Silo-Breakers: Scott Burkholder

By | Art & Social Change, Of Love and Concrete, Silo-Breakers | No Comments

Editor’s 0714_WVanthem …

At ChangingMedia, we love playing around with new technologies. One of our core beliefs is that tech has the potential to break down barriers and create meaningful social change. That pixelated sense of playfulness extends to ChangeEngine, where we’re always looking for new ways to send grand schemes and new ideas into orbit. Our most advanced technology, of course, is the genius of our contributors. But we also know that those new tools can push the debate and the work of social change forward. And so, without further ado and through the magic of Instagram video, we present the latest installment in our Silo-Breakers series — our very own bard of love and concrete, Scott Burkholder, on his work with GBTC at the intersection of art and tech.

Thanks to Scott for agreeing to be our pioneer (and a shout-out to ChangeEngine’s chief booster, the irrepressible Colin Seal, for suggesting the idea.)

[Want to join in the fun? Create a short Instagram video telling us what your silo is and how you’re working to break out of it. Share with us at changeengine on Instagram, @ChangEngine #breakoutchallenge on Twitter, or at]


Biting Galileo’s Style

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Yes, we admit it: we’re shamelessly ripping off Galileo’s style for our own purposes. But in this case we come by it honestly. Our impromptu Silo-Breakers series prompted a tremendously thought-provoking contribution from our friend, Rodney Foxworth, on the power of racial divisions in Baltimore. So provocative in fact that it sparked its own spirited back-and-forth via email, even as we were discussing the mundane details of when to schedule publication.

The exchange put us in mind of Galileo’s “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” where he framed his argument for the Copernican model of the universe, in which the earth revolves around the sun, in the form of a classic Platonic dialogue. Perhaps the reference is obscure, but then again maybe not. Perhaps there’s as much progress to be made scouring our souls as gazing at the stars. So here, in somewhat briefer form, we present our dialogue on the cosmology of our personal universes and on the forces that keep us apart…

(TAKE THE BREAKOUT CHALLENGE! What’s YOUR silo? And how do you break out of it? Let us know @ChangEngine, or email

Won’t You Be My Neighbor Part II

By | Silo-Breakers, Social Enterprise, The Thagomizer | One Comment

Whatever your views are on this weekend’s verdict, there is no denying that the Zimmerman case has revealed the daunting reality of the silos that exist in our country. The case has shown a light on our divided communities and the fear, violence, and mistrust that continues to thicken the walls that separate us. In my last post, I discussed how silos can be created intentionally to keep out hatred and protect the community within. In light of recent events I want to take a look deeper look at why our country is so divided and return to the question of how we begin to break silos, instead of refortify them.

Even though our melting pot nation is filled with a variety of cultures and viewpoints, neighborhood diversity is becoming a decreasing commodity. Shortly before the 2008 election, Bill Bishop released the Big Sort about how American neighborhoods are becoming increasingly segregated. Bishop began to realize that in his neighborhood in Austin there were practically no republicans, while others in Texas existed with no liberal in sight. “In 1976, only about a quarter of America’s voters lived in a county a presidential candidate won by a landslide margin. By 2004, it was nearly half,” he pointed out in his book. Upon closer inspection he found that America wasn’t just sorting by political persuasion but by what we eat, how we pray, where we shop, even what shoes we wear. American neighborhoods, churches, and stores were ever-increasingly filled with people who have the same views.

His theory for the cause of this segregation is that America lost its national narrative in the sweeping changes of the 1960s. The fear, turmoil, and uncertainties of that time, led people to create “island communities” to give them a sense of security with people who look and speak like themselves. Faith in the old institutions that bound us crumbled, trust in the government declined as did political party membership, newspaper circulation, and church attendance. In it’s place we created new communities personalized to our preferences, homogeneous, and comfortable. As Bill Bishop concludes:

We have built a country where everyone can choose the neighborhood (and church and news shows) most compatible with his or her lifestyle and beliefs. And we are living with the consequences of this segregation by way of life, pockets of like-minded citizens have become so ideologically inbred that we don’t know, can’t understand and can barely conceive of “those people” who live just a few miles away.

Photo by George Brett

Photo by George Brett

Silos are at their worst during times of unrest. Zimmerman was prompted to start his neighborhood watch group after a rash of break-ins. Here in Baltimore, the Canton community has been dealing with the difficult question of how to respond to a crime spike in their community. “I’m becoming a worse neighbor,” a friend who lives in Canton admitted to me over lunch, “I’ve become suspicious of anyone who looks out of place, I reach for the phone to call the police when anyone comes my door who I don’t know, and I keep a wary eye on anyone even remotely approaching my house.” Unfortunately in many communities “looking out of place” often has racial connotations and the steps communities make to protect themselves makes their neighborhoods more hostile to outsiders which in turn makes those “outsiders” more hostile to them.

What the Zimmerman case reveals is that these silos have dangerous implications for our country and there is no time better than now to begin to examine how we begin to dismantle them. As President Obama said in his remarks on Sunday:

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy.  Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America…I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities…We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.

In our moment of calm reflection, we need to examine the silos we have built in our hearts. If we want to break down silos, we’ve got to dig deep within ourselves to forgive, empathize, and accept the role every one of us plays in creating silos. It means reaching out to people we feel have wronged us but also recognizing that others have been wronged by us too. It’s an internal process of breaking down walls as much as it is an external process. We are all part of the ecosystem that builds and causes the building of silos and that history affects our effectiveness in breaking them down now. Silos are complicated messes of people, emotions, memory, and history. We carry the legacy of history and culture that makes it hard for us to go beyond the fortresses that provide us comfort. Silos weren’t built in a day and will not be easily torn down either. I think we forget what a huge mental lift it is because it seems as easy as showing up for an event, having a conversation, sharing an idea.

I have been to far too many meetings in various cities that ask why they aren’t diverse, but not enough willing to start the slow and long process of examination and action it will require to remove, stone by stone, the walls between us. I see a lot of events that are about getting the community together to share ideas but not a lot of events about how we create that community in the first place. Diversity is an afterthought; once the event has begun we look around the room and say, “Gee, it’s all white people.” We need more intentional discussions, programs, and efforts to address this serious problem. Tearing down silos requires herculean empathy and constant consideration.

The beginning of the end of silos will come when we begin to unravel the silos that exist in our minds and hearts. It requires us to get uncomfortable, find new collaborative ways of ensuring safety, create new inclusive narratives, and most importantly listen to people whose perspectives and viewpoints are so vastly different from our own. We will be required to see the greyness in every situation, admit that our own perspective is not the definitive one, and see that other people see and are shaped by the world in remarkably different ways. We will be required to face a history of mistrust, fear, and violence and admit our role in creating these silos.

We will need to have discussions, some which will make us angry, some which will challenge our assumptions, some which will touch open wounds, and others that will be insightful and delightful. We will have to hear the record scratch and watch the room turn as we walk into places where we are not yet welcome. Most importantly we will have to work on this every day. Silos were not built with speed or ease and turning the tide and uniting our communities will neither be a fast nor simple process either, but I have faith that we have the ability to break through.

Congestion Cycle of Doom

By | Health, Silo-Breakers, The Global Is Local | No Comments

…..But first, a look back at Silos in the ChangeEngine world:

Thanks to everyone who has provided feedback, either in the comments section of Silos or Silos II, The Power of the Triple-S, in person, or as Michelle and Rodney did, in full fledged posts on ChangeEngine. Excellent discussions have been taking place, and I want to encourage that to continue. Challenge yourself and your colleagues:

What is the box you are in, for better or worse, and how can seeking partnerships or experience outside those parameters benefit your organization AND the community you live in?

Good luck, and keep us all posted! Link back to Silo Breakers as you post about your efforts, use a hashtag (I’ll defer to Hasdai on how to do that), and talk to friends and strangers… (Ed: Thanks Adam. It’s @ChangEngine #breakoutchallenge on Twitter,, or email


Okay, this week, we touch upon the issues raised in posts about bicycling this past Spring (B’More Bike Friendly, Bikemore in Baltimore, and I Bike, You Bike, We Bike!) but with a wider lens. Although the previous posts brought up the local ramifications of taking cars off the roads, getting more of our community off the couch and out of the drivers seat, and so forth, today we will take a further step back to look at the transportation trends across the country and the world.

As was noted in the recent post by Stu Sirota, Our Trillion Dollar Dirty Little Secret, transportation funding in the United States is hyper-focused on roads and bridges. It’s not an unreasonable priority. The road infrastructure throughout the nation is vast, adding up to just over 2.5 million miles of pavement (not including the quadrillions of acres that make up parking lots and such things). We rely on roads and bridges for transport and economic vitality.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The trouble is that those pesky roads share some unfortunate traits with us — they get stiff in the winter, squishy in the summer, and show the effects of age sooner than they feel like they should (“I swear it was only yesterday that 695 and I were at the prom together, young and fresh, and now look at us, full of potholes and cracks!”). The context in which this massive infrastructure was built was far different, and the maintenance costs increase over time. The current political climate has not been productive for passing thoughtful, long-term legislation of any sort, and future transportation bills may face the same problems.

As Sirota points out in his piece, the network of roads and associated development that have grown out of the national highway building efforts of previous decades have initially eased and then subsequently caused congestion and a need for expansion and development.

Shifts in our expectations about transportation, urbanization, work and play are undergoing a generational shift, however, which may reverse or at least force a reassessment of earlier priorities. New industries and young workers have a greater interest in working and living in urban areas, rather than suburban software parks for instance.

OK, so great, good for U.S.; we’re progressive as hell and living the green dream, right? Well, no, of course not. America will continue to rack up miles on our cars, build roads while others crumble, and generally remain a servant of the internal combustion engine. But things will improve, of course — better gas mileage, improved bike/car education, and pro-environmental youth will vote with their dollars more and more as they join the labor force.

Other places in the world however, are on a different trajectory:

Image credit: European Environment Agency

The developing world has long epitomized a biking culture for decades, and although many people now own Motos (mopeds, scooters, or other low-powered motorbikes) and aspire to own their own car, bikes still fill the streets. India and China in particular are projected to experience a massive increase in car ownership in the coming decades, fueled (ha) in part by their own domestic auto industries.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This trend is going to have a massive impact on vehicle emissions in coming years, but with any luck, the exploding population of car owners will be the proud owners of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars than were typical in the United States — imagine millions upon millions of Cadillac Eldorados cruising the Chinese landscape. At the same time, heavy industry in these countries will likely benefit from a greening culture as well as more efficient technologies, decreasing environmental impact.

This ebb and flow of transportation and urban fashions both here and around the world will have profound and lasting effects on our lives, our economy, our health, and our city. Baltimoreans have a particular responsibility to share innovations, be good ambassadors when traveling or hosting international guests, and break out of our regional and national silos when we engage in the online community.

Baltimore shares many characteristics with cities in the developing world — substantial industry presence, high poverty and disease burden, and vibrant pockets of entrepreneurship and innovation. We must share our lessons learned, reach out to inspire others, learn from disparate cultures with similar characteristics, and change the world.

Silos II – The Power of the “Triple-S”

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Hopefully by now we have all begun to identify some of the ways in which our silos both benefit and limit our ability to innovate and achieve our goals of lasting, transformative social change. This reflection, for me at least, has led to the following conclusions:

1. The forces that hold us back also thrust us forward. While we may not have impact on a broad spectrum, specialization — focusing on issues within our sphere of influence — concentrates our laser beam of efficacy.

2. Becoming aware of someone else’s silo can make me judgemental, and I think I need to be cautious to avoid that.

3.  Even though last week I was promoting leaving your silo entirely in order to inform the silos of others and vice versa, I have been considering the idea of silo-“smushing” over strict silo-crashing. Smushing similar silos — Triple-S, if you will — would bring the resources and energy of seemingly disparate silos together, not to address a single issue but on the host of interrelated concerns that each silo is generally concerned with.

As usual, my perspective comes through the lens of public health. However, as my friend Michelle Geiss and I recently agreed, public health is a useful perspective to see almost all of our work through. There are some exceptions — the petrochemical industry, maybe, or reality TV — but otherwise almost everything has a public health connection.

I hereby submit public health as our mega-silo. Alternative suggestions are welcome, of course. But consider the impact that a unified public health effort could have in Haiti, where a million different NGOs are doing all their different things. If all of them had to work together, imagine the results. Not only would the output be magnified, each organization would help to keep its partners honest — a perpetual concern particularly in international aid efforts, especially after the publicity of Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea infamy.

Speaking of which, the global polio eradication campaign has run into some serious hurdles in Pakistan and a more holistic strategy — including education, infrastructure improvements, and cultural outreach with vaccination efforts — could potentially help.

Part of the reason I think this would work and should be a priority is that no one can do everything, yet within the mega-silo model, that could not only be a goal but an expectation.

We all bump into barriers that limit our impact, and there is a pattern to that process- awareness, hope for solutions, frustration with lack of progress, development of workarounds, acceptance of limitations, and finally, sometimes, resistance to efforts to change those barriers lest they disturb our projects.

Now deploy the Triple-S, and call in your partners. Smash! Barriers? What barriers? We don’t need no stinking barriers!

So now that you’ve identified your silo, think about who else is in ít (organizations, individuals, funders), and what other silos may be nearby to integrate into a Triple-S mega-silo?

Silo Breakers – Rodney Foxworth

By | ChangeEngine, Silo-Breakers | One Comment

Editor’s 0714_WVanthem …

In the latest installment of ChangeEngine’s series of profiles in silo-breaking, social entrepreneur and reluctant trans-cultural ambassador Rodney Foxworth issues a powerful challenge to confront our deepest assumptions and understand the depths of what divides us…

Michelle Geiss

I live an intensely bifurcated life, which has begrudgingly placed me in the role of cultural translator and community bridge-builder. And the bifurcation of my life has never been more pronounced than it has been over the past year.

For the past year, I’ve worked to help build a community of social entrepreneurs in the field of Black Male Achievement through BMe, a project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Open Society Foundation; concurrently, I’ve helped organize and connect a growing network of (mostly white) self-identified social entrepreneurs and changemakers, with very little overlap between the two communities, a sad reality that haunts me day and night. While there are traumatic structural and historical forces that have produced a city as doggedly segregated as Baltimore (and the world of social change has not been exempted), I’ve largely failed in my responsibilities as an organizer and advocate for Baltimore City.

When we began the breakfast series last fall, I had every intention of creating a platform that represented the diversity that the city offers. And in some ways we’ve succeeded. But in the area that matters most to me, we’ve failed terribly. Prior to launching the breakfast, I had observed how community events and initiatives aimed at advancing and uniting the city were organized by committees suited for Portland or Seattle, but not Baltimore. I was either too arrogant or too optimistic to think I could change this dynamic on my own. Let me be clear in my working theory: you cannot advance or unify a city or community without significant leadership, involvement and validation from the people most affected.

I’ve discovered more and more that the racial and socioeconomic fault lines in this city run deeper than even my cynical mind could ever imagine, and in the process, I’ve become complicit in reinforcing the very dynamic I sought to change. While I hold myself accountable, I need everyone to take ownership of it as well–as one of the few black figures in the room, I cannot orchestrate meaningful connections between two worlds on my own, nor should I.

It is impossible to make positive change in this city when you are far removed from the needs, challenges, passions, and desires of most of the people living within it. Without that connection to community, you are simply left with a suboptimal perspective of what a better Baltimore can look like for large swaths of its residents. Or, as my friend Lionel Foster might say, what looks to be a renaissance to some, might feel like a takeover to others.

In contrast, the men (read here and here for examples) who best exemplify the ideals of BMe have deep relationships with the communities they serve. Much of the impetus behind BMe was to celebrate and recognize black men serving their communities who might otherwise go unrecognized. They know their communities intimately and recognize that the solution to any problem rests with the people they serve.

The silos and racial and socioeconomic fault lines run so deep, in fact, that what defines a “better Baltimore” might look markedly different between the two communities. For example, it might include for a black empowerment agenda as advocated by my friends and BMe leadership awardees Adam Jackson and Dayvon Love. To simply integrate the two communities is naive — we must first wrestle with our conflicting visions for a better Baltimore, confront our skepticisms and concerns head on and interrogate our individual motivations.

I’m not suggesting that every white do-gooder become a radical black nationalist, but I expect that every white do-gooder examine why it is a valid and valuable position, and grapple with the historical, political and social realities that would foment a black empowerment perspective. You must put yourself in uncomfortable situations and have a willingness to have your worldview challenged without retracting. You must be willing to learn. And you must take ownership of your learning.

It requires a muscular empathy that is presently lacking. Without it, we will continue to perpetuate long-standing divisions and power structures along racial and socioeconomic lines that will retard progress for the majority of Baltimore’s residents.

Rodney Foxworth is an independent writer, entrepreneur and consultant. He is also co-founder of SocEnt Breakfast, a forum and platform for idea sharing, resource exchange and connecting among Baltimore’s social entrepreneurs, nonprofit and civic leaders, community advocates, grant-makers, and social investors.

TAKE THE BREAKOUT CHALLENGE! What’s YOUR silo? And how do you break out of it? Let us know @ChangEngine #breakoutchallenge,, or email


Silo Breakers – Michelle Geiss

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Editor’s 0714_WVanthem …

What with ChangeEngine being the free-wheeling, spontaneous social change platform that it is, we’re not surprised to see a chain-reaction of inspirations leading us to the first in what we hope will be a long and illustrious series of profiles in silo-breaking from change-makers in Baltimore and beyond. Inspired by the recent Community Design Lab, Adam’s magnificent post on the perils of silos set off a dynamic discussion on boundaries, barriers, and busting through to cross-pollination and inclusion … which brings us full circle to the first of our Silo Breakers, Community Design Lab Co-Organizer Michelle Geiss…

Michelle Geiss

My primary silo is the world of global health, with sub-silos galore — malaria, family planning, social marketing, social franchising, and so on. Each sub-silo has its own culture, practices, lore, dynamic and wonky terminology. And each has almost no idea what happens in the silo next door.

Funding structures reinforce this state of disconnectedness. In each country, the weight of coordination falls largely on the backs of underfunded, overwhelmed and disorganized ministries of health, which themselves are siloed to match donor interests (sound familiar?). Though the silos lead to duplication and disproportionate efforts towards the issue-du-jour, they are very deeply entrenched and massively difficult to change.

I try to break out of silos by taking on projects across a range of health areas and technical areas, and by cross-pollinating or encouraging integrated approaches when I can. Gradually, I’m also learning the contours and constraints of Baltimore and its challenges, which gives me the opportunity to experiment with plugging my global health skills into entirely new areas of focus. It has been humbling and inspiring to step out of the world of multi-million, multi-country malaria grants and into the heart of small, homegrown grassroots efforts in Baltimore scraping by on volunteer time and a few hundred dollars.

I’m a big believer in using design thinking methods to show that inspiration can come from the darndest of places and that everyone can be innovative in their work if they respect creativity as a process. My second hat as a Community Design Lab organizer is born out of that belief. That and a nagging feeling that a better Baltimore is right at our fingertips if we could just mix the amazing change-makers, creative minds and communities together in the right way.

One thing that struck me about our inaugural Design Lab was how many folks in the room were natural silo breakers. Nearly everyone had an affiliation with forward slashes. Adam’s three hats — City Health Department / ChangeEngine contributor / free-range potter — were the norm rather than the exception. The SocEnt breakfasts are also full of the city’s renaissance men and women who rattle off two or three projects or affiliations during the around-the-table intros.

I see this as an encouraging sign that there is a growing community of people who want to listen, collaborate and share ideas, and who see this as the only way to begin breaking down the inefficiencies, injustices and inequities of the city. The issue of inclusion is on a lot of people’s minds and I hope we’ll continue to challenge ourselves to be better and better at this. If we continue to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and that we need community leaders in the room, I’m optimistic we’ll keep moving in the right direction.

Michelle is a freelance public health consultant and co-initiator of the Baltimore Community Design Lab.

TAKE THE BREAKOUT CHALLENGE! What’s YOUR silo? And how do you break out of it? Let us know, or email



By | Health, Silo-Breakers, The Global Is Local | 3 Comments

Specialization- the process by which we have achieved space flight, agriculture, engineering, science, industry, efficiency, and ninjas.

Although specialization can lead to excellence, it can have unintended consequences or stem from conditions of disparity.

A meandering anecdote now follows: My wife and I took her grandfather to the Museum of Industry a few weeks ago. As a lifelong tinkerer, woodcrafter, history buff, and political activist, it was in many ways an ideal activity for his 91st birthday visit here in Baltimore. If you haven’t been there, I recommend it. The quality of the overall experience was very impressive, including a complimentary docent tour with admission. It was through the docent that we learned about the specialization that took place among the industry workers in Baltimore circa 1900.

Many of the examples of specialization were impressive — for instance, oyster shuckers could move at an amazing pace, as could all the other piece-workers responsible for prepping, canning, and labeling the products moving through the factories. This led to safe, affordable food that could be distributed for hundreds of miles to the significant benefit of the nation and the industries that operated the workshops and factories.

On the other hand, the labor that powered these engines of industry were often entire families, including children. In addition, some of the hardest work was the only work that African Americans could get hired for. Injury and death in turn of the century factories was a fact of life. Also, although useful, mastery of oyster-shuckery has limited transferability, and mobility to other, safer or more lucrative occupations was very difficult.

So, despite the wonderful things that specialization can and does produce, it can be caused by (and reinforce) racism and poverty.

A phrase that gets used a lot in social science, among other disciplines, is silos. The word evokes a stark image in my mind, isolated towers full of a single kind of stuff. Efficient? Yes, of course. But who wants just one kind of stuff? Diversity is essential for a complete experience. Despite my hereditary love of bread, I am certainly not about to limit my diet to strictly bread. [OK, add some cheese, and then maybe….]

Silos are perhaps an effective analogy for the partitioned experiences we have in our day-to-day lives as well. We have our professional personality, colleagues, and activities, and our private versions of the same. Little self-silos if you like. Groups of social contacts broken up by shared experiences and backgrounds — the group you exercise with, the group you party with, the group we have children’s playgroups with.

I’ve been thinking about silos and the efficacy of innovation for a couple weeks. I attended an event recently which brought together social entrepreneurs to problem-solve some issues that a half a dozen organizations brought to the table over a few hours. As is often my experience in Baltimore, there were people from very different backgrounds, different ages, men and women, all with a passion- via their own silo — to effect positive change in their city and the world.

Breaking down the walls of their own pet projects to contribute their energy toward projects outside their silos gave each participant a sense of the universe of other silos outside their own. At the end, however, one bold woman pointed out that the full diversity of the city was not well represented. The targets of many socially beneficial projects in Baltimore are the residents and environments in poor, predominantly African American neighborhoods, and yet members of these communities are very often neglected when the invitations go out. Not by intention, but as a result of the natural process of silos. Specialization, remember, tends to focus similar energy and resources into a self-contained cluster. The organizers, by the way, acknowledged the challenge and committed to a conscious effort toward broadening the population of participants.

I would like to suggest a similar challenge for each of us this week:

First, identify your silos. Where are you most comfortable? Who do you hang out with most often? How do you work toward your ideals?

Next pick one of those silos and break out of it for a day. Remember, you’re reading this because you have at least a passing interest in innovative, transformative social change. Switching brands of jelly does NOT count, even if it was made by a local organic producer. Bring someone into a new social circle; allow their views to inform the activity, conversation, and menu. Get outside your comfort zone, talk to someone you disagree with, and finally, share your experience with others on digital and interpersonal social networks.