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December 1, 2020

Editorial: Stay the Course, or Innovate?

This editorial by Lecolion Washington appeared in The Ensemble, a newsletter for the U.S. & Canadian El Sistema Movement

What next? We are all seeking a path forward. We are all managing COVID 19 closures. And we are doing all of this alongside an upsurge of social and political unrest. We are struggling mightily and wondering what to do next. This moment of uncertainty is like no other, and as we try to understand the future role of our work, we wonder: should we continue business as usual? Or should we innovate now, and hope that we find the right recipe for future success?

I think we should do both.

Continue business as usual? Currently, there is no business as usual, but if you can continue your programming in the same format (with necessary safety precautions), your participants need you more than ever. Sometimes just being with you reminds them that there is a world to return to, once restrictions are lifted. This doesn’t mean continuing to do things in exactly the same ways. We must shift our thinking from focusing on programming to doubling down on the concept of community. Our constituencies are facing many challenges; reminding them that they are part of a community should be our most important goal. This will look somewhat different for every organization. But we must have the courage to look away from simply maintaining programs and to develop a more human-centered approach to community engagement.

Innovate? This is a historical moment, in which people everywhere are seeking new ways to engage with each other. Many are beginning to shed the parts of their lives (à la Marie Kondo) that do not bring them joy. The boldest organizations, those that are looking to be first adopters of innovative opportunities, are the ones most likely to grow. This means doing things we may have never done before—for example, creating culturally responsive and learner-centered programs through the lens of

Most of us are used to thinking primarily about programs and services. Now the priority must shift to thinking about relationships and partners. This may mean that some kinds of site-based programming no longer work, because of a lack of authentic relationships, and must be compassionately wound down. The silver lining is that we can reallocate our energies toward developing authentic partnerships and authentic relationships with community. This is the key to keeping our work relevant and sustainable
through a challenging present and future.


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