Obama’s Making Community Service Hip and Sexy

Two words have suddenly become hip and sexy.

I didn’t think I would ever see it but thanks to President Barack Obama, within the space of a few months, there’s been more talk and excitement about community and service than I can ever recall.

Obama has plans to expand AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, engage retiring Americans, and send Americans who are fluent speakers of local languages to expand public diplomacy.

He’s encouraging all middle and high school students to do 50 hours of community service a year, and will establish a new tax credit that is worth $4,000 a year in exchange for 100 hours of public service.

There’s also talk about the creation of an agency dedicated to building the capacity and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector, and about investing in the nonprofit sector by creating a Social Investment Fund Network to leverage private sector funding. 

For those of us working at the grassroots level that’s a heady and inspiring direction. 

Don’t get me wrong, its not that I don’t see the value and importance of the business sector and the contributions they make to community. It’s just that it’s pretty rare to have someone in Obama’s position understand that many of the things that impact the quality of our lives are the result of the two other sectors -  non profit and government.

It probably goes without saying that I am a huge Obama fan.

But what is it about this man that has allowed him to capture the hearts and minds of people around the world?  It’s more than him being an advocate of community development.

It just might be that it’s because he reflects a leadership quality that doesn’t always get a lot of attention - the ability to convey hope and optimism. 
Optimism manifests itself in positive expectations for the future, a hopeful mood, and our belief that outcomes will be good.
It’s not so much that we want a leader to deny reality, it’s just that when times are tough, we do want a leader who will view the “glass as half full, not half empty”.

Obama certainly didn’t sugarcoat the truth. In his inaugural speech, he acknowledged that the United States was a “nation at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred”, their economy was badly weakened, homes had been lost, their schools failed many, health care was too costly, and energy strategies were threatening their planet.

And, although clear about the challenges being serious and many, and that they would not be easily met, especially in a short span of time, he also said, “But know this, America - they will be met.”

Historically hope has proven to be an effective strategy. It works and makes others believe that valuable change can and does happen.

While Obama encountered many experts along the road to the White House who said he’d never get elected, he beat them all back with his optimism.
Continuing to embrace that same spirit of hope will allow Obama to do his job as a leader. While many would be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the change that will be required, it seems so much more possible when viewed through the lenses of hope.

And, while the odds are that none of us will ever have to tackle a job on a scale like the one Obama is facing, we can learn from his example. We all can, and need, to embrace hope in order to live our best lives.

Ultimately it means we can choose negativity or we can choose hope. I for one, choose hope.

Posted on 01-25-09



I think you hit it on the spot- that leadership does require hope and optimism and that a leader can spread this framework throughout his or her environment. I will always vote on hope in situations.


•Posted by Carolyn Mead  on  01/29/09  at  02:20 PM

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