In the startup, entrepreneurial space the phrase “fall in love with the problem not the solution” has become a mantra. While I think there is room for real debate about the role that entrepreneurship plays in the complicated landscape in which we work, the focus on truly understanding the problem and working to discover the “thing behind the thing” can lead to more thoughtful and equitable innovation.

Nonprofit work is messy. People are complicated. Together, with you our friends and donors, we are tackling some pretty thorny “problems” – income security, living wage employment, college and career success, equity, systems change. There is an impulse to solve, to find solutions, and to move on to the next problem.

But by jumping to solutions, we rob ourselves of creativity, exploration, resilience, and truly delightful and innovative ideas that are rooted in the needs of people.

Let me tell you about some recent work of Public Agency, WMCAT’s Human-Centered Design consultancy. We are in the midst of a 10-month engagement with partner West Michigan Works! through which Public Agency is facilitating the reimagining of their customer service experience for employers and job seekers.

Falling in love with the problem for us means being unapologetically focused on people. Public Agency is leading the team from West Michigan Works! through capacity building in Human-Centered Design, exploration work to identify challenges, and a design cycle to address those challenges.

We don’t enter into this work with prescribed solutions, we don’t hand over a “how-to” document. Rather, Public Agency will build fluency and comfort of the design process, and help West Michigan Works! identify pain points and the best ways to work through transitions. It’s one of many projects through which Public Agency is advancing WMCAT’s mission of equitable access to opportunity.

If we neglect to fall in love with the problem and jump to solutions, we also diminish the journey and the transition to new opportunities. This is true for WMCAT’s support of adult learners, high school students and young adults. The work made possible by your contribution.

It’s graduation season and in the pages of this newsletter you’ll meet three WMCAT students and graduates who are on journeys to income security, career and college. While at WMCAT they learn to harness their authentic selves to navigate transitions, to apply creative thinking to problem-solving, and to leverage social capital. Thank you for giving our students a space to fall in love with the journey; to creatively work through the problems towards just and equitable solutions.

Daniel Williams, EdD, President + CEO