Rob Fersh – 2

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Linda Lorelle: [00:00:00]Hi everybody I’m so excited to have our very first guest of Our Voices Matter be Rob Fersh, the founder of Convergence Center for Policy resolution based in WashingtonD.C. And when you hear Rob talk about the mission of the organization you’ll understand why I wanted this to kick us off, because the whole point of this podcast is exactly what Convergence has been doing for the last nine almost 10 years now. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:00:27]So Rob please tell our audience all about Convergence. 

Rob Fersh: [00:00:32] Thanks Linda. First, Its a Pleasure to be here with you and delighted to have this opportunity. Convergence is about 10 years old. Actually it’s an idea we’re working on for 20 years which is to try to bring together people who disagree on big national issues but people who have the collective knowledge experience and influence that if they could reach agreement can move the dial. Unfortunately we’ve had success on issue after issue where people who disagree on education policy or health care policy or how to increase economic opportunity actually can bridge their divides and find answers that are better than any of them started with when they first came to the table. So that’s the vision to this is to create trust across people who have differing points of view, find powerful areas of common ground, allow them to still fight about a lot of stuff they disagree on but understand it underneath it all. Most people want the same things but just disagree on how to get there. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:01:24]I, I just am totally in love with this whole concept of how you go about doing it. So I was first introduced to convergence a couple of years ago when you and your team came to Houston to start to spread the word here and in other cities around the country about what you’re doing trying to get outside the Beltway. I was taken immediately with the mission so much so that I am now full disclosure a board member of convergence a brand new board member and excited to be a part of the organization. Share with the audience Rob please some of the successes that you have already had. Give us just one example of bringing two people together from opposite ends of the spectrum and how they ended up coming together. 

Rob Fersh: [00:02:10] Sure I think our flagship program which we’re about to spin off as a independent nonprofit on the issue of K through 12 education. Six or seven years ago there were all sorts of articles, even books written, one called class warfare. Which identified how broken the education system was. People were blaming teachers, people were blaming the testing regime, people are blaming liberals, they were blaming conservatives. People thought computers were the answer. People thought that social emotional learning was the answer and we overall were failing too many of our kids about what we could do for them to get them ready for life to succeed in careers and succeed as citizens. So we did about a year’s worth of research create a map of who believed what. And eventually our talented team assisted by all the people we interviewed said we better do something to reimagine what education could be like. And that was unifying. And so we brought together, that vision was unified. We brought together teachers unions- at the national level -charter school networks, public school officials, school administrators, companies like Lego and Disney and, IBM, and others, uh..Microsoft, all came to the table because they had a sense that we could do something better for our kids. And what has emerged is a common vision for what we could do to transform American elementary education. 

Rob Fersh: [00:03:49] Not only that when they were done they were so excited about what they’d come up with… A sense of a learner centered education that they asked us to keep convening them so they could work together over time. And now they are taking this vision out collectively across the country were people in school districts and schools and communities across the country are embracing this as a potential way to really make a big difference at a time when we no longer need schools to do what they used to do. We no longer need the factory model. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:04:18]So. So give us a sense of what happens when you’ve got say somebody from the teachers union and somebody from charter schools. You’ve got all these different stakeholders that you just talked about when you first get them in a room to sit down. What is that dynamic like? Take us into that room. 

Rob Fersh: [00:04:40] Well I will tell you that on the first day of that particular session and it’s not always true there was real tension in the room. I wasn’t sure there’d be a second day because some age old rivalries came out. Some anger came out some people’s feelings got touched one way or another. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:04:57]Because they’re yelling. 

Rob Fersh: [00:04:58] There was. It was… I’d say was heated. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:05:02]Heated? OK. 

Rob Fersh: [00:05:02] I wouldnt say it was yelling. Exactly. But it was heated. But we were able to calm it down and what we already knew from all the interviews we’ve done advances that was that these people wanted the same things for kids they wanted them to thrive. They want an education system that responded to the 21st century where their skills and dispositions about how to lead their lives how to be successful in careers how to be good citizens is no longer about filling this empty vessel with knowledge. Kids have on their phones on their bodies all the knowledge they probably will need or a lot of knowledge. And we need you to have a different approach to actually met the needs of each child and every child has different needs. 

Rob Fersh: [00:05:42] So as much as we can adapt the system to allow our education to to meet their needs while at the same time observing minimal standards that became the watchword. And frankly it was exciting everybody. Teachers began to see there might be a doorway out of the intense pressures they have on the testing regime and a way to relate to kids more fully. And people who are concerned about career paths and so on who are getting students out of a lot of schools who have the skills they needed saw that this could produce another level of of you know learning and preparation by these kids. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:06:17]So over what period of time did these conversations take place before you finally got to a point where you could reach some consensus and move forward as you have? 

Rob Fersh: [00:06:29] So a period of time, it took us a long time to map out all the different positions and players, but once we brought them together… that took about a year, but it would have be less if we had been more robustly funded, but at the time we were on a skeleton. Then it was a period of about 18 months. Where they had six meetings, we created an arc of meetings, identified really what the goals were -the principles by which they want to operate by, and then together they wrote a document -a vision document- for learner centred education that’s been embraced by people on the left and right and in between. The beauty of it is is that it’s not partisan. It’s not even that it’s not prescriptive. It’s a notion of we can transform how we educate kids and it can be widely embraced by people who believe in charter schools private schools public schools. It’s about how do we get through to children and prepare them for life in a much more effective way. And it’s hard again these people are modest they view it as a draft. They know things can get better but it’s a change in direction that’s fundamental and quite exciting. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:07:35]So one of the other signature projects that Convergence has undertaken has to do with economic mobility. I remember being at one of the meetings I guess a year or so ago when a representative from Wal-Mart was there… Talk to me about that project as it relates to… You know where I’m going with this right? I want you to talk about the two people who came together after not being together at the very beginning. 

Rob Fersh: [00:08:07] Well this is this is not unusual for us that people come to the table skeptically Some come because they’re afraid that if they’re not there they won’t be out to protect their interests. Some come because they’re curious and interested. But the one session you mentioned, there was a woman who has done a lot of work to preserve and protect the rights of low income workers. And had been very skeptical, frankly critical of Wal-Mart over the years, and what she said at that session was that I came to this table but the one person I most want to watchdog was the person sitting next to her at the session who was from Wal-Mart a senior official from Wal-Mart. At that point she paused. They looked at each other and they spontaneously as only women can do put their heads together and kind of hugged each other because what they’d learned in that moment is that they wanted the same thing for workers. They wanted opportunity and each had a different perch and opportunity to do so. They discussed what people need in order to move up the economic ladder. The education they need, the flexible hours, times of leave they need. They found they had a lot in common and they began to understand the constraints each was under. and they began to work out areas of powerful common ground, and I think they’re both were deeply changed by that experience. They could no longer see each other the same way. 

Rob Fersh: [00:09:23] And I think the nice thing about our process is I suspect they will work together over time differently not just in terms of issues our one report at one time. I think people attain a certain level of understanding and compassion for each other that they really can talk to each other differently over time. 

Rob Fersh: [00:09:41] And so that’s part of what we do is not just try to come up with great solutions but build a more civil society in the process. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:09:49]You are clearly so passionate about this subject matter and you’ve devoted this this part of your life to seeing this through. Talk a little bit about your backstory. How did you get here. What were you doing leading up to this and why did you feel so compelled to start convergence 10 years ago. 

Rob Fersh: [00:10:10] Well thanks for that question Linda. You know the truth is I was raised in a you know a middle class family in Poughkeepsie New York. My father was a guidance counselor and guidance director my mother a dental hygienist and I was kind of raised to believe that morality, both my religion which is Judaism, morality itself required me to be a liberal. And II went into the world that way thinking that you know, uh, the higher ground was there. And obviously I went to college in tumultuous years. I got concerned about issues like poverty and racism. I threw myself into those issues and we know whatever my political beliefs are today they are those are my personal beliefs. But here’s what life threw at me. I kept meeting people such great decency who kept making points I never thought of who wanted to solve the same problem as I did. And I began to see that the orthodoxy of liberalism or conservatism was inherently insufficient. In fact as we lead our lives and our marriages and our families whatever we do no one side no one person has all the answers. 

Rob Fersh: [00:11:16] So I was suffering from a cognitive dissonance and that I felt like I should at least have allegiance to my original points of view in life. And my friends you know who all believe the same things. And yet at some level when you meet people who are thoughtful and caring and decent as anyone else you have to open your minds and hearts to them and that’s really the origins that convergence, is creating deep relationships with people I disagreed with learning from them understanding the limits of what I knew about to brag about how humble I am about my own beliefs. And that’s really the origins. I came to Washington to end poverty in America. 

Rob Fersh: [00:11:54] That was my passion and my normal line is I had a huge influence, things are a lot worse now. But over time I’ve learned that the better answers will emerge from people who can talk to each other. People who disagree can you push each other’s thinking to another level. I’ve now seen that over and over again in our projects that people leave our projects not feeling compromised… They usually feel that what they came up with was actually better than what they started with. And that’s really exciting. And they also leave our projects not feeling the levels of animosity they felt toward other people who they blindly dislike without even knowing them before. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:12:34]You mentioned your work with poverty you also did work on the Hill. Talk a little bit about your background as it relates to Congress and then kind of how that’s converged if you will to where you’re where you’re working now. 

Rob Fersh: [00:12:54] Yeah good good good leading question. Thank you for that. So yeah part of why I do what I do came from my work in Congress. I worked on the Senate side for the Senate Agriculture Committee and there I staffed a bipartisan coalition dealing with the nation’s nutrition programs. And Bob Dole who was then, eventually the majority leader in the Senate, but also very active on the Agriculture Committee was working closely with senators still there. Senator Patrick Leahy for whom I worked and we forged bipartisan coalitions to deal with the school lunch program the whip program the Food Stamp Program that was an eye opener for me. Senator Dole had once been seen as a fierce partisan. He would been chair of the Republican Party I believe during the Nixon years and he was a person who cared who was decent brought a different perspective. 

Rob Fersh: [00:13:40] So I learned from that that you can’t generalize and stereotype people. The other side as I then went to work on the House side for then Representative Leon Panetta who later became a big national name working in the Clinton administration of the Obama administrations. And I guess my favorite story there which is very directly related to convergence is I was invited to be the staff director of a House subcommittee on nutrition that had jurisdiction over what was then called the food stamp program now known as SNAP and other nutrition programs. And there were reports in 90 days of increased hunger in America during the early years of the Reagan administration. And I was told you know what. You know working for Leon Panetta you’ll love that but you’ll never be out of work with the ranking minority member of the subcommittee a Republican on a Bill Emerson of Missouri. They say he’s a Reagan Republican. There’s nothing you can do with him because the usual liberal assumption was that conservatives had no compassion. Well turned out to be nothing could be further from the truth of that bill and we all agreed to go out and hold hearings across the country they visited soup kitchens and food pantries guided by Republican and Democratic mayors. They learn together. They absorb what they saw. We had pizza beer at night. We had conversations that led them to sponsor bipartisan legislation for years afterward because they had a bond of friendship and trust and they merged their different points of view and found areas of common ground. And to me that was demonstrative of what was possible and again broke through the stereotype that one particular political perspective had a monopoly on compassion or wisdom. So that was very much part of my view all the learning that led to the formation of convergence down the road. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:15:28]So fast forward now to the Congressional Budget Project. That convergence has undertaken so share with our audience what that’s all about and where things are going because you’re having some success with that. 

Rob Fersh: [00:15:45] We are definitely having some success. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:15:45]Believe it or not. 

Rob Fersh: [00:15:46] The day they were taping this actually there was action today in Congress. 

Rob Fersh: [00:15:50] So here’s here’s in a nutshell, it’s it’s a little arcane, a lot of eyes roll over or roll up, so whatever whatever, whatever eyes do. What we did was organize a project that said whether you believe in higher taxes lower taxes more spending or not spending. There’s probably a lot of common ground that the federal budget process is broken. Periodically the government closes down, a lot of charities and other groups that rely on government funding can’t get it on a timely basis. We hear there’s a talent range contractors will necessarily contract with the federal government because the money isn’t always there consistently. So we pulled together a group of people who had first said, “Ugh, the federal budget process.” And they rolled their eyes. But eventually we learned that every one of them whether they were veterans or people concerned about infrastructure or theU.S. Chamber of Commerce or taxpayers or health groups or any hungry groups all felt a common frustration. And in the room we built a level of trust amongst them where they designed a whole series of changes to the federal budget process that had become center stage in congressional deliberations. So in 2018 a joint select committee was established to prepare recommendations on how to fix the federal budget and appropriations process. So in November of 2018 they are supposed to report out their final recommendations. I’m sorry to say that there may be some politics involved then they may or may not get here. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:17:21]You’re kidding, politics involved? Really? 

Rob Fersh: [00:17:23] But the politics led me to the substance the ideas a series of ideas that could make the process more efficient more timely more responsive the American public and the truth is to be honest whatever process we design they might still get around that mousetrap and so people are skeptical. But why not improve the process. 

Rob Fersh: [00:17:43] It hasn’t really been under a deep overhaul for 30 or 40 years. And so our group got excited that maybe they could help the country function better and they’re all doing it as patriots as people who believe the government ought to function better. Everyone from Americans for Prosperity which is tied to the Koch brothers to the American taxpayers union to the Chamber of Commerce to liberal entities think tanks and advocacy groups and nice thing about these groups came together they came together and well we took these ideas to the Hill. Our group took to the Hill the first question is what are you recommending. And the second question they looked at this in bewilderment and said, “How the hell did you get them to agree on even to wish each other a good day no less recommendations that are substantive?” So there is again lessons that people really can find common ground. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:18:33]So clearly the process is working. Yeah and you have mentioned this word several times and I know it’s it’s the first one of the first words in the mission statement and that word is trust. You have to start with building trust before you can get to understanding what the commonalities are and then to come to some sort of consensus. How do you build that trust? 

Rob Fersh: [00:18:57] You know we’re in Washington so we don’t create campfires or dolk silly games like that. Here’s the simplest thing you get people to talk from their hearts about who they are what do they care about what are their values what are their fears what are their concerns. And sometimes within an hour you have a sense like people know they’re not actually enemies. They just disagree on how the world works. And that’s the best way. And sometimes it’s hard to disarm as some people come in hating each other to our processes and actually leave hitting each other. But for the most part I find that familiarity breeds affection. So if over time you create ground rules we don’t allow people to question each other’s motives. You stay on topic you don’t hog the time too much. You listen to each other if in between you meals together you learn about each other’s families and your needs and you share things you’re caring for an elderly family member or you’ve got a child with special needs. You become more like your friends. And it’s a whole lot harder for you to just go after someone’s views when you see them as a whole human being. So that’s where the trust comes from. There’s no one special moment. I do have one favorite story though which I’ll tell you. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:20:11]Please! Share It. 

Rob Fersh: [00:20:12] The first time I did this this is before convergence but it was a proof of concept that helped lead to starting a convergence. This is before we had. The Affordable Care Act 2003 and 2004. I had an idea. That was readily grabbed onto by people who could make this happen that we ought to bring together people disagreed about how we could provide health care coverage for everybody in the country. Everyone wanted that left and right wanted to improve coverage. But as one colleague used to say everybody’s first choice was their own solution and their second choice was the status quo. Well after months of research we assembled a very high power table on health care in this country and we put people around that table for the first meeting I was scared about what would happen because I’d never been I’d never done this before. As it turns out. A lot of the more progressive groups were at the table and they as we round the table we asked them what do you care about why are you here. I found it to be very timid they kind of sad because they were worried because down around the table was the conservative Heritage Foundation and theU.S. Chamber of Commerce. And I think they were afraid of scaring them off by being too bold or saying too much. So I felt they pulled their punches saying oh well we know we’ve got a problem. Not all people are covered and trust got built in that room when two thirds around the table a gentleman you now know serves on our board because he was in our project for the Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler said I don’t know about the rest of you but I believe in universal health care coverage. 

Rob Fersh: [00:21:44] So there it was, the conservative Heritage Foundation saying something, point blank, in a way I think in a way stronger and firmer than anybody else in the room had said. Immediately, the more liberal groups who always wanted universal health care coverage, saw there wasn’t an enemy. Now Stewart went on to say I probably believe in doing this more through market forces than a lot of you want more government, but let’s have the conversation. By dinnertime, I sensed a shift in the room, defenses were coming down. There was a sense like I really can talk to this person and that helped create in my view a level of trust in stayed in that process which had 12 to day meetings in two years that came up with a series of recommendations that some so help lay the groundwork eventually for the Affordable Care Act. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:22:31]Wow. So it took one person to be able to stand up and say I believe in this. And even those who believed it but were a little timid. It’s like everybody’s afraid of what the reaction is going to be. If if they say what they truly think and believe because they feel as though they’re going to be vilified or pilloried just for expressing their opinion. When did we get to this. How did we get here. 

Rob Fersh: [00:23:02] Well I think it’s a complicated story. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:23:04]Yeah I expect you to answer that Rob definitively please tell us . 

Rob Fersh: [00:23:08] But I do think that’s why I think especially this day and age in public settings and a lot you know there’s a lot of good from the sunshine of putting like government forward and having people see Congress operate. But I also feel like know there’s no room to make mistakes. You know people end up showboating a little bit because the cameras are on and so on. So I think there’s some there’s some detriments that arise from the fact that everything’s out in the open for us. We’ve got the ground rules everything in the room it’s Chatham House rules. You can’t be speaking for attribution outside you’re allowed to make mistakes you can correct the record. 

Rob Fersh: [00:23:42] And I think creating what some people call a safe space is really important. It’s not just about building trust with the participants but it’s also saying, “Go ahead speak your mind. You can retract you can withdraw, no agreements are final until all agreements are final. Let’s have a conversation. Let’s have a conversation.”. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:24:01]See where it leads us. 

Rob Fersh: [00:24:01] Lets understand each other. And frankly, if you do that you learn something new together. Where you go through some experiences together, where you find that underneath it all that you actually agree on a lot more than you realized. It really opens almost all your channels to actually see more agreement. And I think underneath it all people really want to like each other. Most people. They’re tired of not liking each other. I find in these rooms as I watch them from a distance that people really want to get along. They want to have a relationship. They’re tired of hating each other but there are so many forces at work that makes that that actually prevents people from building deep relationships. We don’t build deep relationships in Washington, the average policy circles. I think members of Congress don’t relate to each other as personally as I used to at one time. They Travel home too much on the weekends, they don’t build those relationships. That is the grist of allowing conversations that find common ground. 

Rob Fersh: [00:24:58] If you have the will to do so. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:24:59]That’s The foundation. That’s the absolute foundation of it. When you think about… I was just thinking about the, um, one of the recent polls that came out. Actually, yesterday I believe, it was that talked about the rise of anti-Semitism and hate in our country. And you spoke openly just a moment, about, about your, a moment ago- about your faith Judaism. As a man of the Jewish faith, having seen what has gone on in this country over the last few months, particularly especially with the horrific shooting in the synagogue. What are your thoughts on a personal level about you know being in the midst of this work that you’re you are so passionate and so vested in what…what are your, what are your thoughts about how we move forward as a country. As a society. 

Rob Fersh: [00:26:03] Well big complicated issue, and I, as you know -I’m somebody who kind of wells up when I see traffic lights changed I’m going to well up a little bit. I can feel it. I was in Pittsburgh about three weeks before the shootings. First time my life I’ve ever been to Pittsburgh. Ironically I was invited to address seventy five Jewish leaders of the Pittsburgh community seasonally and in October. We even had our last leadership meeting a young fellow who helps run the Community Relations cou… Who runs the Community Relations Council here who was thrown into the fire if you will on this. 

Rob Fersh: [00:26:41] So, I feel a deep connection because some of the people being quoted in the press arer people I met that night and I just feel like a connection. I Feel a connection as a Jewish person to that cause I can imagine, you know I I’ve had thoughts what would this look like in my synagogue? Who would have been shot? And it feels – most of my life I haven’t felt singled out- I felt blessed to be accepted and to rise to whatever levels I can rise. I haven’t felt it to be a detriment. But once in a while it rears its head. 

Rob Fersh: [00:27:16] I think the answer is probably going to be similar to what I’ve already said. At some level, we need to have people who allow us to see ourselves fully for who we are. I think we need to have compassion for people who are full of hate. But we also need to draw a line and make sure that things arent unacceptable. We can’t be giving signals to people that some behavior may be OK. Whether we’re doing it on purpose, or not. And we need to constantly expose ourselves- understand the truth about other people – whether it’s people of different colors or religions or ethnicities or background. Underneath it all… We’re profoundly human. And we need a concerted effort to create those bonds so that we see each other for who we are. Just as you’re trying to do this podcast. 

Rob Fersh: [00:27:59] So, I don’t have anything profound to say beyond what you might say or anyone else might say. But we need our institutions to support that. We need to have dialogue, we need to have a relationship. We need to be mindful of not stereotyping each other. We need to be very skeptical of people who stereotype each other or treat each other as if they’re the other, because those are people who are acting either out of ignorance or they’re working out of some motivation perhaps to get ratings or to get a following. And you know I just don’t think that’s the way the world works. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:28:37]I really believe, when you say acting out of ignorance. I think that so much of the hate that is out there is ignorant. It’s because people have not been exposed to whoever it is they view as the other. If you grew up in a community where everyone that you saw and conversed with or had socialized with looked like you thought like you, etc. Then when you’re confronted with someone who is “the other” you’re much more likely to do this now or say you know I’m better than you are. But when you have an opportunity to build a relationship so often you hear people talk about. When I went to college was the first time I had an opportunity to live with a white person or live with a Jewish person or live with a Muslim person. And I got to know them and all of a sudden everything shifted so so much of it comes down to just basic human relationships with you. 

Rob Fersh: [00:29:52] I want to make sure we come across really balanced, so we are really balanced- because I’m also seeing the opposite bias in some ways amongst my liberal friends, who view Trump supporters in a generalized way that I think is dangerous. It’s the same intelligence a natural sense of you know trying to hang out with people you who you agree with. Some people call it tribalism. I’ve heard that may not be the best word but you tend to want to relate to people who agree with you. And so you have trouble living with the cognitive dissonance that someone, if you are a critic of the president – he certainly is a controversial figure at a minimum – that’s hard for you to understand it could be people of great decency whoo support him. 

Rob Fersh: [00:30:34] So speaking of people being deplorable and so on… I think is divisive. So it’s a natural instinct we have to want to resonate and stay with that. And so we have to stay vigilant all sides. It’s not only about you know people are on the progressive side. We all have blinders. You know I kid my Jewish friends that on some level, because we always feel like we’re the minority, and maybe we have been…not maybe… We have been, over history, been oppressed. I think a lot of Jewish people are blind eyes when it comes to Christianity to fully understanding the Christian faith. So I want to say too much I get trouble with too many people but we all we all inherently we can’t be all things to all people we can’t be universal that everything we just don’t know enough but to stop for a moment and realize there’s always limits to what we know and give people the benefit of the doubt. I think that’s the attitude. I’d love to have people carry with them. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:31:30]And to take that into all of the controversial issues that we’re facing as a as a nation. I know that convergence just enumerated the projects that that are on the table right now, the Education Imagined, and healthcare, reentry ready… Helping to help prisoners reenter into society so that they don’t reoffending. And whats the one that I just…. economic mobility. OK, so I know that there many other issues out there chief among them gun control and immigration that are in the front of the of the national discourse right now. I know convergence has been approached about trying to tackle these issues you know. So what’s next. 

Rob Fersh: [00:32:24] We don’t know for sure because we have to do our homework and make sure we can make a unique difference and that people want to come to the table. We are looking at the issue of gun safety, gun violence, in fact, how we frame is important. Gun Control.. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:32:37]Gun safety, gun violence as opposed to gun control. 

Rob Fersh: [00:32:39] Yes. Yeah. Because gun control already sounds like one side or the other. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:32:43]Words matter. 

Rob Fersh: [00:32:44] So it’s really important that’s a lesson you know when you wanna have a good conversation people disagree don’t frame it, frame it in terms that they can feel they are welcome. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:32:51]More Neutral. 

Rob Fersh: [00:32:51] It can be more welcome to the table. Right. We’re looking at that we’re looking at we’re not close to the role of the media whether it’s social media or media or otherwise you’re doing a little research there. Lately we’re putting some attention into the issue of the fact that people are losing faith in the validity of our elections. Could we potentially pull together a group that. Clarifies what how much fraud is there. How much suppression is there and what are the really acceptable ways people can operate in states to run elections so that everyone eligible can vote and all and those not eligible don’t vote. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:33:25]We have a conversation that could shed light and maybe restore public confidence in elections so we’re looking at that. And there are other issues still on the horizon. We haven’t quite figured out what one that’s lively for us is the issue of housing affordability. So we’re looking at that too. It’s there’s a crisis throughout the country but particularly in urban areas. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:33:47]And so to help our audience understand kind of what the process is. It’s the research and you fill in the blank. 

Rob Fersh: [00:33:54] So yeah. So first you have to identify an issue of national consequence and then some people come to us as we originated then we try to figure out create this map I mentioned before of who believes what. Who would need to talk to whom to make a difference. What are the leverage points? Is it public policy like legislation is it, is it companies that need to take action, is it public, private is it changes in philanthropic priorities? So we’d figure that out we would do our research and then we figure out can we get at least a few what we call anchor stakeholders? People who.. Whose presence at the table would help bring in other people and give it credibility. And then lastly, like every nonprofit we have to figure out how we can pay for the damn thing. So we look at all that and it’s intensive, and most people don’t fund you to do your research like us.

Rob Fersh: [00:34:42] I mean for us, the challenges that most foundations are funds. Really people doing the work, they already believe in the results and also they’re funding a process. The process says that if we bring together these people, reach an agreement we’re gonna powerful results that won’t compromise anybody but we can’t tell you in advance exactly how we’re going to deal with poverty or how we’re going to deal with incarceration even though we often have a pretty good idea. But it’s not about us, its not our ideas. It’s the stakeholders. 

Rob Fersh: [00:35:10] So we go through that process of doing our research, organizing potential stakeholders, v sit at a table facilitating them with ground rules and professional facilitators and then bringing them not only to agreement on ideas, but to form an action plan they can take on together to help put their ideas into the world. And surprisingly enough we almost always find common ground. But sometimes we’re not… We don’t actually change the world overnight when we’re done. Sometimes we just go out there and fight the good fight, get the ideas out there and sometimes we have immediate impact. It’s a crazy quilt we don’t really control the world from where we sit. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:35:48]If only it were that easy. 

Rob Fersh: [00:35:49] Yeah.

Linda Lorelle: [00:35:49]If only. Well I you know I just think that what convergence is doing is is so necessary, and so vital to moving us forward as a nation. And I know convergence isn’t the only organization doing this kind of work, there are lots of others out there that are like minded. And I know that convergence also partners and works with other organizations along the same lines. If somebody out there listening watching today wants to get involved with convergence and support it in some way. How would they go about doing that. 

Rob Fersh: [00:36:28] Well, the easiest thing is to go to the Web site, which is convergencepolicy.org. Take a look at all our programs. Obviously, easiest thing for people who don’t have a lot of spare time is to donate money. But beyond that we have a leadership council of people from across the country, be on our board of directors- who meets regularly. We have lots of people who advise us to give us tips on who to include at tables or bring project ideas to us so it’s difficult for us to organize massive amounts of volunteers. If you’re passionate about our work send us a note give us some ideas. If you’ve got communication skills we might put you to work. If you have particular knowledge in a subject area we’re looking at we might want to talk to you. We just want more people to have this mindset. 

Rob Fersh: [00:37:15] So that’s one thing I wanted to also say Linda. As you know all the things we’re working on now as we’re a small organization we’re now about 25 people and we’re a highly let… We’re leverage organization. We bring you all these stakeholders who are powerful all the issues and they’re going to go out and do the work. But we’re increasingly focusing on how can we share what we know how can we inspire others whether they be at the community level or neighborhood level or the state level to use these approaches collaborative approaches to achieve results. So we want to both inspire people to use them and support them to do so because we want to create what we call the multiplier effect. Have lots of people who have this mindset and see there’s a possibility of actually solving problems in a way that’s powerful and effective and also builds community and civility in the process. 

Rob Fersh: [00:38:02] So, so to accept people want to know more about our process we have materials we can share with them we can also connect them to people work at the community level in a way that we don’t. So we have a lot of as you say a lot of partners and we would do rely on other people we’re not the sole source of this information as lots of people work on it. Even though our approach is somewhat unique that nobody quite does what we do the way we do it. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:38:26]Well, I am just thankful for the day that I met you and that I had the opportunity to see the great work that you’re doing because the truth is I personally had been looking for something for some way to make a contribution to this dialogue. Feeling very distressed about where we are in our national discourse and saying, “OK you know would be easy to sit on the sidelines and just say I wish things would change but it’s like OK what what can I as a one person do to help try to change this conversation. This podcast is a part of it. But even beyond that just being able to be involved at the board level with convergence and and try to use whatever skill sets and connections I have to help move this forward. I am forever grateful for the opportunity, so thank you so much. And I’m just going to ask you one last question and that is if there were one thing that you could say to our audience that you wouldn’t want them to take with them. To help our nation heal and come back together. What would that be. 

[00:39:42] I’d say to them is give your child the benefit of the doubt. 

[00:39:49] \isten to each other. Try to see things through new eyes. When you hear something you find disagreeable find the most reasonable person that has those views rather than the person who is the messenger you hate. Then consider all those different points of view. I’m not talking about tolerating extremes. You know people who are full of hate, I think they are somehow at odds with their fundamental nature. But there’s lots of room for decent people to disagree. So I would urge people to you know take a deep breath try to consider the humanity of that person. We’re all part of the same larger family. And when you can, try to open your mind to seeing them differently as seeing them in their own shoes a little. Let me also close by thanking you for this, yo u’re an unbelievable example of someone who just came and volunteered and brings talent to us. You ask me the question before. If people are out there they have an idea how to take these ideas out to other people that they have ideas about you know how to run a nonprofit better if they have ideas about how we could take these processes to local communities better. If they have any ideas people will come in and lend the talent that you do and others. That’s how we build this organization. We are very much about asking everybody to bottle what we preach to the outside world that we collaborate and we leverage the talents of people. So we want to thank you for this opportunity and for all your already or bringing to convergences success. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:41:19]Well thank you Rob and I look forward to continuing to work with you and we will definitely have you back to give us more updates as convergences work progresses and you’re celebrating your 10th anniversary next year. I say we are celebrating our 10th anniversary next year so I’m really excited about that. 

Rob Fersh: [00:41:37] Thank you. Well, invite me back because of convergence I will have a chance to give you views opposing to what I gave today. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:41:44]Sounds like a plan. Thanks again Rob. 

Linda Lorelle: [00:41:47]Thank you all so much for taking the time to allow our guests to speak for giving him permission to speak and for you having the courage to listen with an open mind and my hope is that you will take that mindset with you as you go forward. Thanks again for tuning in. We’ll see you next time. I’m Linda Lorelle. Bye.