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Harpur Forum hears message of hope

By : Katie Ellis

Richard Harwood, founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, discusses "From Retreat to Authentic Hope: How We Can Make Hope Real in Our Communities" at the Harpur Forum breakfast held at the Binghamton Club.

Richard Harwood is a hopeful man. Author of From Retreat to Authentic Hope: How We Can Make Hope Real in Our Communities, Harwood brought his message of creating authentic hope in our region to the Harpur Forum last week.

Founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonprofit helping people imagine and act for the public good, Harwood asked, “How can we make hope for each and every one in our communities?”

First and foremost, he said, hope needs to reside within each and every one of us and it comes from our interactions with each other.

“There’s a deep yearning in our country, among and within us, to step forward and become part of something that is greater than ourselves,” he said. “People will do the right thing, for the right reason and with the right folks.”

That yearning exists here in the Southern Tier, said Harwood, who met the day before with Binghamton University students and students from other area colleges and high schools. “I heard a deep desire for this region to be different from what it is, better than it is,” he said. “People want to step forward.”

To make that happen, Harwood said, residents need to talk about real change, and give people authentic hope that every child can get a good, public education no matter their background, that they can walk safely down streets at night and get a good job at a decent wage. There’s a fight going on for the heart and soul of the area, according to Harwood — positive versus negative, the old versus the new. “We need to set our ideals and act on them,” he said.

Harwood has three strategies to bring hope back.

“We need to make a commitment together that we will engage people around notions of the public good, community good or common good, not just your own,” he said. “We’ve been dubbed the almighty consumer, making demands for resources and laying claim to them.”

People don’t want to be inconvenienced, but to effect change and get back to the positive, everyone needs to move in the same direction together.

Next, Harwood said, residents need to invest in this community’s capacity for change.
“There are a lot of good groups doing important work, but I find that there are very few groups that actually span boundaries, that help people collaborate,” he said. “We need real collaboration so we can innovate and make things happen and be creative, and we need boundary-spanning organizations that can incubate these new ideas.”

Finally, Harwood suggests residents think about what really gives people hope. “Without it, they won’t overcome adversity, or cross boundaries,” he said. “These changes can’t happen without real hope. We’ve become good at peddling false hope and we know we can’t keep the promises, but we do it anyway.

“This is having a negative effect on our public life and people’s faith in one another. If we’re really interested in re-engaging everyone in this town, we need to decide that we’re in favor of authentic hope and put things out on the public agenda squarely,” Harwood said.

Once residents gain authentic hope, Harwood said the community can make progress toward a positive outlook. “We’ll gain authentic hope,” he said, “when we start to make small steps forward and people can see we have the capacity, knowledge and will that we can do the small things together and can take the next step after that.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08