SparksPeople ask me why the “Spark” in Spark Policy Institute on a regular basis. The answer, in short, is that change has to be triggered – there has to be that moment where inspiration meets commitment. As I’ve delved deeper into causing change through cross-sector partnerships, I am increasingly aware of the importance of that SPARK.

In a meeting with Jennifer Bradley from the Brookings Institute, she boldly stated that change doesn’t happen just because of a visionary leader and that it’s time to stop waiting around for that leader to show up. I couldn’t agree more. There are so many things that will SPARK a change for the better – we just need to be ready to act.

  • Sometimes the SPARK is the intensity of the need, such as the hunger issues arising from the great recession, leading the Denver Foundation and its cross-sector partners to look for a new way to meet Denver’s hunger needs.  That spark led to Hunger Free Colorado.
  • Sometimes the SPARK is a mandate, such as the Affordable Care Act. When the ACA passed, new organizations were formed at the state and local level to help implement and to ensure the consumer voice was part of the process.  At the same time, many existing organizations shifted their work to dive deep into advocating for successful implementation. Collectively, these groups moved the needle on access to health coverage and care.
  • Sometimes the SPARK is the resources that are available. The White House’s initiative known as the Social Innovation Fund has a new strategy for funding and scaling change: they are investing significant resources into non-profits like Year Up, giving them the funding to spark growth not only into new cities and with new partners, but also in thinking about how to better serve the youth who need them the most.
  • Sometimes the SPARK IS the visionary leader, but often that leader is backed up by a team of incredible people with deep passion. Dr. Carl Clark at the Mental Health Center of Denver has led his organization into the future, pioneering a Recovery model that has been recognized nationally for its exceptional outcomes. But he wouldn’t have accomplished this without the team he assembled, composed of passionate, smart people who thought about how to build public will for mental health, how to engage communities and youth in understanding mental health, and how to drive systemic change to make services more accessible for those most in need.

These are all ways to spark change, but here’s what I think the real SPARK is:Circle

Sparks-psd46817It’s when these different factors come together and bring people across different sectors and communities together.

Sparks-psd46817It’s when necessity meets an influx of resources of any type and a leader and team of people decide they are ready to act.

Sparks-psd46817It’s when a new mandate is a game-changer and the stakeholders decide to treat it as an opportunity, not a problem.

Sparks-psd46817It’s when an influx of new resources are directly related to an intense need and the stakeholders come together to make decisions instead of competing with each other for the resources.

Sparks-psd46817It’s any combination that creates sufficient motivation to cause people to commit to the change.

As someone always committed to being an agent for change, I’m going to keep my eyes open for these convergences and add whatever element is needed to move from a SPARK to an inferno of innovation, passion, commitment and change for the better.