Deborah Nankivell: What is Broken and How Would I Fix It?

610 200 Deborah Nankivell

Fresno Business Council CEO Deborah Nankivell at the 2016 California Economic Summit in Sacramento (Photo Credit: Skip Jones Photography)

For more than 20 years, Deborah Nankivell has lead the Fresno Business Council as it has explored how to best unite private, public and civic sector leaders to a common purpose — a healthy, prosperous and equitable community. Nankivell has practiced criminal defense and is a former staff member of Common Cause, which is not the resume one expects for a business association CEO in the San Joaquin Valley. In some ways, the message is the messenger: If we are going to Elevate all Californians, Nankivell writes, we must embrace the responsibility of citizenship and develop a community agenda.

What if what’s broken is us? We the people became fragmented, narrow-minded and comfortable in our separate worlds, watching as we waited for someone else to save us.

“It” covers a lot of ground—infrastructure, water shortages, preventable chronic health issues, disappearing middle class, predatory legal and financial systems, entitlement mentality, cranky and childish political culture…

Most intractable issues don’t start out that way. Experts often have answers or they could be resolved through common sense. Issues become intractable because rather than master the art of thinking and working together for the common good, we compete and create scarcity. We focus on personal ambition rather than a vibrant economy with opportunities for all. When did we forget that keeping the fruit of our labor—capitalism—was not an entitlement but something people were willing to risk their lives to secure?

A new contract for behavior in the civic sector is long overdue. Generations of Americans know little to nothing about the risks taken by our founders and the influences that led to one of the greatest documents in history—The Constitution of the United States. An informed and engaged public was a crucial element to moving the nation toward the ideals that were inspired by the great thinkers of the Enlightenment.

Adding lessons from the Greek city states and the collaborative leadership skills of the Iroquois Confederation, the Constitution offered structure and a process to get things done and live together in harmony.

Too often, narrow interests distort public policies and distract institutions to treat a symptom rather than the cause. An economic, equity or environmental “win” at the expense of the whole is a loss—it’s just a matter of time.

Are we serious about solutions? Are we willing to look through a community-centric lens when evaluating every policy?

Every community must build its own civic infrastructure. It starts in the minds and hearts of those unwilling to accept the status quo; who are willing to embrace the responsibility of citizenship. A community agenda, comprehensive strategies, platforms to execute, champions to lead, and a citizen army will emerge when enough people remember America is an experiment, not a guarantee. E Pluribus Unum is a passionate call to action. It is a compelling message from those who were willing to sacrifice privilege for freedom, not just for themselves but everyone.

Many of you probably know about Victor Frankl’s compelling book about surviving the Holocaust—Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl told us we have a responsibility to ourselves, our neighbors, our communities, our country and our world – and this sense of purpose empowers use to persistent through adversity. These are the principles of stewardship. He suggested a statue be built as a bookend to the Statue of Liberty on the West Coast, a Statue of Responsibility. A foundation was started to achieve this goal and launch a movement.

Similarly, John Gardner told us to blow a bugle in the ear of those with the capacity to make change but who stand by and do nothing.

In California, we are working to advance both pillars – liberty and responsibility. The work of California Forward and California Stewardship Network is aimed at responsible governance and getting things done that benefit everyone.

Deborah Nankivell is CEO of the Fresno Business Council.


Deborah Nankivell

All stories by: Deborah Nankivell