Board Spotlight: Doug Dixon
When I look at the shift in perspective that I experienced in participating in ICA methods, when I’ve engaged meaningfully with people that are steeped in the practices and principles of ICA, it warms my heart to know that people can be grounded in community, radically caring for one another, and making progress.
Doug joined our Board of Directors in November, 2019, and currently serves as our Board Treasurer. He lives and works in the Chicagoland area, and is connected with several organizations ICA has worked with, including the One Earth Film Festival and Austin Coming Together.
Tell us about yourself: what do you do and where are you based?
What I’ve done professionally for the past 40 years or so is worked in a progression of jobs in accounting and information technology and ultimately landed in the business development and sales domain, where I made a career as a contract trainer and sales strategy consultant to help people sell “more, better, faster.”
Frankly, I lost my spark in that line of work after about 25 years because my personal ethos calls me to be accretive to this planet and its inhabitants, and I did not feel that that is where my spirit was being engaged. I was helping people to not be accretive, but extractive, and didn't want to do that. So several years ago I had some minor epiphany and decided that I should deploy my gifts in the community to help accretion for the planet in places where people are disadvantaged systemically.
How that has manifest itself is that I spend most of my time these days working as a community agitant—as in agitator—wherever I can engage to improve economic outcomes in disadvantaged communities, like the Austin community of Chicago. There are a plethora of governmental, social service, and community impact organizations and affiliations that support that community. I hold relationships with most of them, because it appears to me that the only way to get things done in a community that's been decimated for 40 years is to try to rebuild the fabric of the community through relationships. So I engage with or am a member of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin Coming Together, and the Leaders Network, and I probably know most of the executive directors in the social service industrial complex.
How did you first encounter ICA?
Interestingly, when I first encountered ICA I had no knowledge that that's what I was encountering! Several years ago, I was a member of the Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park when we were contemplating launching a project to install a geothermal heating and air conditioning system and permeable pavers for our parking lot. Both the existing HVAC system and parking lot were in need of repair. At that time I was a trustee of the Church and fairly active there, and frankly I was somewhat skeptical of the initial proposal. Little to my knowledge, a member of my faith community, Dick Alton, is an ICA colleague, and he helped use Technology of Participation (ToP) methods to facilitate discussions around this concept of making a strong statement for the Earth and its people. I was probably the most vociferous skeptic of the proposals because I lived in a very economically-oriented framework and the numbers didn't make sense to me, but as a result of participating in these methods my heart shifted. I became a fierce advocate, so much that I co-led the capital campaign for that project with Sally Stovall. It turned out that what underlay that conversion was participation in a participatory method.
When have you seen ICA create real change or impact?
The aforementioned story about ToP methods informing my faith community to take a risky bet on an environmental capital project is real impact. We installed that and then subsequently did solar panels. That's real, tangible, good work that I can directly attribute to the community building and participatory methods of ICA.
But I'll share with another story, since I am a community agitant in the Austin area and associate with Austin Coming Together, which is a backbone organization to support work in the community. Austin Coming Together worked with the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) here in Chicago to develop something called the Quality of Life Plan. The Quality of Life Plan took over a year to synthesize and split into several task forces, but the initial groundwork was built using LISC-facilitated ToP methods on the notorious Sticky Walls. I gravitated to the economic development task force for the remainder of the project and we continue to use ToP methods to refine our action planning.
The combination of that process was the completion of the Quality of Life Plan that was published in late 2018. That was probably the second or third ToP-based community Quality of Life Plan in the Chicago metropolitan area. The quality of that plan is such that the Mayor of the City of Chicago, in addition to her new director of the Department of Planning and Development, launched an initiative called Invest South/West that has identified over 750 million dollars to be allocated to support historically disadvantaged communities on the South and West Sides of Chicago. There will be ten communities impacted, and the ones that have the most “shovel ready” plans will be in line to receive the first rounds of funding this year. By my rough arithmetic, Austin will be in line to invest over 75 million dollars to support a broad range of initiatives synthesized by the Quality of Life Plan that was built on the foundation of ToP methods. If that ain't impact, I don't know what is!
What are you most looking forward to as an ICA board member?
I'm looking forward to help to shape the strategic direction of an institution that has such a rich legacy and profound future potential. Setting that direction is critical to achieve the future. We've got loads of wonderful people and lots of field-based knowledge that's been captured in our programs, our methods, and our values. How can we manifest that into a compelling vision with action plans to help us realize that potential? I think that's what directors should do, that's the role of the Board, and I'm looking forward to having some impact to shape that vision.
What makes ICA unique?
I haven't quite figured that out other than how it resonates with me spiritually. When I look at the shift in perspective that I experienced in participating in ICA methods, when I’ve engaged meaningfully with people that are steeped in the practices and principles of ICA, it warms my heart to know that people can be grounded in community, radically caring for one another, and making progress. I've seen lots of methods, and I’ve invested a lot of time into self-improvement programs. There are similarities between ICA methods and many of the philosophies that I've studied and practiced. It relates to connecting with people and recognizing that they have what they need within them and that it's the job of the community to help that manifest. Those are principles that I hope to live by.
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