Southern California: The Right Time, The Right People, and The Right Place

“All citizens should have the opportunity to be active, but all will not respond. Those who do respond carry the burden of our free society. I call them the Responsibles. They exist in every segment of the community- ethnic groups, labor unions, neighborhood associations, businesses- but they rarely form an effective network of responsibility because they don’t know one another across segments. They must find each other, learn to communicate, and find common ground. Then they can function as the keepers of the long-term agenda.” (John W. Gardner, 1912-2002 (right) “Civic Partners”, 1997)

This quote from John Gardner, one of America’s leading thinkers on community, society and leadership, becomes more poignant day to day since he wrote the words. I often rely on Gardner’s work and his concept about “the Responsibles” in our leadership sessions as both a call to action and inspiration. In their short and intensive time together, our Leadership L.A. and Leadership Southern California fellows certainly connect across their traditional segments, communicate and find common ground on the large issues facing our communities.

Over the past two decades, I have sought to immerse myself in the unique challenges and opportunities facing Southern California. This work has allowed me to engage in a much more productive dialogue with many of our 1,000+ leadership fellows, SCLN’s board members and corporate and philanthropic investors, as well as political and business leaders here and abroad.

Inevitably, I tend to more easily engage in the opportunities that we face as a region, especially given the magnitude of the economic and global leadership challenges that currently confront us. It is my personal philosophy that the only way to address challenges is through solutions created by the opportunities we seize. Through innovation, stronger social networks, and commitment, I believe that Southern California is well positioned to move forward.

Gardner’s “Responsibles” keeps coming back to me with a renewed energy as a result of my work with the Southern California Leadership Network and our vantage point in this region. The larger question is not just meeting and connecting, but moving forward on the question of how “the Responsibles” can become the “keeper of the long-term agenda.” In other words, what are the mechanics of moving Southern California forward?

Without question, the long-term agenda for Los Angeles and Southern California needs to address our concerns about congestion, expansion of our economy and opportunities for all, quality education, public safety, and healthy communities and environment. This sort of agenda will also make our region the global model of success. With a quick look around the globe, it is crystal clear that the race is on. With a quick look around Southern California, we seem as capable, if not more capable, than other regions in large part due to our history of innovation, cultural diversity, and infrastructure development.

Being a part of “the Responsibles” is not for the glory seekers, the faint of heart, or those looking for quick returns. The glory is likely to be limited, the successes will be incremental, and the investment of time and energy to connect in the region are significant due to the mobility issues we face. However, the returns are much larger in terms of a moral legacy in serving our fellow citizens and creating a path of prosperity and sustainability for the generations to come.

In an effort to move forward our dialogue here, I ask these questions:

1. What types of initiatives or activities do you think can strengthen our network of “the Responsibles” in this region? 2. What do you think are the top three opportunities on the long-term agenda?

-Kevin Cottrell Executive Director, Southern California Leadership Network and Vice President of Leadership Programs, L.A. Area Chamber