Organizations evolve. Communities evolve. And the willingness to embrace that evolution can represent either the death or life of a community or organization.

For those communities and organizations that chose to embrace evolution, they must also embrace the process.

The first step is formation – coming together to create a vision and mission. This is where energy and enthusiasm for the future begins.

The second step is the storming stage. Here, we come to realize that while we may have outlined common goals in step one, we may not all share the same ideas about how to achieve those goals. This leads to discussion, debate and examination. The organizations and communities that survive this second stage are the ones who figure out that compromise is the foundation of strength. They understand that multiple paths to the same common goal are not in and of themselves detrimental to the health of the organization and community. Storming through disagreements can also open us up to meeting different people from different walks of life with different priorities. These differences can add spice and life to the process and, ultimately, to the organization or community.

Then, after a series of epiphanies, the leadership understands that it is possible to agree to disagree while maintaining a normalcy within the group. That’s where step three comes in – normalizing as those invested in the process grow accustomed to others’ peccadillos and might even recognize that they themselves have a few. This is when the really tough work begins.

Step four is where concrete, achievable goals are established that will transform the community. This requires patience, mainly because most organizations and communities are not self-contained, meaning they require outside participation. Outside participation leads to new partnerships, a new evolution and possibly going through the same four steps again. But, this time, the organization is stronger. Participants have learned to keep their differences of opinions within the organization, they are better able to negotiate, their goals are crisp and they know what they need to succeed. They understand their neighbors are their strength and, although they may disagree, they know where the common ground lies and are willing to walk together on that ground.

Strong organizations and communities who understand that their evolution is a natural process embrace transparency and are constantly welcoming new people into the fold even though they know that transparency and open-door policies may lead to a revisiting one or more of the four steps of organizational growth.

I am happy to say that over the past 12 months, the Southwest Partnership has been in constant motion. We are evolving. We are learning to respect our neighbors even when there is a difference of opinion. We have a clear Vision Statement against which we measure decisions. We have committees who open their doors to all citizens and leaders who are willing to get their hands dirty because they know they have to take the first step to effect change. We may complain about the neglect that has been the status quo for too long but then we turn right around and do something about it.

In 20 years, it is my guess that urban sociologists and planners will be arriving in Southwest Baltimore to study how to effectively and compassionately build strong communities that are diverse with a high quality of life standard. Thank you all for being a part of this great evolution.