Tag Archives: Co-working

Public Health in Action – Linked Up/In


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead’s quote eloquently describes what I see on a regular basis living and working in Durham, North Carolina. Since moving south from Washington, D.C. two years ago, I’m consistently humbled and inspired to hear what various groups are doing to improve the local community.

I recently attended a meeting hosted by the North Carolina Chapter of the B Corporation and heard a brief presentation from local B Corp Seth Gross, owner of Durham-based brewpub, Bull City Burger. In his remarks, he described how he opened Bull City Burger in 2011 and noticed a significant turnover in staff he had during his first year. After thoughtful consideration, he decided to focus more time, effort and resources on creating a work environment that was conducive to staff retention and a greater community impact. Bull City Burger was one of the, if not the, first restaurant to become certified as a B Corp in 2014. His leadership, willingness to share his story and advice to other restaurateurs and business owners have inspired countless others. North Carolina boasts 37 certified B Corps throughout the state.

Seth’s story with Bull City Burger is just one story among so many others that reflect the city’s level of community engagement.

My interview with Rob Shields, below, takes a deeper dive into the non-profit organization ReCity and its role in “rewriting the story” of Durham.


“Durham incubator works to aid youth employment” local ABC news clip: http://abc11.com/video/embed/?pid=1722793

Rob Shields, Executive Director of ReCity

Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?  Describe your journey to your current role as Executive Director of ReCity.  Describe why you’re passionate about addressing youth disconnection…why others should care about the work you’re doing.

Rob Shields: I’ve been in the youth development space for my whole career – sports coach to a campus-based youth ministry Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) to my current role as Executive Director at ReCity – and although my roles have differed, my professional interests have been in serving youth.

Through the years, I became more aware of division within communities. It really opened my eyes to the reality that communities of color experienced in daily life. The gap between rich and poor was huge and I became discontent with structures and systems that reinforced widening of that gap. From there I wanted to focus on community development and envisioned a thriving community where all individuals had opportunities to succeed. And that’s what attracted me to this role at ReCity. I wondered if this model could this be the solution to magnify programs that were already working and facilitate connections to foster collaboration between those programs. We aren’t trying to compete or reinvent the wheel, but our driving force is how best to serve the community.

I have a strong conviction and belief that talent is equally distributed but opportunity isn’t. And this bothers me. Everyone has dignity and we all have God-given skills and abilities and I want to be part of a city that has opportunities for all to find their way. The gap between rich and poor is too wide and ReCity would ideally play a role in creating the city as it should be.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

RS: I draw a lot of inspiration from my Christian faith. My belief in serving a god that is redemptive and restorative in nature. I’m inspired to follow in his example of being involved in work that restores and I feel called to do so. My wife and kids are another source of inspiration and perspective. The startup world is tough and it’s so easy to lose one’s identity in work. My family provides me a constant reminder that I have other priorities that I’m responsible for. They bring balance by slowing me down to a marathon pace when I’m normally sprinting.

Me: Can you tell us more about ReCity and your vision for the next 5 or 10 years?

RS: ReCity is a co-working space for nonprofits and mission-driven organizations committed to restoring opportunities for disconnected youth and their families in Durham. Our space empowers our partner organizations to work alongside each other to close the opportunity gaps in our community through strengthening collaboration and pooling resources as well as social capital to achieve collective impact.

In five years we envision ReCity playing a role in rallying the city to act collectively to address social issues like youth disconnection. And since youth disconnection is a complex mix of underlying core social issues, a focus on youth disconnection specifically would simultaneously address disparities and injustices in other areas like education, housing, and transportation among others. We hope to provide a path to stable employment to 1,000 youth by our third year.

In 10 years, I can see our model as a template to address any complex social issue in any city. The beauty in our model is its simplicity. Living out shared values together in a shared space can accelerate the collaboration needed to solve complex problems plaguing cities nationwide. At the core, these issues are not unique to Durham and we hope that others can find value in what we’re doing.

Me: What role does the community have in addressing social issues like youth disconnection, poverty, unemployment, etc.?

RS: Community leaders are vital in shaping our work. We fully recognize that it’s their community; they are the most invested and are the key stakeholders, which is why we follow their lead when it comes to planning and decision-making. ReCity’s role in addressing youth disconnection in Durham has evolved since our inception because of their unwavering support, input and feedback.

Leaders in the community have the biggest voice in addressing social issues, and since ReCity doesn’t provide direct programs like many non-profits, we have to be very selective in working with organizations that are well-respected in the greater Durham community. These organizations must use appropriate methods when addressing core issues, with a focus on personal and professional development over reinforcing the need for ongoing services. Durham’s population is culturally diverse, therefore the youth we serve are equally diverse. 56% of ReCity partner organizations are minority-led, which is critical for us because one our driving core values as an organization is to reflect the diversity of the community we serve.

Me: What are the current needs in the Raleigh-Durham metro area (or focus in on the city you live in) as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

RS: Affordable housing is a huge concern, which is why I’m excited our network has added partners doing amazing work in this area like Housing for New Hope and Jubilee Home. Providing shelter is only one aspect, but creating paths to social mobility and wealth creation through home-ownership is the key. If we can make progress in raising rates of home-ownership, there’s potential to break generational cycles of systemic injustice and poverty.

Access to regular, reliable transportation is another issue, especially for the youth that our network serves. ReCity has started to consolidate services and resources among our partner organizations and we hope to one day be a “one-stop shop” for every type of resource needed to serve children and families more efficiently and holistically. We also hope innovative partnerships can help improve access to regular, reliable transportation. Private companies already have the vehicles and drivers – it’s a matter of reallocating funds to local transportation companies like Uber or Lyft to serve our target populations. Often times, the highest impact isn’t a result of new programs being created, but from intentionally re-purposing or redirecting the resources that are already in place. And that’s what ReCity is all about.


54 Hours to Innovate


Thursday, August 7: I had a lot on my mind for the night going into the TSWHealth weekend.  This was my first official (cliff) dive into a formal entrepreneurship setting and I was excited for it.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t at least acknowledge that a part of me was scared at the thought of being out of my element – not only was this my first “entrepreneurship” event, but I’m not even from the area.  Both elements gave me a tinge of anxiety, but if you heard about the previous 12 months, you would realize this event was not going to faze me…you would realize that I’m at a point in my life where I not only tolerate change and uncertainty, but actually embrace and savor each and every delicious uneasy second of it.  Can I get a second helping, please?  So the fact that I had a lot on my mind didn’t have anything to do with worries going into the weekend.  The fact that I couldn’t sleep was due to my level of excitement.  Think kid in a candy store, but since I’m a little off and love savory foods, think of me in a buffet without sweet stuff.  Yeah, so giddy doesn’t capture how excited I was to attend this event.  I technically didn’t have a place to stay until Thursday morning.  I was determined and even had the backup plan of sleeping in the bathroom (Sorry American Underground and TSWHealth staff) – I was not going to let a minor thing like sleeping stop me from savoring the experience.

Friday, August 8: My bus was scheduled to leave at 11:00 am and arrive in Durham at 4:30 pm.  Awesome as long as there’s no traffic.  Scratch that, this is the 95 on a Friday, of course there’s going to be traffic.  As long as there’s minimal traffic, I’ll make it in time to pitch one of the three ideas I had going into it.  Winning!  And there’s internet and Wifi on board, so I can be super productive for this 5 hour journey.  Yes, great plan.  Fast forward a few hours and I’m boarding the bus and getting comfortable in my window seat.  First setback of the trip – after several attempts, no Wifi connection.  Buzzkill…there goes my plan to be productive.  At least I brought a few back issues of the New Yorker to read.  I’ll have to force myself to relax…

It’s 4:35 pm and I have no idea where I am in Durham.  I know that the event is within walking distance to the bus station, but no more than that.  Technology saves the day yet again and I’m within 4 blocks.

I officially check-in and head into the American Underground co-working space to mix and mingle it up with local entrepreneurs and “wannabes” like me.  With my Google swag in hand, I drop off my backpack and luggage and jump in head first.  Familiar theme?  That’s my M.O.  Sorry I’m not sorry.

The program starts at 6 pm.  Initial pitches start at 7 pm.  Is this real life??

Internal monologue: Breathe.  Relax.  You wanted this, so don’t let fear get the best of you.  Be you.  Have some confidence in yourself for goodness sake.  Now distract yourself by eating food and drinking water.  Go on, stay distracted.

Speeches and official business flies by and we’re grouped into teams for an icebreaker.  The idea – pick two random words and pitch a product idea for those two words.  5 minutes to get a plan together and break it down.  Hilarity ensues.

The time has come.  Our facilitator, serial entrepreneur Shashi Jain, asks the crowd “so, who’s pitching tonight?”  Hands are raised.  Somehow beyond fear, I’m one of the first five to pitch – third in line as a matter of fact.

I’m pretty sure I blacked out because all I really remember is uttering words and seeing hands come up after I asked the audience a few questions then hearing a few laughs before seeing the clock with 10 seconds left.  I passed the mic over to the next in line and tried to process what just happened.

Many more pitches came and went – a total of 28 to be exact – and it was now time to vote.  Each attendee had 3 votes for their favorite pitches and these were used to narrow the number of ideas down to the final 10.  From here, attendees chose the idea and teammates they wanted to work with.

Unfortunately my idea didn’t make the final 10, but that will not stop me from pushing forward with it.  If you’re really curious to know what it is, let’s talk.  If you’re really curious and are a smartphone app developer, call me in 5 minutes.

Teams are formed and our initial idea: a way to improve care coordination in the healthcare system through a compatible card that connects all EHR/EMR systems.  Similar to the model already used successfully in Taiwan, among other countries.

My (super talented) Teammates

0810141450aMichael McNeil – MS4 student at Duke Medical School

Jared Pelo – ER Physician and Founder of EyeScribes

Thomas Hubschman – Guru of Software

Brandon Hill – Design Strategist

Akhil Karibandi – Engineer wunderkind from a little known soft drink company

Emily Mangone – PhD student at UNC Chapel Hill

Matthew Brown – MBA student at Clemson University

David Melgar – Owner of an IOS development company

GrassRoutes Networking – Honorary teammates, advisors, counselors, cheerleaders, purveyor of laughs

Saturday, August 9:  The purpose of today is to gain advice from the experts and do some market research about our idea/product.  9 am, our team reconvenes over breakfast and bonds over lack of sleep and dire need for caffeine.  The “getting to know you” phase of team dynamics.  I felt like I was at a speed dating event, but less pressure and more fun.  Maybe that’s another idea entirely…

We prep all the way until our mentors arrive to hear our idea/product.  The reason I still call it an idea, was because after a long night deliberating, we still have yet to reach a minimal viable product or MVP.  We are optimistic that conversations with our mentors will provide us with some valuable insight.

11 am – 5 minutes post conversation with our mentors.  The main takeaway: a legislation is in place to do the exact thing that we were planning to do.  Time to panic?  Yes, now would be a good time to start.

11 am – 1 pm – Panic.  Discuss.  Problem solve.  Discuss.  Brainstorm.  Panic.

1 pm – The team regroups and decides on the MVP.  Next step – mobilize into teams to tackle the following: 1) website and working demo, 2) consumer research and 3) presentation.

1 pm – 5 pm – Tons of progress at this point.  We have a working demo, tons of great feedback from the people and a barebones PowerPoint presentation.

The rest of the night is a blur.  All I want to do is eat or sleep.  My brain doesn’t work any more.  It is a mushy bowl of oatmeal.

Sunday, August 10:

5:30 am – Why my body automatically wakes me up at 5:30, I don’t know.  But it has been happening like this since July.  I suspect it has to do with efficiency and the fact that I really am most productive between the hours of 7 and lunch.  I choose not to fight being uber tired and actually am excited to finish strong a la Lance.  This is our Tour de France.

7 am – I’m the first one in the building again.  House cleaning staff knows my face and they think I’m part of the organizing team.  I politely smile and get started on my routine: open and respond to emails while listening to my playlist on Soundcloud.

9 am – Our team is in full strength and ready to slay dragons.  Mr. McNeil is our fearless leader is wearing Batman socks and is confident about the pitch.  Chances of pulling this one off for the gipper (and I’m somewhat of a betting man): 31%.


12 pm – Mandatory check-in with the group.  We are not only hungry, but now stressed about finishing the presentation and practicing the pitch.  Low blood sugar and stress turns me into Betty White like the Snickers commercials.  Not a happy camper because I just want to eat and finish this thing.

2 pm – Mandatory “cease fire.”  No more major changes to the pitches and PowerPoints.  Kegs arrive…my mood instantly picks up.

3 pm – The show starts and the rest is history.

Curious about what happened?

All you need to know is that each attendee walked in a “want-trepreneur” and walked out an entrepreneur.

“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.” — Norton Juster

Why did I write this?

3 reasons:

1) I want to brag about my amazing teammates.  They energized me to look beyond the status quo and reinforced my main motivation to join this event – create a movement to improve health at the individual, community, state, national and international level through innovation.  I’m confident they will always be around to bounce ideas off of and keep me addicted to entrepreneur-ing.

2) I want to express my utmost appreciation to the TSWHealth organizing staff, volunteers, mentors and all the rest who were in one form or another involved in bringing this event together.  It was a huge success and I thank you for letting me be a part of it.

3) I want to inspire anyone who reads this to dream.  And dream big.  Dream your wildest dreams and then dream even wilder dreams.  The catch about entrepreneur-ing is this: there is no glass ceiling.