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Editor’s Notebook: Linchpins in any organization ‘keep a wheel from falling off its axle’

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“Linchpins invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book … They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.”

Seth Godin devotes an entire book to the impact of linchpins on organizations, so I thought I’d spend a bit of time talking about what feels like a growing collaborative spirit here.

Back in August, Longwood Foundation President There du Pont heralded the merger of the Delaware Leaders Alliance and the Delaware Renaissance Corp. by saying that it doesn’t make sense in a city the size of Wilmington to have two organizations operating in parallel and that as the leader of a local foundation, he loves the idea of two nonprofits merging. 

So that’s a good place to talk about Linchpin No. 1: Renata Kowalczyk, the executive director of Wilmington Alliance. She’s helping bring together downtown agencies to make it easier and safer for pedestrians and bikers to travel between downtown and the Riverfront. She organized a meeting on Oct. 22 to talk about to get that long-delayed project moving forward.

Sarah Willoughby, the executive director of the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, described Kowalczyk as a great connector – “a sponge, talking to people, absorbing information and then sharing it with others.”

Over in our Eight Over 80 section in this issue, Sam Beard talks about his superpower being his ability to connect people and he’s working on a huge project to bring stress-reducing mindfulness to the state and nation in an effort that he readily concedes requires participation from lots of people. Then there are Terry and Sandy Strine, whose Leadership Delaware program is designed to create connectors and linchpins, to bring together people who cross the aisle to make things happen. And they’re connectors themselves,
when you look at who they’ve brought in to speak to the group.

And then there’s Linchpin Dionna Sargent, Cinnaire’s Wilmington community development market leader. She brought NCALL Loan Fund and True Access Capital to the table to create Equitable Wilmington, which wants to build the capacity of community-based organizations to preserve or rehab more than 100 affordable housing units; provide 48 small business loans totaling $1 million; and develop community facilities that create assets and resources for the community.

The result? A press conference in late October announcing that JPMorgan Chase would invest $4 million into Equitable Wilmington.

“All this stuff is coming together and everyone is paddling in the right direction,” said Bill Freeborn from the Wilmington Land Bank, which expects to demolish at least 50 buildings in Wilmington by the end of the year and has seen a series of victories this year, including the rehabbing of 41 properties since March. “Hats off to Cinnaire, which has assembled a great, great set of partners. This is all very encouraging and makes it kind of fun.”

Mary Horstmann, who heads up Chase’s global philanthropy efforts in Wilmington, says the three partners in Equitable Wilmington are “terrific separately but a powerhouse together. Dionna brought everyone to the table – Cinnaire with its national presence, NCALL with the work it’s doing downstate, and True Access with its small-business lending – and had some purposeful conversations about who’s the tip of the spear.”

Hortsmann said it “makes it easy when great organizations come to her for an investment and have thought about collaboration. They can use the skills they already have and leverage best practices elsewhere.”

In the final analysis, all these efforts will be more successful when we bring people together at that scale to think about solving problems and moving the needle. Mary Horstman and Renata Kowalczyk and many others all agree. We’ve been talking to each other for a long time. The difference today is that we’re doing more to integrate.

So who else is out there, serving as or aspiring to be linchpins? As Godin describes them, these are the people are “like the small piece of hardware that keeps a wheel from falling off its axle, they may not be famous but they’re indispensable.” 

We’d love to recognize them in these pages.

Parting Thoughts: On a slightly different note, we’re getting close to closing the door on nominations for our 2020 People to Watch issue. We’re looking for the people who will be making news next year – either in business, in the nonprofit sector, or perhaps for being linchpins. If you have a nomination, please drop me a note at [email protected]. 

We also have lists coming up over the next few issues for women-owned businesses and New Castle County employers. If you think you might qualify and haven’t heard from us, please let Research Editor Mike Rocheleau know at [email protected]. 

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