Why Dallas? I got this question a lot recently while down in Nicaragua.
I wasn’t there to learn about the local culture, see amazing sights, or finally learn how to surf (although I did all three), but rather to participate in a venture development program in a community of 24 selected world changers.
The program, cleverly titled the Global Social Impact House, is run by University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy as a one-week immersive experience focused on bringing together people from all over the world who share a common goal — to make the world a better place through innovation.
To say that the experience was transformative would be an understatement.
I got to break bread next to Guy, a South African activist responsible for bringing together the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. I built a deep bond with Matan, a visionary from Israel who invents devices to empower individuals with disabilities to make music. I grabbed a beer with Angela, a fashionista combining design with purpose — you may have seen her TED talk showing off her jacket for refugees that also functions as a tent.
Oh, and I performed a lip sync rendition of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys alongside Tia, a PhD from England who is working to develop the Replenish Index, a per capita measurement of both positive and negative impact on the environment that can be calculated for entire nations.
What if we weren’t just a city that supports winners, but also builds them?
Beyond a few cowboy stereotypes and my overuse of the word “y’all,” these global change-makers, assembled at a surf resort in Popoyo, Nicaragua, didn’t know much about our city. Most importantly, they hadn’t yet heard Dallas mentioned as part of these global solution conversations.
Just for the record, here’s how I feel about Big D. I’ve simply fallen in love with this city, its friendly people, its vast resources, and its growing diversity.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Yankee from the northeast who has had my fair share of ups and downs with Dallas, especially when I chose not to return to Chicago after graduating from SMU. For a while all I really knew was the more material side of the city, leading me to ask, “Is this all that Dallas is?”
But five years later, I’ve explored much more of what Dallas has to offer and couldn’t imagine a better place for myself or our social impact venture, Good Returns. And I’m not alone. A lot of businesses and people are flocking to this city and the Dallas Regional Chamber does a pretty good job of explaining why.
UNLOCKING THE CITY’S SOCIAL IMPACT POTENTIAL
I remain adamant, however, that this city isn’t fully aware of its potential, especially in the realm of global social impact. We know that Dallas has always supported a winner — take a look at the Rangers, Mavericks, and Cowboys. We love a winner. But what if we weren’t just a city that supports winners, but also builds them? What if Dallas helped redefine what it means to be a winner — and included global social impact in this calculation?
During the program in Nicaragua, I had the absolute honor of living alongside people who I consider true winners, individuals who have dedicated their lives to create solutions not just for themselves or their local communities, but for the entire world.
The week gave me space to distill what I’ve come to believe for quite some time now. I firmly believe we need to enter a new era, an era that doesn’t live by the motto “By Us For Us,” but rather “By Us For All.” We build our businesses, our airports, our academic institutions, and even our sports teams to go global — why not our social impact organizations?
I firmly believe we need to enter a new era, an era that doesn’t live by the motto ‘By Us For Us,’ but rather ‘By Us For All.’
Our city was built by folks that didn’t just wait for a seat at the table, they made their own seat. It’s time our impact organizations do the same and firmly cement Dallas as a recognizable name in the global conversation of developing innovations for all of humanity and not just our backyard.
As the week drew to a close, every fellow had to declare a commitment for a year from now. My commitment: by May 2018, I will help Dallas make a name for itself in the conversation for global impact. It is a bold commitment, and certainly one I can’t accomplish alone, but I believe in our city.
We are going to be a “winning” city for impact. A city that functions for the benefit of all, not just for us. And you know what? That amazing group of change makers believes in us too, and their question is no longer “Why Dallas” but rather “When, Dallas?”
So, now it’s my turn to ask the question. When, Dallas? The world is waiting.
Photos: Courtesy of Eva Cruz Photography