Entrepreneur as a Force for Positive Impact - PS 114

Entrepreneur as a Force for Positive Impact – PS 114

As a well-connected, social entrepreneur, Mike Echevarria has invested in a large scale initiative to bring a positive impact to his city. He is convening an Appreciative Inquiry Summit, calling all interested stakeholders to come together to imagine the future of their city. The dates for this Tampa Summit are November 4, 5 and 6, 2019.

Positive Local Connections

Mike Echevarria

Mike, Founder of Positive Impact Force, is an excellent example of Appreciative Leading. In the short time, I’ve know him, I continue to discover more about his talents, his generosity and boundless curiosity and energy. Mike is an entrepreneur, an adventurer, and really passionate about life – the wholeness of life: his work, his travels and hobbies which include diving – diving with sharks – and underwater photography, flying and making a positive impact in his community.

Mike and I met through our work and interest in the field of community and organization development and are actively leading and co-creating opportunities for positive impact in our worlds. It’s the transformational change methodology Appreciative Inquiry that brought us together. During the last year, we’ve attended a number of the same events across the US. We are blessed to have professional colleagues in common, and most serendipitously we live in neighboring towns in Florida.

A long-time entrepreneur in his community, Tampa Florida, Mike Echevarria has invested in a large scale initiative to bring positive changes to his city. He is convening an Appreciative Inquiry Summit, calling all interested stakeholders to come together to imagine the future of their city. The working title of this initiative is “I am 4 Tampa – Together we are Stronger.”

Iam4Tampa – Together, We're Stronger

Positive Impact - What I Iam4Tampa?

The impetus for this city-wide initiative was birthed when Mike learned about the City of Cleveland embarking on such a project several years ago. The Cleveland project has morphed over the years from Green City on a Blue Lake to its current title, Sustainable Cleveland 2019. Mike was undertaking his Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Certification at the time at Case Western Reserve University and posed the question:

What might it look like to apply the AI methodology to my hometown in Tampa?

Mike: I started probably four years ago with a series of conversations, what might it look like, how might we do it? And today we are 30 days post a steering committee gathering on the project involving a host of new people to the project. We are introducing Appreciative Inquiry is a methodology to a community building platform here in our community.

Who's Invited to the Summit For Tampa?

Mike: Everybody is important to be at the table because we've thrown a big net and people who are willing to serve their community without looking for anything back show up. We don't have a very narrow focus about what we want. Being true to the process, we are in the discovery phase about:

  • what our community is most proud of
  • what our success factors
  • what do we want to see more of
  • what do we want to keep – the current best things about our community

What's the Positive Impact You're Striving For?

Mike: As you know, in doing these projects, it's very difficult in the beginning when you don't know the topic. We still don't exactly know the topic for the Summit. We just know the process that we're using and the Discovery and Dream phases are helping us determine what it is that we see for our community as far as the topic, and the objectives of the Summit that we're planning for in November.

Tampa is a very welcoming community. There are a lot of people that grew up here like I did, but also a lot of people that have moved here over the years. You can come to Tampa and become part of this community if you want to. There are no barriers to entry, socially, or economically, or racially.

There are a number of things that are emerging as opportunity areas or themes that our Summit might produce working groups around, such as transportation, education, affordable housing, and not-for-profits, working in a more collaborative fashion.

Appreciative Leading In Action

Photographer: Kylie Lugo | Source: Unsplash

I asked Mike how attached he was to any specific outcome for the project.

Mike: I'm attached to it, but I keep reminding myself that I'm just responsible for the process. I'm constantly having to make sure that I don't prejudge the outcome of a meeting or conversation, but that I bring the things that I'm hearing from others up to the surface for conversation and for discussion. So, I believe that:

I am most effective when I focus on the process and not on the outcome and give everybody the voice to be appreciated and to be heard that will make the result, whatever happens, to be better.

Mike's attraction to, and affinity with Appreciative Inquiry can be linked to his journey into Servant Leadership which began over 25 years ago when he started, grew and led a large law firm. His journey has followed the words of Picasso, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Mike’s passion is to inspire others to find their gifts and give them away. Mike shares this attribute with another of our colleagues, Joep de Jong who talked to us in an earlier episode on the topic of Searching for the Soul of Appreciative Leading.

Unlearning the Practices of Leading a Traditional Legal Firm

positive impact - Mike with sharks
Photograher Mike Echevarria

Mike had some unlearning to do once he had discovered Appreciative Inquiry.

Mike: I was a practicing lawyer for almost 30 years and I ran a law firm that did traditional planning where the executive committee would meet every August and come up with the themes and the goals for the following year and start a communication program. The departments would come up with their plan and by the end of the day, you'd massage the plan and a budget that became the operating platform for the next year.

And when I saw Appreciative Inquiry and the methodology that would bring all employees into the room at the same time to create the plan, I was floored by the concept of how many weeks and months of my life I'd spent selling up a program. I just watched the engagement people get for being involved in the planning session. And I just said, “Duh, why didn't I do this before?” So as soon as I saw it, I immediately moved to that methodology.

Power of Community in his Immigrant Family

I asked Mike about his early life, particularly if there had been influences that predisposed him to take up law and then pivot to community leading.

Mike: My father is a first generation American from a Spanish immigrant community. He and several of his close friends and mentors of mine really modeled that servant leadership in community early on. They had this overwhelming feeling of if you received a benefit you pass it on. And one of my mentors said, whenever you're climbing the ladder, always reach down and pull up the next one with you. I had some very strong role models that actually did that in my youth. They modeled that behavior. So it wasn't hard for me to see the value in that and continue where I could in that tradition.

As an immigrant community in a foreign country, there's a lot of that sticking together to be able to go do that. That the sense of community was very strong.

Bringing Appreciative Inquiry to Non-Profit Boards

Photographer: Ali Yahya | Source: Unsplash

Mike has a special affection for non-profit organizations and served on several boards including serving as Chair at the Florida Aquarium for 3 years from 2010 to 2012 and as Chair of the Coral Restoration Foundation for 4 years from 2013 to 2016

Mike thinks Appreciative Inquiry is almost ideal for those boards, especially volunteer boards. He finds that when he first interacts with such boards, there is the desire to get rid of the “deadwood.” They want to know how to fire the board members that aren't working. Mike is able to quickly reframe those statements and wishes by asking an appreciative question:

How do we create highly energized and engaged board members?

Mike: We started asking different questions. We asked those board members who are excited and energized by their board work, what energized them? What did they do? How did they do it? What was their view of the world? He learned some fascinating things about how people work.

One of the most important things that I learned is everyone has to have a responsibility. I use that everywhere I go now.

How to Connect to Mike

Links to Resources for IAm4Tampa

How to Become a Patron of Positivity Strategist