Second Annual Civic Leadership Forum features Mario Avila of the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures

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The Second Annual Civic Leadership Forum on November 3, 2016 brought together alumni and current students to network and expand their civic leadership knowledge.  The featured speaker was Mario Avila, the Founding Director of the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures at Vanderbilt University, and a member of the third class of Leadership Tennessee.  Under the direction of a board comprised of graduate students, the Turner Family Center works to alleviate poverty through creating business opportunities for vulnerable populations.

After greetings from Dean Steve Joiner, Kathleen Fuchs of Cohort 3, in her new role as manager of the Turner Family Center (TFC) for Social Ventures, introduced speaker Mario Avila, the Founding Director of the TFC.

Mario spent many years as a social entrepreneur, starting businesses to help those in the community who are struggling financially.  “Civic leaders are needed for people who don’t have a voice,” he said.  “The reality is that there is a box, and we have to create solutions for the people living inside that box.  You can’t teach passion, but the only way to do the real work in our communities is to get uncomfortable.  You have to ask questions and go deep into the issues.  You have to understand the community in order to create solutions.”

The talk was followed by a brief question and answer period, then closing remarks were given by Dr. Michelle Steele. After thanking Mario for sharing his thoughts, Dr. Steele updated the group on the goals for the ICL program which she had announced at the previous year’s Civic Leadership Forum.

Over the past year, Dr. Steele has worked to strengthen the ICL curriculum by focusing more on addressing core issues in the local community.  She said, “Great attention and focus has been paid to root-cause analysis, evaluation of findings, and experiential learning outside the classroom.”  One high-profile opportunity to use all three skills occurred when 22 of our alumni and students trained to be facilitators of Mayor Megan Barry’s REAL Talk (addressing Race, Equity and Leadership) on September 10th, in which 1000 members participated. 

Steele said another goal was met this past year when a detailed community-needs assessment tool was created to “bring together students and their professors to develop policies and/or programs that can help community organizations solve critical needs or problems.”  As a result, ICL now has partnerships with The Salvation Army, the Napier Community Center, the Sexual Assault Center, The Tennessee Tribune, and the Duwa Project in Malawi.

In October 2016, ICL alums received a link to a comprehensive survey of their experience in the ICL master’s program.  Of the 62 who received the link, 40 had completed the survey by November 2016.  The data culled from the survey will be used to further craft the ICL program to better meet the needs of its students.

In conclusion, Dr. Steele said, “We are currently in contact with nearly 100% of our 62 alums. We will continue to offer opportunities like this (forum), to engage you and keep you connected to each other and the university.”

The forum was closed in prayer by adjunct ICL faculty member William Turner, who asked blessings for the students and the work they were doing in the community. 

After the forum, several participants mentioned how good it was to learn what their fellow students had been doing in the community.  We hope these forums will be a way to inspire and encourage each of you in your civic leadership.  We look forward to seeing you all at the next Civic Leadership Forum!