Blog is moving to updated Minds On Fire website!

Excited to announce the launch of Minds On Fire’s new website, which now hosts this blog. If you subscribe to posts by email, you will able to do the same with the new blog. If you follow me on your WP Reader, the good people at WP will move your subscriptions over shortly.

I’ve greatly appreciated your readership here and hope you will join me (and my Emerging Leaders!) in our new home.

While you’re at it, check out our new YouTube channel! My Emerging Leaders and I are chatting self care for social entrepreneurs and youth-serving professionals. I am so proud of their dedication to their health and wellness.

ladamski gets her own blog! (and the state of this blog)

Minds On Fire’s very first guest blogger, Lindsay Adamski, is moving up in the blogging world. She’s set up shop here, where she writes about child welfare policy, strategies for working with youth in foster care, and other ideas coming from feminism, sociology, and whatever else is on her long reading list. Lindsay is passionate and insightful, and if you’ve read her posts here, you already know that she has a lively writing style.

As for my own blog posts…I’ve been writing a couple of them in my head. It isn’t February yet, but so far 2014 has been a whirlwind and I’m realizing that I need to be managing my time differently and taking better care of myself. I’m not leaving myself enough quiet, quality time to write, and frankly, it’s bumming me out. I’m completely spent by the time I get home from the office, and barely have it in me to get dinner together, much less write something thoughtful. I’ve loaded too much on my plate this spring and need to scale back. It’s not helping that the extreme cold has been messing with my exercise routine.

Upcoming (a trick for holding myself accountable):

1. Child welfare policy trends vs. life on the front lines / what it means to incorporate “youth voice”

2. Never mind vulnerability. Let’s talk discomfort and letting go of shame.

3. Also, my continuing discussion with resident devil’s advocate, Steph Cowling, on the idea of pushing our young people toward “purposeful work.”

Guest posts from Steph and new guest blogger are still in the pipeline.

My #emergingleaders inspire me

Most people who work outside the field of child welfare tend to assume that my work is dispiriting. They hear the words “foster care” and immediately think “at-risk youth,” a loaded term that conjures only negative images. They imagine that I am out every day fighting the good fight, doing charitable work for the needy. The truth is I have the best job in all of New York City. I have the best job for a whole host of reasons: terrific colleagues, flexible work hours, and a varied work week that keeps me engaged, whether I am deep in research or out in meetings. But above all, I have the best job in NYC because I am surrounded by young people who are at a stage in life where they are all trying to figure out who they are, who they want to become, and where their place is in the world. It’s fascinating.

I work most closely with my emerging leaders—young people on a mission to revolutionize child welfare and other fields of human services. They are working to connect their values, strengths, and passions to embark on careers that will sustain them financially and emotionally while improving the lives of others. Watching them go through this process is inspiring. But what is most touching about my emerging leaders is they way they all throw themselves so fully into their transitions. Aristotle would surely approve of their zealous pursuit of the good life.

How many of us would and could be productive, for example, in precarious housing situations? Sure, some of us worked jobs while going to school, but how many of us also had to navigate complex bureaucracies whose stated missions seem to contradict our daily experience of them? 

My window into the lives of my emerging leaders and other young adults who have transitioned from foster care offers me a profound and daily reminder of the strength and the goodness of the human spirit. 

News and goodies: Blog-related and otherwise

Happy New Year, friends and readers. I’ve been thinking lately that I really want to thank those of you who don’t know me in real life but read this blog anyway.

A few updates are in order:

1. Last summer I fell unexpectedly in love with Twitter. My closest friends remain incredulous. My husband was surprised by this. I myself would never have predicted this. But then again, for me surprise is the spice of life. Ping me if you’re on Twitter!  I find it easier to interact with readers there than on here. I tweet and FF tweets about #youthdev, #fostercare, #socent, #educ, #diversity in #highered, #gamification, #crowdfunding, #transition, #autism and #ASD… (I could go on and on.) My handle is @YsetteGuevara. What’s yours?

2. In related news, I will be managing the social media platforms of NYU’s diversity and inclusion team. (Talk about a surprise, since I *just* figured out Twitter and am not at all on FB.) I’ll be sharing more news on that when we launch.

3. There is reason behind this social media madness. My biggest goal for 2014 is to plan and launch a crowdfunding campaign for Incubate Good, the social entrepreneurship program I’m designing for my emerging leaders. It will be a tremendous challenge. I have to learn a lot in the next few months about setting a budget, mapping out a network tree, hosting events, producing a video, coming up with a communications plan… I’ll also have to work on managing the anxiety that will come up with all the exposure.

But you know what? I’m excited. I’m excited because I know that you will absolutely fall in love with my emerging leaders. All this will be for them. If you already like what you read about them here, you are definitely in for a treat, because during the campaign (if not before then) you will hear from them directly.

4. Lastly, there are a couple of guest posts in the pipeline:

The irreplaceable Steph Cowling will be continuing her role as devil’s advocate with some cautionary thoughts on young people’s fascination with entrepreneurship. See this article from HBR as a primer on the topic.

Additionally, I have a new guest blogger who is eager to write about her experiences working closely with young people in foster care as a life coach/youth development specialist.

2014 will be a great year, and I’m glad for your company on this journey.

Taking the measure of a year

I’ve been in transition for so long now that uncertainty and discomfort had become my life’s norms. How strange to be able to look back on a year and notice the extent of my transformation. Where once was a void, there now is a path. No doubt, I am still trailblazing (can I say trailblazing even though it still feels like bushwhacking?), but now I can clear the way for longer stretches at a time. If I had to distill 2013’s biggest lessons into pat formulas, I would say they were:

1. When facing your fears, the immediate objective is not to become “good” at something, but to become better at being a beginner.  Continue reading

Emerging Leader Jermaine finds his voice

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I met Jermaine in the fall of 2012, when I started doing my leadership and team building trainings with the NYFC Youth Advisory Board. He had always been the strong, silent type in a generally rambunctious group of young people. He spoke on rare occasions, never once raising his voice. This school year, he joined my Emerging Leaders group and we set two goals for him: (1) to gain a better grasp on his core values so he could link them to purposeful work; and (2) to speak up more. I’m very happy to report that within this semester he has really shown great progress in both.

Now one thing about Jermaine that I didn’t know until this school year is that he has very wide ranging interests. In YAB he is known as the finance/economics/math guy, so he’s always top pick for treasurer. But he’s actually remarkably creative, as well. I got a taste of some of his creativity over the YAB summer retreat, when he started to tell the beginnings of a gripping ghost story by the campfire. Since then I’ve learned he’s also a self-taught musician and a voracious reader. He is the type who will always pursue knowledge for the sake of bettering himself, regardless of whether or not he is a student.

Given his wide ranging interests, Jermaine was overwhelmed at the start of the semester with numerous business ideas. Part of the trouble was that although he knew money was not his primary motivation, he wasn’t quite sure what his core value was.  Continue reading

Fond farewells and transitions

This week has brought a mixed bag of emotions for me, much of it having to do with my holiday habit of taking stock of the people who have moved in and out of my life over the year. Below are two dear men whom I’ve been fortunate to meet on my journey building Minds On Fire. Both are leaving New York City very soon.

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This is Satyam, Minds On Fire’s first volunteer. We met at a Be Social Change happy hour in the spring, back when my elevator pitch was really really rough (currently it’s just rough), but he caught on immediately. Through the evening he shuttled back and forth around the room making connections. He approached me a couple of times more to introduce me to other folks he thought I would like to meet.

I didn’t know that back when we met he was only visiting NYC before heading out to SF to check out the social entrepreneurship scene there. Thankfully, he left his heart in NY and returned toward the end of the summer. We met up at another Be Social Change event, where again he took the time to connect people in the room.

Satyam thrives on connection, and I just love that about him. Yesterday when we met for tea to say our goodbyes, he informed me that he has a whole list of contacts to send me. Whenever he goes to a networking event, he said, he always has me in mind.

I caught him up on the work I was doing with my emerging leaders and mentioned how we were probably going to launch a fundraiser next year. Satyam immediately reached into his wallet and tried to slip me a $20 bill. I asked him to save it for when I need him to seed our online campaign.

Farewell, Satyam. I will miss our meetups and talks at the Alley (and I know Candice will, too). I hope that the next few months back home rejuvenate you in mind, body, and spirit. I’ll be pulling for your return to our beloved city. The #socent scene here won’t be the same without you.

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This lovely young man who rarely smiles for the camera is Otis Hampton, one of my favorite writers at Represent Magazine and a former mentee in AdoptMent. I met him a year and a half ago, when I was just starting out in this work and he was facing a particularly tremendous challenge. It’s been a real privilege witnessing him pull through that struggle by drawing on his inner strength and gathering together a network of supportive adults. Otis is heading upstate to begin a new chapter in his life. I really hope that he continues to write publicly because the world needs to hear his voice.

Yesterday was his last mentoring session, and they had to break the news to the other young people. Otis dropped me a lovely email right afterward reporting that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. They spent part of the time reading the (love) letters of evaluation that I write for each of my workshop participants, and he also got to give a speech talking about how he considers the people in AdoptMent—including my husband and me—as part of his family. Otis’s departure is breaking a lot of hearts, but we are also very glad to see him embark on this new beginning. He promises to tend to his gift of writing and to stay in touch. If he starts a blog, I’ll be letting you know.

Wishing you only the best, Otis. I adore both the lover and the fighter in you.

#WorkOnPurpose with Emerging Leaders

About a week and a half ago I facilitated Work On Purpose’s Heart + Head = Hustle activity with my Emerging Leaders. It’s an exercise that helps them (1) define their passions, (2) identify their strengths, and then (3) put those two together in order to begin sketching out their dream job or calling.

The first step was to fill out tags that read “I’ve got a heart for ________.” Participants are supposed to mill around and introduce themselves and talk about their “heart.” Since we were a small group that already knew each other, we simply went around in a circle and stated our answers. Given the nature of Emerging Leaders, it was unsurprising that all our “hearts” clustered around the same themes:

  • children
  • disadvantaged youth
  • young people
  • helping people (two emerging leaders had this)
  • people

For the next part I read through a series of prompts that helped the emerging leaders define their “head” (we were supposed to start with the “heart,” but I accidentally skipped over a page, so we did this in reverse order). These included questions about the skills you would put on your resume, as well as the ones you would conventionally leave out. We approached the “heart” section in the same way: One particular prompt that I liked asked what sort of advice or help did friends usually approach you for.

The toughest part of the exercise for the emerging leaders seemed to be defining their “hustle.” They were supposed to combine responses from their “heart” section and their “head” section into novel ideas for work. E.g., if you really care about the health of the diabetics in your community and you happen to cook well, you might start a food service business for people suffering from diabetes.

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My favorite part of the exercise was having the emerging leaders work in small groups to talk about their hustle. Let me tell you, these young people are particularly skilled at active listening and giving each other sound feedback. They are so compassionate. I wish I could have eavesdropped and recorded all their conversations.

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Here they are in AlleyNYC’s cafe lounge, diligently filling out workshop evaluations. They were super pumped and motivated to unpack their hustles individually during office hours. Looking over copies of their work, I see that they could have benefitted from better direction brainstorming their hustles, because they all struggled to come up with very concrete ideas based on elements from their “heart” and “head.” Although the workshop encourages participants to imagine being able to work their dream job, I think young people really need to be exposed to the variety of interesting work that already exists in order for them to be able to unleash the full capacity of their imaginative powers and envision work that is tailor-made for them.

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Afterward Maurice and Jermaine hung around the Alley and we had a nice long conversation about history, education, foster care, economics, social justice—the works! We are so incredibly blessed to have such thoughtful young men coming up in the world with the burning desire to make their marks on New York City’s youth development and social entrepreneurship scenes.

What is the #slowbrood?

The slow brood is a notion that Brian (aka, Cartesian Faith) and I have been toying with here at Chez Guevarowe for a while now. Slow brood is an intentional riff on such catchphrases as slow food, slow brewed, cold brewed—things that are good because they require a significant amount of time and preparation. Brian may write about his own take on the slow brood, but here is mine.

The slow brood is a habit of mind I bring into my business life from academia, where ideas naturally have a long gestation period. The slow brood resists some of the trends that make me uncomfortable about business, specifically within the lean startup industry. Let me be explicit on this point: It’s not that I think that lean principles are fundamentally incompatible with social enterprise, or that lean startups don’t have the potential for spectacular growth and impact. What I take issue with, rather, is a very particular application of the methodology and the culture it fosters.

While I subscribe to the principle that fledgling enterprises should curb their ambitions and start small (I went through a lean startup for social good course myself), the way the method is taught in lean startup workshops can lead practitioners into the realm of the ridiculous. I refer to weekend bootcamps where participants are organized into teams, and each team must “develop its problem hypothesis, solution hypothesis and a series of assumptions which are core to the success of the business.”

Now consider the inspirational anecdotes we hear during these workshops. The general narrative goes like this: Oops, the “problem” we wanted to solve turned out not to be a problem for anyone at all! So what’s next? Pivot, pivot, pivot, ’til…bingo! Not only is the service/product we ended up launching totally different from what we initially planned (that can be a good thing), but the very problem itself has changed. So, ultimately, it’s not the need of your customer that you care about. In this model, who your customers are and what you’re trying to help them accomplish matter much less than finding customers with an actual problem you can solve. Continue reading

They call themselves the Emerging Leaders

Emerging Leaders

[For Harry, who also believes] In the past year I’ve had the good fortune of meeting a lot of inspiring young people who have been in foster care and have creative ideas for businesses and programs that would improve the lives of our most vulnerable children and families. Three such individuals serve as youth advisors to Minds On Fire. To help them grow professionally, I started funneling resources to them individually, but it eventually hit me that I could easily scale my efforts. So I reached out to other young people I’d met and also asked some colleagues for referrals. The only requirements were that participants have direct experience with foster care and aspire to start a social enterprise or run a nonprofit organization.

We had our first meeting back in September (in AlleyNYC‘s War Room, bien sûr!) and the energy was electric. One person remarked that it was so energizing to meet other young people in foster care who were going to college and intending to give back to their communities. After a particularly joyous meet and greet we talked about my initial idea for the group, and also what everyone else wanted to get out of our meetings. They’re permitting me to do most of the steering in the beginning in order to lay a solid foundation on which we can build.

My primary objective is to expose these young people, who are currently between the ages of 19 and 26, to as many resources, professionals, and ideas related to social entrepreneurship as possible. These are the tools that will enable them to blaze trails into the business world and the child welfare system. What I also hope will happen is that the emerging leaders begin to see themselves as part of a cohort that will support each other’s dreams and perhaps even collaborate on some projects. The underlying belief is that they are the ones who will solve the biggest problems in child welfare because, having grown up in the system, they know its pain points. What’s more, they’re coming out of foster care resilient, observant, impassioned, streetwise, and compassionate. They are the ones who have the capacity to touch and transform our hardest to reach youth. Continue reading