Young Leaders & Social Change: A Q&A with ReCity Director Rob Shields

We had a Q&A with Rob Shields, Executive Director of ReCity Network, a partner of YNPN Triangle NC, to hear his vision of how young leaders can affect social change. ReCity is a hub for social impact in Durham (learn more about their important work here). We loved hearing Rob’s insights and advice for young nonprofit professionals, and we believe everyone has something to learn from his vision and philosophy of social change. Check out what he has to share!

How does ReCity support organizations that work for social change?

Our core focus is capacity-building. So many community leaders work tirelessly to serve others, but they lack the resources to fully meet the needs. ReCity offers social change leaders a space to build authentic community, share resources and ideas, and ultimately accelerate their impact. 

What advice would you offer young leaders who want to work toward social change?

Get proximate. Learn the story of the community you aim to serve. Learn the stories of the people. Reexamine your own story and allow others to point out your blind spots. We have to understand the context and root causes of the issues we aim to solve, which can and should take time. 

What leadership traits and qualities do you think are the most important for young people in the social impact sector to develop?

Patience--not that we should be content with injustice. We should absolutely work tirelessly to address injustice with a sense of urgency, but system change won't happen overnight. Do the hard work of educating yourself on context. It’s slower, but more impactful. This is especially true for young leaders who have a tendency to prioritize getting quick results over developing relationships. Bridging divides along issues of race and class doesn’t happen quickly; we need more young leaders who are committed to this work for the long haul. We need marathoners, not sprinters. 

How do you hope that young people will shape the nonprofit sector in the coming years?

My hope is that young nonprofit leaders will be fearless enough to challenge the status-quo, humble enough to realize it's not about us, and wise enough to count the cost. Justice work is messy because people are messy. It’s okay to not have all the answers. That’s where mentors are key. We have so much to learn from those who have gone before us, and there are so many mistakes we can avoid repeating if we position ourselves as students of past injustice. The future of the sector and our communities depends on it. 

Who do you wish ReCity could collaborate with more?

Our Network is collaborative in nature, and it takes different forms for different organizations--as it should. Right now nonprofits make up the majority of our Network, but I’d love to partner with more social entrepreneurs. Family-sustaining employment is one of the biggest barriers preventing people from thriving, and social entrepreneurs can scale so much faster than nonprofits, which means more jobs faster. That’s why we call ReCity the hub for social impact. We intentionally widened the umbrella because we need leaders from every sector at the table to build thriving communities that are rooted in justice. 

Your two-year anniversary celebration is coming up. Tell us about what ReCity has accomplished in the last two years.

We’ve seen our Network grow at a rapid pace. We started with 4 organizations, and are now 40 strong. 71% report saving money on space and resources, and 86% report being better positioned to achieve their goals since joining the Network. 50% of our partner organizations are led by women. 53% are led by people of color, making ReCity a direct reflection of the community we serve. 

What is something that you wish the public understood more fully about ReCity?

We’re disrupting the status quo. People assume we’re either just a physical space or just a network, but neither of those are novel concepts. A network of community leaders sharing space and accelerating each other's impact is a new framework all together. We see the value of people coming together to solve problems. But we’re discontent with how long that takes through the traditional task force model, where people come out of their silos once a quarter to talk about what needs to be done, but then operate disconnected from each other day-to-day when it's time to actually get the work done. Our space facilitates relationships by helping like-minded leaders get proximate with each other, and the results are like throwing gas on a fire.  


Learn more about ReCity and the power of social impact leaders by attending ReCity’s next Roundtable (a monthly TED-style speaker series that uses the power of storytelling to spotlight community leaders who are tackling complex social issues through innovation and collaboration). On Tuesday, August 28th from 12-1pm, ReCity will host a special two-year anniversary Roundtable featuring Mayor Steve Schewel, who will share his vision for the future of social impact in Durham. Tickets are free, but please register here in advance. We hope to see you there!

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