Welcome To The 2017-18 ServiceCorps Fellowship!
I’m writing to you, just 3 weeks from the start of the Fellowship, from the ServiceCorps Headquarters located in the heart of NYC.
I’m writing to you with humility, excitement, and just a touch of suspense. The humility is easy to understand. I’m humbled that each and every one of you—16 courageous souls—have entrusted us with your most valuable possession, your time. You have bravely stepped forward by deferring the first year of your career while sacrificing a higher salary in order to dedicate yourself to the service of others. For this you've earned my steadfast respect.
My excitement comes from realizing my long held dream of launching and building the ServiceCorps movement—one that I first envisioned exactly 6 years ago. At the time, I had temporarily lost my voice as a result of a senseless act of violence. Inspired by the words of Anne Frank, I wanted to create an army for good to carry out the good deeds that I wasn’t sure I could do myself. Now in our second year, you are about to walk in the footsteps of our first 12 soldiers in this army.
And the suspense comes from not knowing exactly where serendipity will take us, not just this week, or this year, but in the years to come. How will ServiceCorps impact each of you? How will you impact each other? How will you impact the world? These are just a few of the questions that are on my mind as we begin this journey. I can’t wait to see what we create together.
The Leadership Capital Institute (LCI)
The Leadership Capital Institute (LCI) is the first leg of the ServiceCorps Leadership Capital Development Program (LCDP). Our journey begins on Sunday, June 25 on the campus of Cornell University in gorgeous Ithaca, New York. I’ve learned from experience that cohorts become communities when the participants become full partners in the voyage. And so from the moment LCI begins, I ask that you stop thinking of yourself as a participant on a program (except in the sense that your comfort and your experience is of paramount concern for me). Instead, I ask that you start thinking of yourself as a member of the ServiceCorps community and a partner in advancing our mission to build and mobilize a lifelong community of courageous leaders collaborating to advance justice & opportunity for all.
It is said that just as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). As a partner of the ServiceCorps community, your strength will emanate first and foremost from your Fellowship class. Each of the Fellows were selected for the same reason you were selected: because of your ability to both learn and teach, follow and lead, dream and execute, inspire and be inspired. In short, you were selected because I and by extension my team believes in you. From the moment LCI begins, I ask you to begin to look to each other for support, inspiration, and friendship.
As you will find, I have a deep fondness for history. And so I’d like to share a story now to help us to begin to think about our personal growth as it relates to the type of community we want to create and the type of impact we want to make in the world.
Philosopher Ibn Khaldun was a North African Arab Muslim who lived 700 years ago. He is widely regarded as the preeminent thinker of his time and one of the founding fathers of what would later be called sociology. In his book Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun discusses the rise and fall of man with the following parable:
The first generation retains the desert qualities, desert toughness, and desert savagery…they are brave and rapacious…the strength of group feeling continues to be preserved among them. They are sharp and greatly feared. People submit to them.
Under the influence of royal authority and a life of ease, the second generation changes from the desert attitude to a sedentary culture, from privation to luxury and plenty, from a state in which everybody shared in the glory to one in which one man claims all the glory…others are [in]…humble subservience…the vigour of the group feeling is broken…But many of the old virtues remain…because they [the people] had had direct personal contact with the first generation…
The third generation, then, has (completely) forgotten the period of desert life and toughness…Luxury reaches its peak among them…Group feeling disappears completely…People forget to protect and defend themselves…In the course of these three generations, the dynasty grows senile and is worn out.*
*Khaldun, Ibn. The Muqaddimah, an Introduction to History. Translated by Franz Rosenthal, Bollingen Series. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton University Press, 1969.
Each of us embodies some of the positive and negative qualities found in all three generations. Only through personal and situational awareness can we begin to soar beyond the expectations that history and society has imposed on us. While this story raises many questions, the reason I share this with you now is to provoke you to start thinking about one of the most crucial yet elusive qualities that a young leader can possess: self-awareness.
Three Themes: Self, Us, Now
Our primary themes for the LCDP and LCI come from the first century Jerusalem sage Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Hillel famously pronounced: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14). While ancient in origin, these three questions have stood the test of time. More recently, Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz explored these themes within the context of building social movements. At ServiceCorps, we leverage these questions to build better leaders and to build a stronger Fellowship and alumni community.
- Self: Who am I as a leader and why was I called to lead?
- Us: What is the larger context and community in which I am to lead? What impact do I want to have?
- Now: What choices must I make to make an impact?
- Who are WE as a leaders and why were WE called to lead?
- What is the larger context and community in which WE are to lead? What impact do WE want to have?
- What choices must WE make to make an impact?
Throughout LCI and the year, our exploration of these questions will help us to achieve actionable self-awareness and communal cohesion. This will empower us to shift from a mindset of accepting a fate to that of building our own destiny and forging a career and a life of meaning.
The First Day of Your Career
On June 25th we meet for the first time; a band of lonely leaders of consequence. By the time we leave each other to start the Service Placement just a week later, my hope is that a mission-driven community will have emerged.
Thank you for your courage and your partnership in this journey.