In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Scott Kratz, Vice President of Building Bridges Across The River, talks about how the pandemic crisis accelerated his organization's focus on partnering to better serve the community. Antifragile leadership in action.
The crisis as a moment for antifragility and antifragile leadership
How Building Bridges adjusted to serve the immediate needs of the community post-crisis
Building Bridges collaboration with other organizations to have a greater impact
Building a strong team culture through trust
Also mentioned in this episode:
George Jones of Bread for the city
Dionne Reeder of the Far Southeast Families Strengthening and Collaborative
Connect with Scott Kratz:
Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:
More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Mahan Tavakoli: Welcome to Partnering Leadership. In addition to the conversations that I have on Tuesdays with regional changemakers and global thought leaders, the first Thursday of every month, I do leadership insights.
Now, there was such a tremendous response to last month's antifragile leadership, that I decided to reach out to some brilliant leaders that are using this opportunity to become even more impactful, even more antifragile. As you recall, anti fragility is becoming better as a result of breakage. There are fragile systems, like a glass cups, pressure breaks them. There are robust systems like a metal cup. Pressure doesn't break the metal cup, but it doesn't make it better. There are resilient systems like a rubber band, you stretch it, it goes back to its previous shape. But antifragility which was introduced first by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, at least Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the first person to put a term to the concept, is systems that become better as a result of breakage.
Same as the human immune system or muscles. There is breakage, there is tear down, but they become stronger. There are leaders, there are organizations that are using the current crisis to become better and become more impactful. Which is why I'm thrilled this month to have a conversation with Scott Kratz from Building Bridges Across The River, on how they have adjusted to this current crisis.
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Now here is my conversation on anti fragility and anti fragile leadership with Scott Kratz.
Mahan Tavakoli: Scott Kratz, welcome to Partnering Leadership.
Scott Kratz: Thank you. Great to be here.
Mahan Tavakoli: Scott, I love the story of what building bridges has done over the past few months. So why don't you tell our audience a little bit before what the organization is all about before we get to the anti-fragility that you and other organizations in the area have shown with respect to the crisis that we're facing?
Scott Kratz: Sure. Building Bridges is a nonprofit based east of the river here in Washington DC based in Ward 8. And we run a 203,000 square foot campus in Congress Heights. We run six urban farms all in Southeast DC. We run the skyline Workforce Development Center, and then we lead a larger effort that I'm running called the 11th Street Bridge Park, a project in the district government to transform an old freeway into a park over the Anacostia River.
Mahan Tavakoli: So seven, eight months ago, we got hit with a pandemic, which has had many consequences across the world, across many communities, most specifically, communities of color. How have you all as an organization adjusted and how did you adjust to this?
Scott Kratz: Yes. Building on your point on the pandemic has exacerbated existing health and income inequalities in our community. We've seen in Ward 8, the highest rates of infection, the highest mortality rates, highest job loss. As many of the folks in this community in Ward 8 work on the front lines, they can't do work from home like many other people can, and therefore have a greater susceptibility to COVID.
So when COVID was first hitting, to be honest, I think like so many other people, we thought, well, okay, this is gonna last a few weeks, maybe a month, and then we'll get back to whatever normal is. And I don't think anybody or at least I wasn't smart enough to realize that this was going to be a seven or eight month issue. But it became really evident pretty quickly that this was going to be more than just a couple of weeks. This was having a disastrous impact on the community. So we pivoted to see what we can do to serve the immediate needs of the community.
And we did two things. One, when the school shut down, that was a real sign and a real need for the community because almost all of the schools in Ward 8 or Title One, which means that the kids and students rely on getting two meals a day for free there. So there was a huge need for food access. And this is particularly an award that has one grocery store serving 80,000 residents. So we immediately partnered with several other nonprofits, DC Central Kitchen, Martha's table, World Central Kitchen, to transform our campus here in southeast DC into a food hub. So we started handing out free lunches, the free bags of groceries. To date, we've served over 40,000 meals, and the two completely free of charge through working with larger partnerships that now have expanded to include the arc as a site for food distribution with the National Capital Area Food Bank.
In addition to that, though, we saw that there was a greater need. We saw the rapid job loss. We saw a community that was already facing pressures of displacement, the intensification and rising rents where people didn't have an income coming in anymore. So we did what we've done from the beginning, is how do we marshall larger resources and partner with other high performing nonprofits in Ward 8 to make a larger impact.
How do we leverage our individual assets to make a much bigger mark in the city. And interestingly, pre pandemic, we were already meeting with three other nonprofits, Martha's table, Bread for the City, and Far Southeast Families Strengthening and Collaborative, to see where we could work together where there was alignment more about anti displacement strategies. Then the pandemic hit and I called up all of these executive directors and said, “Hey, if you need to focus on your organization because of the panicky time we're in, I totally get it. But I do think this is a great time that we can connect, make a bigger impact”, and every single executive director said, absolutely.
So in a weird way, the pandemic was the catalyst for us to come together and work. I think if there wasn't COVID, we would have talked about this, and we would have scheduled meetings and those meetings would have got cancelled, and perhaps we would have worked together, perhaps not. But there was the urgency of now.
So we quickly pulled together and pulled together a short description of meeting the needs of the community, and that was a few three key deliverables. One was cash, financial assistance, particularly for families who'd lost their jobs. Two was access to food. Three was the air and connected access to the food was dry goods. So cleaners, toilet paper, hide whatever. And finally, being a larger navigator to connect with eight residents to larger resources. Whether that's signing up for unemployment insurance, or whether that's what happened to my stimulus check, or connecting the mental health services.
And I should say we were all so impressed by Martha's table, started some of this work right out of the gate. They recognize that some of the young parents that they were working with, had this immediate need, and they started putting cash out the door without any fundraising, without and this is a time of real unease and panic, and they use their resources to push it out the door immediately. And so we said we were also inspired by that work. We said, how can we work together to expand this to an even larger community of work?
Mahan Tavakoli: That is absolutely inspiring, Scott, I love hearing it. So in addition to the fact that it brought all of you together faster to respond to this urgent need, how has this crisis made your organization and the collaboration of these organizations better, more robust, stronger?
Scott Kratz: Yes. I think in particular, the collaboration with these other nonprofits, I mean, I've known the leaders of these other nonprofits for a while. I've got personal relationships with George Jones of Bread for the city and Dionne Reeder of the Far Southeast, and getting to know them, but it's brought us so much closer. I can't tell you the number of phone calls over the weekend late at night, as we're trying to build the plane as we're flying it.
We had to be really adaptable because we didn't get everything right. There were a lot of hiccups along the way, this is really complicated. How do we make sure that we're not doing inadvertent damage to these families by trying to do good. And by that I mean, by providing access to cash and finances, there was some potential of endangering local and federal government benefits, Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, so forth. And these are things that we had to really figure out, and there was a real trial by fire for us.
And I think, because there was that existing trust, because there was that existing relationship, we were able to sort of push through that. But what's really interesting is that the relationship that we had on that executive level has now filtered down to the rest of the staff. On a weekly basis, the staff from each of the four different organizations have a meeting, we've got an hour call every Thursday, we're gonna have one tomorrow to troubleshoot, to share what went right, to share anecdotes of how this, and this is not an insignificant amount of money, it's 50 $500 per family, the plus weekly groceries plus monthly dry goods, so it's significant. So to buck each other up, where the trust now has permeated the entire staff. So I think it's drawn all of us together as a larger sort of organism, if you will. And I think what it's starting to do, or what it has done is part of the challenge of how we serve communities is often were broken down on this silos. Were broken down into a silo of food service, or legal aid, or the arts and culture. And each one of these nonprofits has a core strength that we've been able to lean on, and pulling those core strengths together right on the starting to break down those silos. Because we're, we found that we were often serving the same families, but in a very disjointed way, and not a coordinated way. And now it's much more coordinated.
So I think longer term, we're already starting to think about what's next? What we call this larger partnership, Thrive East of the River. And we're already trying to think of what strike 2.0 is, right. What's the next way that we can serve a community because we have a deep well of trust that we've built up with the executives and with the rest of the team.
Mahan Tavakoli: What a beautiful example of anti fragility Scott crisis that no one wanted. But you have taken advantage of the opportunities provided to become even more effective in serving the community and a community at the greatest need. I love that article that you wrote for bookings. And you ended by saying, we are going to ensure that residents don't just survive this crisis, but thrive.
Scott Kratz: Yes. And in addition to that, it's really fascinating because we're just starting to connect these, we've raised enough funds, right. Now we've raised, in a short amount of time, in about five, six months, about three and a little more than three and a half million dollars. So huge kudos to the individuals, corporations and foundations who've been able to support this work. And that's a lot of money and a time of tremendous unease. And I think there's no way any of us individually could have done that. We could only do that by working together.
But today, we've been able to, I just got the numbers a couple days ago, we've distributed over $1.6 million directly in the hands of families. And that's great. And that's really fantastic. But I think one of the things that also really excited funders about this is we built in a robust third party evaluation for this.
So how do we make sure that we're not just holding on to the lessons learned, but we're deliberately and intentionally sharing these lessons learned with the larger population. Municipalities are already facing the issues of emergencies, and this is an example of a place based solution that hopefully can inspire, and more importantly, we can push them up the learning curve. So we're not all collectively making the same mistakes in Oakland, and Dallas, and in San Francisco.
And we should be, right? We're the nation's capital. I mean, we often say that we should be the template of how things work, and sometimes that is successful, and sometimes not so much. But I think this is an example where DC can really be a leader, and this is something I think we can all collectively be proud of.
Mahan Tavakoli: Well, thank you, Scott, for your leadership and impactful leadership in the community and sharing this story with the Partnering Leadership community also. Thank you, Scott Kratz.
Scott Kratz: My pleasure. Thank you so much.
You've been listening to partnering leadership with your host Mohan Tavakoli. For additional leadership insights and bonus content, visit us at partnering leadership.com