maybe never” challenge of proving your chamber is an essential leader in creating community vitality.
One of the challenges we maybe should have seen coming is the intense focus on racial inequity and social justice that has been brought to our streets, living rooms and board rooms. All segments of our community are struggling to understand how they should respond and change to not just meet the moment, but truly move toward communities where prosperity and dignity accrue to all.
W.A.C.E. has been calling chambers to be (or become) Catalysts, Conveners, and Champions for the last several years. Chambers that embrace these roles and have done the work to be credible are well-positioned to be important and valued voices in these discussions.
That doesn’t mean we have the answers, or own the responsibility to implement all the solutions. It does mean we need to get involved and do something.
What We’re Thinking
As I think about how the Santa Maria Valley Chamber moves forward in this space, I’ve looked to peers around the country for examples and inspiration. I’ve also started reaching out to leaders outside our industry to seek insight about how we are perceived and where we can be impactful. I certainly don’t have it fully figured out yet, but here are some things we’re thinking about now:
• Start at home. Our team, like our community, is diverse and team members have different life experiences and perspectives. It’s important that whatever path we go down starts with them knowing we value them as individuals and are willing to consider their input.
• Expand our network. While we continue to look to our volunteer leaders as guides, it’s important we also begin dialogs with organizations and individuals we don’t speak or work with as much. We need new relationships and need to prove we can be trusted partners.
• Take risks. This is where things may really get uncomfortable. If we’re honest, we will likely see push-back among some of our members as we engage in new relationships and commit to work that isn’t the “norm” for our chamber. As leaders, we need the courage to go first, to push people (including ourselves) out of their comfort zones, and to put ourselves and our organizations in new or uncomfortable situations, because it’s the right thing to do.
There are many examples of chambers that are already doing amazing work in this space. Many in our industry have begun to share strategies and tactics.
Ultimately, the right approach for your chamber will be unique to your community. Our challenge today is to get started, be open and honest, and move forward.
One last word from me on this … as you step forward yet again as a community leader, be the example of how it should be done. Engage with civility; give people the benefit of the doubt; focus on the long game and not the heat of the moment.
One of you recently said something to the effect of “Chambers were built for moments like these.” Let’s demonstrate that our chambers are worthy of that truth.
Glenn Morris, ACE, is chairman of the board of W.A.C.E. and president/CEO of the Santa Maria Valley (CA) Chamber.