Adjacent opportunities (7.1)

Ron Schultz
Center for Social-Profit Leadership, USA

Just when you thought you had it all figured out, just when everything was starting to make sense and your choices and decisions were beginning to r off, something unexpected pops up that forces a whole new set of consequences, forcing you to operate in a fashion you had never intended. This isn’t theory. This isn’t benign case study. This is that very real moment when the success or failure of your enterprise is on the line. This is also the best time to find the next adjacent opportunity.

As this column unfolds over the ensuing issues, it will focus on real examples of when the previously unseen or the newly combined becomes evident. It is at the juncture of this emergent and composite state that the next available adjacent opportunities become visible.

Identifying the right opportunity is a matter of developing a wide-horizon vision that is capable of taking in the panoply of what is now possible, and making the right choice. This perspective flies in the face of the linear idea of limiting choices as a means of reducing risk. Because, when you look at the numbers, all limiting your choices does is increases your odds of making a bad choice. Adjacent Opportunities aren’t all good choices, however, finding the ones that are can mark the difference between making just another rotten compromise and an innovation that could change the world for the better.

Just ask social entrepreneur, Steve Jacobs.

When Steve Jacobs launched his conceptual skid row social entrepreneurial ‘movement’ called ADRO, for Accessing Dignity, Respect and Opportunity, he had no idea what to expect. He put out an offering for something different to the homeless hanging out on San Julian in Los Angeles, the heart of LA’s downtrodden and woe-begotten. With the help of Volunteers of America of Los Angeles’s Ballington Plaza facilities, Jacobs began holding meetings, with the idea that there were adjacent opportunities these folks may not have envisioned yet that were just out there, one step away.

This was the arena in which Jacobs wanted to test his ideas of grassroots cultural change. As he explains, “Culture is always in transition, so if you could alter it what would you do? A ‘culture’ is the reinventing of influences on your behavior. Our thrust is to bring about systemic change from dependency to empowerment. Change, in this instance, starts with two to three people who say, ‘we need to do something’. It’s about starting and forwarding the success of a movement not the success of specific people.”

Hope is a big thing in skid row. But Jacobs wasn’t selling hope. He had no Major Barbara-esque religious fervor for converting the poor souls he encountered. There was no mission or mantra that had to be chanted to be welcomed through the door. He was providing nothing more than a new and innovative approach to one of the most ingrained and perplexing communities in this and every city. Jacobs had a vision of what he called enculturation. “Enculturators are people who present a goal in such a way that it can influence a culture.”

The ADRO strategy has been to create a cultural shift from a predominant atmosphere of hopelessness and despair to one where people realize that they have real choices and then can exercise them. The manifestation is employment and permanent housing outside the skid row neighborhood. It’s based on the perspective that everything that is provided is determined by the community - not just with or for it. “Those in need bring themselves and empower themselves by doing it.” Says Jacobs, “They pay themselves and their employees and reinvest the profits back into the business, in this case the community, like any other business.”

The ADRO model is not a program bringing together social services to see how they can meet to diminish the need. The thrust of this movement is “to shift from where you are to the possibilities of where you want to be.” The intention of this movement is not organizational, because if it succeeds, the need for the organization will go away. And that’s the goal. “We usually try to solve the problem inside the problem. The anti-drug program for instance further cemented the drug problem. De-educating programs tend to ‘brand’ the problem, further embedding it in the human consciousness. We need to shift the culture in which the problem occurs to actually solve the problem.”

There have been accomplishments. Out of the first ADRO meetings emerged a newsletter written and edited by those in the community not by professionals for the community. They’ve produced posters, banners, a basketball league on San Julian Street to get the word out. They printed ‘ADRO Enculturator’ business cards, and discovered the homeless liked to carry business cards; a source book, T-shirts and a couple of emerging businesses that were literally adjacent opportunities - one being a flower-based business because San Julian St. is located right next to the Los Angeles flower market. The ADRO movement is also in the process of obtaining the necessary permits to launch a weekly Farmers Market on San Julian St.

“You are one step, one heartbeat away from a positive picture of yourself. Shifting the self-picture, then taking it to the next level of shifting the culture with the enculturator reinforcing the shift. This is different than self-help. It’s bigger than the individual.”

The ADRO movement has been planted in the seediest neighborhood in Los Angeles. It’s not by mere coincidence that this emergent model has taken root, here. The adjacent opportunities available here are as abundant as in any field of operation. And as with the progenitor of any forest, Jacobs is looking forward to the moment when “it looks like I’ve never been here, because the movement has grown beyond me and taken off. That’s success.”