Special Reports

Ed O'Malley: Kansas Leadership Center exists to remove barriers to progress

This assignment is sort of a natural. Write a few hundred words about leadership and innovation and what Wichita is doing to nurture both. I write this column while perched comfortably in the open space library on the second floor of the first new building constructed on Douglas in downtown Wichita in two generations.

The new Kansas Leadership Center & Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center at the corner of Douglas and Topeka stands out as the most recent tangible evidence of the Kansas Health Foundation’s longstanding efforts to create stronger, healthier Kansas communities through improved leadership.

Every day in this space, Kansans are coming together to collaborate and to gain new knowledge and skills with the goal of returning to their community, however that’s defined, to make things better.

The Kansas Leadership Center’s reason to exist is to help people, systems and organizations learn effective ways to foster leadership and innovation. A significant component of the knowledge gained by those with whom we work involves helping them address the question: What gets in the way of progress?

In Wichita, three specific efforts spring to mind that are each breaking down barriers to long-term progress.

First, a number of individual Wichita churches and organizations have embraced a long-term, relationship-based initiative aimed at opening an entire new door to those suffering in poverty. These are very intelligent, emotionally capable people who often get stuck in what amounts to a nonstop cycle of problem solving.

The “Circles” campaign, known here as the “Wichita Circles Network,” seeks to connect those in our community struggling to get by with members of the community who want to help. There are intrinsic, societal barriers that separate these two groups of human beings. Families in poverty tend to live in social isolation. Absent an effort like Circles, families with means simply don’t interact much with families struggling to get by. Through relationships, Circles identifies those barriers and helps break them down.

Next, the NetWork Kansas E-Community effort is a partnership that allows a town, a cluster of towns, or an entire county to raise seed money for local entrepreneurs through donations from individuals or businesses within the community. Now in its ninth year, NetWork Kansas has grown from working with six Kansas communities in 2007 to 44 this year.

Based in Wichita, NetWork Kansas is a statewide network of nonprofit business-building resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start up and grow successful businesses.

Like Circles, NetWork Kansas’ work is premised on bringing together what before were disparate individuals. They identified and managed the barrier to innovation and the result is new opportunity and support within communities across Kansas.

Finally, when fully realized, Wichita State University’s new vision to become the standard for applied learning and research will mean tremendous new opportunities for businesses and our workforce. WSU intends to guarantee an applied learning or research experience for every student by each academic program and systemically capitalize on relevant existing and emerging societal and economic trends that increase quality educational opportunities.

Once again, by its very nature, WSU’s long-term vision will force a system as large and unwieldy as a sprawling, metropolitan publicly funded university to work together during a period of time (the second decade of the 21st century) where our community and society are changing and evolving at what seems breakneck speed. Such an effort is fraught with barriers. Under the capable and visionary leadership of President John Bardo, Wichita State is poised for promise.

In each of these instances – a new downtown building designed specifically to bring people together to nurture leadership; directly connecting those in our community in poverty with those who want to help; developing a self-sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystem within a community; establishing a bold, new vision for the future of Wichita State – those at the forefront are breaking down the barriers that prevent innovation.

As I sit in a brand new building designed specifically to nurture leadership and innovation, I don’t have to look very far to find it. I’m surrounded by it in this community. We’re humbled and grateful that the Kansas Leadership Center can play a role to continue to nurture both in our community – and beyond.

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