Shawn Landres – Week 5: 30-in-30 Honoree

SCLN 30-in-30 honoree Shawn Landres connects people, ideas and resources, enabling community leaders to expand what they know, adapt how they think, and redefine what is possible. A graduate of the California Connections class of 2016, he currently chairs the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission and the City of Santa Monica Social Services Commission. As co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, which advances research and innovation in philanthropy, interreligious engagement, and community building, Shawn has been featured as a White House “spotlight innovator” and his work has been covered in major national and international media.

What does leadership mean to you?

For me, leadership is about listening, ensuring inclusion and diversity at decision-making tables, building coalitions, and advancing the empowerment of others. My commitments have been nurtured through my family history. During World War II, Italian Catholic nuns reached across silos of ethnoreligious identity to hide my Jewish mother and grandparents, refugees from the fascist Slovak state. In turn, I have learned that empathy and interdependence are basic to surviving and thriving: we must affirm the vibrant cultures in which and with which we live, and seek out intentional connections across lines of difference.

To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the destiny and freedom of those without privilege – whether people of color, women and LGBTQ people, Muslims and other religious minorities, or people facing economic insecurity – is the destiny and freedom of all of us. The dignity of one is the dignity of all. Key to my understanding of leadership is checking my own privilege and working in solidarity with others to build equity and expand opportunity for all in our society, especially those on the margins who are the most vulnerable.

As a leader, the question I always ask is: who’s not at the table who should be?

What are ways in which people can become more involved in civic and community work?

Today, perhaps more than ever, local action matters. Cities (and counties) are laboratories of local creativity and global impact. My own career – professional, volunteer, and public-sector – has been an experiment in bridge-building and knowledge-sharing across sectors.

My journey to and through SCLN’s California Connections Fellowship is a case study of how purpose and relationships intertwine to shape leadership development and civic involvement. Through my work at Jumpstart Labs and our co-working space, J Space, I had connected with Impact Hub Los Angeles, eventually becoming chair of the Board of Managers. After I had been appointed to the LA County Quality and Productivity Commission and was seeking additional understanding of our region’s challenges and opportunities, Impact Hub’s talented Managing Director, Ani Okkasian (LLA ’10), introduced me to SCLN Executive Director Nancy Olson (LLA ’13), who encouraged me to apply for California Connections. And California Connections then connected me with an extraordinary group of cross-sector leaders, among whom was Anne Dobson (Cal Conn ’16) of Skid Row Housing Trust, whom I recruited as an appointee to the Santa Monica Social Services Commission. Anne would help shape our Commission’s work on homelessness and housing insecurity. Later, via my work with Future of Cities and Donna Bojarsky, I teamed up again with Nancy Olson and Erin Tanenbaum of Southern California Leadership Network to co-convene – for the first time in a generation – leaders and managers of civic leadership training programs from across the Los Angeles basin.

As I see it, the upshot of this story is that leadership growth comes from being open to the serendipitous connections our professional work can offer, and from being willing to learn from every encounter. This kind of openness both reflects and advances a spirit of collaborative problem solving that our communities need, whether in housing, education, economic inclusion, environmental sustainability, or any other challenge we face. When we join together as strangers, refugees, immigrants, neighbors, citizens, friends, and family, we strengthen what we have in common and leverage our differences for good. That is the power of the civic –involvement and leadership rooted in our urban interconnections and interdependence.