How to Persevere Through the Turbulence of Disaster Recovery with Zack Rosenburg
“Outputs for clients are far more important than our temporary discomfort. You’ve got to get through tough times.” -Zack Rosenburg
It’s impossible to look at the devastation brought by wildfires and not be overwhelmed with sadness. It’s a natural tendency to want to beat yourself up when things aren’t going well. And while it is heartbreaking to realize that the ongoing recovery will last years, we shouldn’t lose hope.
There’s a reason that people rebuild in the wake of natural disasters — they want to stay in a community they love, so they make the commitment to persevere through the turbulence of disaster recovery and make something beautiful out of it.
Disasters can be overwhelming and the path to recovery is often fraught with challenges and roadblocks. Listen in as Jennifer and SBP co-founder, Zack Rosenburg explore the concept of constructive discontent and how it can help you push through the turbulence of disaster recovery. They also discuss the role of a nonprofit in disaster, how to manage limited resources, the socio-economic and racial equity implications with regards to resilience funds, and the importance of YOKOTEN, a Japanese term referring to the value of sharing.
Outlook greatly impacts recovery. With the right attitude and perseverance, you can not only get through the disaster faster but also come out stronger on the other side.
- 00:59: From a Vacation to a Vocation
- 05:19: Constructive Discontent
- 09:43: Steer Through Turbulence
- 14:27: What Type of Communities Win?
- 19:18: Where We Get Lost in the Recovery Process
- 25:20: If You Do It Well, Share It!
- 30:41: Owning Our Mistakes
- Katrina: From Disaster to Rebuilding Community – YouTube
- Rebuilding Homes and Disaster Recovery Processes – YouTube
- Going Home: How One Question Started Our Journey of Continuous Improvement by Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney
- Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
05:00: “So much of the work of philanthropy and the government is processing inputs.” -Jennifer Thompson
07:19: “We realized that to really get all we could out of SBP, it had to be part of who we were not just externally, but internally.” -Zack Rosenburg
08:16: “Our ethos at that point became constructive discontent. We have to be hearable but at the same time, we can never be satisfied. We need progress so we have to be discontent, but we have to do so in a hearable, constructive way.” -Zack Rosenburg
10:06: “The only reason nonprofits exist is to ameliorate untenable situations for the client population. Unless you have eradicated the problem, you have to get better.” -Zack Rosenburg
10:48: “Outputs for clients are far more important than our temporary discomfort. You’ve got to get through tough times.” -Zack Rosenburg
12:38: “You have to be willing to be uncomfortable, but it has to be the right kind of uncomfortable- it’s uncomfortable because you’re trying things.” -Zack Rosenburg
13:51: “We don’t go in and lead disaster recovery. We go in and support local leadership because we believe that they’re the best equipped and they have the relationships in their community.” -Jennifer Thompson
14:41: “The communities that are going to win aren’t necessarily the most needy communities, but the communities that have the capacity; the communities that have the wherewithal to ask for it in the right way.” -Zack Rosenburg
19:39: “We get lost when there’s a loyalty to how things have always been done, rather than a focus on outcomes.” -Zack Rosenburg
28:53: “There’s so much disaster and it’s so difficult. These people are in so much pain, so why not just collaborate and do it together?” -Jennifer Thompson
29:26: “It’s the right thing until you do the right thing.” -Zack Rosenburg
31:12: “If we don’t make mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough. If everything works, we’re probably being too conservative.” -Zack Rosenburg
32:25: “There is never any point in this work where any of us are going to have it all together or none at all. It just doesn’t exist like that.” -Jennifer Thompson
Zack is the co-founder and CEO of Saint Bernard Project/SBP, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to shrink the time between disaster and recovery. As an advocate for those impacted by disaster, Zack advises policymakers around the country on best practices in disaster resilience, helping improve the nationwide framework of both disaster preparedness and response. In his time as CEO, he has grown SBP into a nationwide organization focused on rebuilding post-disaster, advising nonprofits on best practices in the field of post-disaster relief, and educating community members and elected officials about disaster preparedness and recovery. Among the innovative SBP programs that Zack has designed include: Opportunity Housing, an innovative blight eradicating/affordable housing program that turns blighted properties into well-built affordable housing; and Disaster Resilience and Recovery Lab, which among other things, shares SBP’s learnings and model with at-risk and disaster-impacted communities.
Connect with Saint Bernard Project (SBP):
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Welcome to the podcast, How to Disaster, recover, rebuild and reimagine. It is a podcast, we bring you the very best practices, best hearts and great ideas from other disaster affected communities. Thank you for joining us.
So welcome Zack to the podcast. I am so happy to have you here.
Zack Rosenburg: I’m thrilled to be here. I love your work. Thank you for having me.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Oh, I love yours too. And actually, it’s an unusual thing. I want the reason why I reached out to your wife, Liz, last year, about maybe almost two years ago was just to say like, wow, what a story of SBP like, what an incredible trajectory to go from a vacation to really quite a large organization. So for our listeners out there who are not familiar, I would love for you just to go ahead and go through your origin story before we get into some of the tenants and your work today.
Zack Rosenburg: Oh, thanks. I’ll move as quickly as I can. I’ll be watching you then keenly for any verbal or nonverbal cues. But I always tell people, feel free to fast forward, rewind, pause, or do whatever you wish. Listen, nothing about disaster recovery, nothing about disaster resilience, we were just a couple human beings living in Washington, DC, who after Katrina, felt like both the right thing to do and not even close to enough. And so six months after Katrina when we decided to go out there and just volunteer for a couple of weeks. We thought we’d go volunteer for a couple weeks, that’s it. Volunteer for a couple weeks, and Liz sent out maybe 30 emails and advanced, hey, we’re coming. We’d love to help. And we heard back from one group and we took that to mean, huh. Maybe the recovery is over. It was America, disasters happen. Third of the country’s oil comes through this place that was recently decimated. Maybe we missed it, they got it right. And when we got to New Orleans, it wasn’t over. That hadn’t started. And it was striking for us because we each come from careers in poverty work.
I was a former law teacher and public defender, and Liz was an educator. We work with poor people, and to see folks who have achieved an element of American success, these are not the classically generationally indigent. These are people who owned homes. And we were taught in America, if you work hard, you own a home, things can get so bad. And that’s what we thought at least, and here are these folks, teachers, police officers, veterans, steelworkers, like the heart of America, the lucky of whom we’re living in attics, and cars, and garages, and others are jammed 5, 6, 7, 8 to FEMA trailers. So after two weeks, we thought, we can’t just tell these people good luck, have a nice life and I will do what we know how to do, will see us building houses, and we’ll go raise money for them back in Washington, DC. And when we went all the big groups, and this is I think a moment for us, said, when’s the building going to start? We’ll raise some money for you. Well, listen, disaster recovery has been done the same way for 30 years. Now, it’s 47 years.
Although we don’t do it the same way. We’ve done it the same way for 30 years, can’t change. Building the third phase, got a baton order. And so we kindly maybe, maybe not. So I will figure it out. It’s not good enough. We had no grand plans, like we didn’t know anything. We’re just young, and maybe a little bit entitled. And so we already moved to New Orleans, we found this woman who had time before she went to the Peace Corps. She became volunteer coordinator, and soon America’s greatest asset, which is our commitment to others to solving problems inundated us, tons of volunteers ended up giving us tools and off we went building houses. And so within the first 14 months, we had completely rebuilt 88 houses, while the traditional long term recovery committee apparatus was well intended, rule followers, rules they didn’t even have to follow like self imposed rules, rule followers and allocated funding for 13 houses. So that’s how SBP got our start.
“So much of the work of philanthropy and the government is processing inputs.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So I was really interested, especially because I love the audacity of it, but I also loved it, because I can certainly relate to that like this is going into my fifth year. It’s been four years, two months and like three days, so I can count it all. But what I mean, I really appreciate the fact that you talked about how you were sort of shocked by not only the lack of progress, but really the lack of functionality. It isn’t because intentions weren’t good, because we do get bog down in process and input. And so much of the work of philanthropy is about and the government is processing inputs. And so you talk about building an ethos of constructive discontent. And so can you talk about like, was that informed from your first two weeks as a volunteer? Or when did that come to be part of the main ethos of SBP?
Zack Rosenburg: Yeah, thanks for zooming in on that. So the notion of constructive discontent came after we got our ass kicked by Toyota in the most caring constructive way you could ever imagine. So four or five years after we had built hundreds of houses, and after we had sort of plateaued at being able to do 100 houses a year, give or take, we were fortunate enough to meet the leader of Toyota’s Foundation. And we were, I guess, fortunate enough to know some things about the Toyota Production System. So rather than ask for money, we asked for advice. We said, hey, we’d love to learn how to build houses, because that’s all we were thinking about back then. We’d love to learn how to build houses, which was building cars. And so Toyota has this entity called TSSC, that’s a training program.
“We realized that to really get all we could out of SBP, it had to be part of who we were not just externally, but internally.” -Zack Rosenburg
Back then, it was mostly for profit companies to raise efficiency and industry, even with competitors. But they’re, pardon me, just starting to work with nonprofit groups too. We were one of the made well, so we had to apply. And in applying to work with Toyota, they came down and they asked us some questions, and we got all of them wrong. They asked Liz, hey, and constructioner, you ahead or behind? And she said, What? Then they asked me if we could talk about problems. And I said, yes. Well, the whole staff was shaking their heads, no. And so we somehow, either they took pity on us, or they saw like a diamond in superduper rough, and they agreed to work with us. And so we started embracing the Toyota Production System. They sent two people to us every other week. Fundamentally, we have to change, we have to start talking about problems. You can’t get better if you don’t talk about problems. Otherwise, just going to bury him. And so it worked. Within nine months, we reduced construction time by 48%. We’re doing one thing back then. Building houses had to get better, but we realized that to really get all we could out of SBP, we couldn’t just do TPS, it had to be part of who we were. And this whole talking about problems component had to be part of who we were. Not just externally, I think we always did a great job externally, but internally.
“Our ethos at that point became constructive discontent. We have to be hearable but at the same time, we can never be satisfied. We need progress so we have to be discontent, but we have to do so in a hearable, constructive way.” -Zack Rosenburg
And around that time, I’d read this book switch by the Heath Brothers in it. One thing they talk about is how you make decisions. And it turns out that people make decisions not based on rational choice. Like if I do X, Y is gonna happen, but people really make decisions based on identity. What would someone like me do in a situation like this? And so for us, we realized that a core part of getting better at work was talking about problems. We need an identity around talking about problems. And so our ethos at that point became constructive discontent. We always had to and have to be horrible. But at the same time, we can never be satisfied. And it was really based on a kind of respect for Frederick Douglass. One of his notions was, where there is no struggle, there is no progress. We need progress so we have to struggle. We need progress so we have to be discontent, but we have to do so in a horrible constructive way. Does that resonate?
Jennifer Gray Thompson: It totally resonates. And I actually, I think sometimes, and I would like to hear your thoughts on this, that sometimes within bureaucracies, and I happen to love government. I’ve an MPA, so obviously, I’ve even invested in it. But in the nonprofit world, because we do spend so much time chasing inputs and funding over missions, and our mission suddenly starts to look like whatever our funding stream wants it to look like. So it’s a very hard place to disrupt. And from all the years when I worked in government before this, I’ve noticed that sometimes, nonprofits have a really hard time with that internal conversation because they deal with such problems. They’re also supposed to be like, we’re supposed to be solving these really big problems. And so it’s hard for a nonprofit to look internally and be like, how can we get better? How can we totally disrupt our own internal market? I guess is the term. Do you hear what I’m saying? Like what a challenge that is to do?
Zack Rosenburg: Yeah, totally. We think that if we’re serious about our work, that’s what we have to do. So for profit companies, you exist for one reason to make money, and you can be satisfied with a certain rate of return. If your targets are 12%, you’re hitting 12%. Arguably, you don’t have to do any better I think you do. Arguably, you don’t have to do any better. But the only reason nonprofits exist is to ameliorate untenable situations.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yes.
“The only reason nonprofits exist is to ameliorate untenable situations for the client population. Unless you have eradicated the problem, you have to get better.” -Zack Rosenburg
Zack Rosenburg: The only reason nonprofits exist is for the client population. And unless you have eradicated the problem, you have to get better. And so we only hire people, and we endeavor. We’re far from perfect. But to have a culture around, it’s not about us, it’s about the impact of our clients on our clients. And we have a whole host of values tied to it, whether we have a notion of value called steering through turbulence. And so the notion is really based on this understanding that outputs for clients are far more important than our temporary discomfort. Sometimes, you’ve got to steer through and into, and through tough times if we’re gonna get better. And so you can think of a plane like, now that many of us are flying again, unfortunately, we’ve felt it. But either to get just high enough where you’re in good smooth air, burning less fuel and going faster, you have to steer through the clouds where it’s gonna be a little bumpy. Or sometimes, you have to steer into and through some weather to get where you’re going to go.
“Outputs for clients are far more important than our temporary discomfort. You’ve got to get through tough times.” -Zack Rosenburg
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Sorry to interrupt, but I think that’s particularly interesting in the space of disaster, philanthropy or the kind of disasters service work is that because this situation is evolving and changing so rapidly, like the amount of climate induced disasters that we have is changing rapidly, that the needs, but everyone wants the same outcome pretty much to rebuild their community. But what that looks like is completely different according to the community. So can you speak in particular of building the plane as you fly it, an element of disaster work, which is also bringing you extra turbulence, challenges and more clients by the minute?
Zack Rosenburg: Well, the notion isn’t necessarily building the plane as you fly it. Although you’re doing that, but our notion is you’ve got to steer into the air that’s gonna feel uncomfortable. Do you know what I mean?
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yeah, I do.
“You have to be willing to be uncomfortable, but it has to be the right kind of uncomfortable- it’s uncomfortable because you’re trying things.” -Zack Rosenburg
Zack Rosenburg: The bumpy doesn’t feel good. The bumpy can be scary. But if you’re going to get to the greater efficiency, if you’re going to get to where you’re going to go, you got to steer into those clouds, you got to steer into the nasty weather. How do we just think that if you’re going to take on this role of trust with people in a community or to serve other folks, and the only reason nonprofit exists is to make the world work better. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. It has to be the right kind of uncomfortable, and we haven’t always gotten that. But it’s uncomfortable because you’re trying things, because you’re being innovative, you gotta convince someone, it’s new, it’s scary, maybe you’ll fail.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I may have to call you monthly Zack because I’ve been doing this for only a little over four years. I feel like I am always steering into turbulence and trying new things. And I wake up in the middle and I’ll be like, that’s scary. I’m crazy. But you know what? I think that’s what’s really needed. I’m gonna do it anyway, but there are white knuckling moments. And so I love the fact that that’s a part of your culture, and it sort of soothes me in this weird way.
Zack Rosenburg: Call anytime. I mean, I think we’re on the right track and it sounds like we need people who are in a career for a long, long time, no doubt about it. Rarely, however, in any field does the innovation come from those who have been doing it for a long time.
“We don’t go in and lead disaster recovery. We go in and support local leadership because we believe that they’re the best equipped and they have the relationships in their community.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So how do you keep that fresh, though, I feel like it’s only been like in the past 18 to 24 months, especially since we changed our name. That was very helpful for people, but people all of a sudden get what we do. And I was having a hard time convincing some of what it was before because we don’t we go in and lead disaster recovery, we go in and we support local leadership because we believe that they’re the best equipped and they have the relationships in their community, they will be living in it, and the seven to 10 years, it can easily take to recover if you do from a mega fire disaster. But that sort of support of local leadership and that it’s been hard for people to understand, have you seen a change at all in the understanding of organizations like yours, which is much bigger than mine, and you build homes, but in the past two years at all, or any change in the market there?
“The communities that are going to win aren’t necessarily the most needy communities, but the communities that have the capacity; the communities that have the wherewithal to ask for it in the right way.” -Zack Rosenburg
Zack Rosenburg: I was on a phone call, could day, with a retired US Senator talking about all the infrastructure, money and resilience. Money that’s coming out there. And we’re in this time when actually there’s resources out there. However, the communities that are going to win aren’t necessarily the most needy communities, the communities that have the capacity, the communities that have the wherewithal to ask for it in the right way. So we are working very hard at SBP through a number of different programs on supporting local capacity, both in blue sky days and then after disaster, really to get the government to receive the institutional actor advantage. Right now, the institutional actor advantage is held not by city and state governments, but by the contractors. Not the builder contractors, but the program design implementers who are doing this stuff every day. They’re not bad people, they exist to make a profit. And so they’re going to structure the rules, the games and the contracts that are going to be in their best financial interest. We need to position the cities and states to procure and set the rules, the games with the contractors in ways that are focused on outcomes. Traditionally, disaster contracting at that level, the states or cities have procurement requirements that they let out, they choose low bid per hour for the contractors. We think instead that the right answer is for fixed cost, fixed outcome contracts parallel to the contractor.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And we’re back. One of the conversations I recall having with Liz too is that we do have very parallel. And I think very aligned missions around really, really believe that we do equity by doing equities is really helping smaller, less well resourced cities and counties navigate to showing them how to navigate FEMA, showing them how to push back on SBA, all of those sort of federal processes that are so opaque. Unless you are a very well resourced County, like the one that I live in, which is Sonoma County, they hired a big firm, and they just took care of all that for them. But that’s just not really the capacity issues. Especially in heavily rural communities are just gross in equities in the system. So I love hearing that from you.
Zack Rosenburg: Yeah. And ideally, what we’re going to do is create a marketplace where the contractors that are behaving in the ways that are most loyal to outcomes for clients, not merely compliance, are going to be the contractors that get the jobs or most jobs in the future. So part of it is teaching in the municipalities, in the cities and in the States what to look for. And if we can create that marketplace, then it’s a pull, not a push, or it’s a push. I think it’s a pull, not a push.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, that would certainly end the current system. But I think that, because we are very happy to see all these figures turned on from the top, and we see this from the federal level in particular. And then of course, that always trickles down through the states and counties. But the capacity to actually access those funds is not being increased from the bottom. And so it sounds like that’s what you’re also talking about is, if there are contractors coming in, who are the good actors, who care about the local community that are outcomes based, but we would love to see, it’s almost like a simpler system that would use some of the technology of 2022 to allow for these smaller cities and counties to access funds. And then there’s match issues. Oh, I know what I wanted to talk to you about too. I really love that you guys are working on the issue of how to do bridge loans before block grant funding comes in. Can you tell the audience about that too, because that would be a changemaker. We work right now, I think in six now, as of yesterday, probably seven disaster affected communities in various stages of recovery, and the complaints are all the same thing. I won’t go into it here because I do love working with the federal government, but the system is broken.
“We get lost when there’s a loyalty to how things have always been done, rather than a focus on outcomes.” -Zack Rosenburg
Zack Rosenburg: That’s a great point. Before I go any further, let me be clear whether it’s FEMA, HUD, any federal government agency in the state folks, and even the contractors, people are coming from a great place. Folks enter this field because they want it to work. They want things to work better for more people. I think we get lost in any industry when there’s a loyalty to how things have always been done rather than a focus on outcomes. And that’s human, and there are also regulations. We’re fortunate enough at SBP to have a role where we’re trying both to make the system work better as it is, but also to change the rules of the game through some policy changes. And some legislation in one area, we’re actually making great progress pushing towards a standard application for federal assistance, one app. So instead of people having to apply separately for HUD, and for FEMA, and for SBA to be a one app kind of like FAFSA, that’s pre populated with information that the government already has. So we’re making progress there.
You asked about the bridge loan. But for the listeners, the first federal money that comes out the door is the FEMA money that is supposed to come out, all get to people in a fair amount for six months, takes a year, too many people don’t get what they deserve or give up because of a bureaucratic and cumbersome process. We can talk about that separately. Then the next moment when the federal dollars arrive is when the HUD, CDBG funds get there. That takes 16 to 30 months until funds start flowing to people. And there’s a reason HUD for Congress has to allocate appropriate funds. The HUD has to publish rules for how the funds can be spent. States and cities have to come up with a plan to work within those rules that HUD has to approve. And then once the plan is approved, cities and states can hire contractors. There are three mechanisms, by and large, that HUD supports and permits to fund rebuilding, or for dollars to flow through rebuilding. One is the state or city will pick a contractor for the homeowner. Two is the homeowner picks a contractor and gets them certified to participate in the program. Three was reimbursement. You spend your own money as soon as you can, and then you apply for reimbursement once the programs are running. Pans down by multiples.
The most efficient, least expensive gets the most people model of distribution is reimbursement. However, by its very definition, reimbursement only works for people who have money. There are socio economic and racial equity implications of this. So there’s a great model, but it only works for people who have money. SBP is launching a Louisiana bridge loan program that will raise a fund. We’ll lend funds to people who are clearly going to qualify for the eventual CDBG program. We’ll steward their construction when funds are available. They’ll apply and they’ll reimburse the fund. We’re going to pilot it in Louisiana. We seem to think this is an appropriate mechanism. The governor of Louisiana is thrilled by it, and we think that this will be a game changer, not for SBP, but for the industry. We expect after sufficient proof points, bigger players to come in, push us out of the way and truly get to scale. Does that answer your question?
Jennifer Gray Thompson: It really does. And I think that people are often who have never experienced disaster live in a disaster zone very surprised by how long those funds take, and then how long a state can hold them. You’re really depending upon the competencies and these sort of priorities of a number of people that it’s not nearly as straightforward as one might imagine. So I do agree with you that that will be a huge game changer. I’m hoping that in California, we take a look over at Louisiana, same with Oregon, Oregon has actually done a really great job since 2020. And pivoting to deal with the era of mega fires is what we call it because that’s what it seems to be. So that’s one thing. The other thing is, I remember Liz and I talking about this. So about three years ago, we started talking in DC about having sort of a turbo tax model for cities and counties, and for individual assistance. That doesn’t if then, which is very similar to the one, to the common app.
I have a son who’s 30, so obviously, we went through that process when he was 18. I was a teacher too for a decade so it was a little bit easier on us. I was familiar with the process, but it just shouldn’t be so difficult. Doesn’t have to be as difficult. I believe that those two elements, the bridge loan, to deal with the lag time when the Dr. Funds come in is genius. I love that, but I also really look forward to it. Because if you get across the line with a common app, like we’re going to go go dance behind you. I will be so thrilled for the level of how that will uplevel the issues of equity in disaster, but also get out those resilience funds too. I mean, there’s a whole section of our organization called before the fire because what we’d really love is to put After the Fire out of business at some point . As I said, it’s not as difficult, people don’t need us to help them navigate through these processes. But I will be so excited when one or both of those ideas come to fruition, and I would pledge our support for every minute of that.
Zack Rosenburg: Well, thanks. It takes these ideas, like the last thing is these are not proprietary, we just want it to work. We don’t care who’s moving the ball forward.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Oh, my God, let’s talk about that. Because one other thing that I really love is when I was listening to another interview with you and you were talking about sort of like open source disaster recovery tools, and resources, and systems, and grant programs, we are totally aligned with you in that. We did trademark our processes only because I was working in another disaster affected community and we’re like, you could try this, this. They’re all adaptable, like none of them are prescriptive. But this person told me that he was going to take it on the road and sell it, and this would be his career. And I was like, so it won’t be me. You can’t sell what we’re going to give to people and we will remain free to communities. And so I really want to thank him for that comment because it made me come home and say, we will protect all of our systems and processes, but we will give them away to anybody, to any organization. They can totally implement them and use them. I love that you do that. Talk about the importance of sharing, because so much I love what you said about nonprofits, a lot of work in the nonprofit field is redundant and proprietary. Talk about that and the difference with SBP.
Zack Rosenburg: I mean, I think we’re all in the people serving world, and so we need to in the, for profit world, it makes all the sense to have your trade secrets proprietary. In the people serving world clients are not proprietary, that’s one of the challenges in the current long term recovery committee model. That nonprofit groups and case management groups are incentivized to get as many clients as they can, hold them on their roles and divvy them out. It’s putting organization before client. We see the field of impact and potential impacted people as our clients, and so is what’s best for the field to close people in the SBPs queue, or is what’s best for the field to raise efficiency across the field, to cause others to be more efficient. And so there’s a couple things that we do, SBP believes in this notion we learned from Toyota called yokoten. If you do it, we’ll share it. And so we thought, well, heck, if Toyota can help other car companies and other industries be more efficient, shouldn’t SBP do that as well? And so we provide AmeriCorps members funds training to other nonprofit groups. What would the client want? If this was our mother, would we care about people rebuilding the house being in the blue shirt? The pink shirt? The half shirt? The tank top? Gray shirt? No, we just want someone rebuilding their house. And so it’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to live it. And we, I guess, just pretty simply think that’s the appropriate way to do things.
“There’s so much disaster and it’s so difficult. These people are in so much pain, so why not just collaborate and do it together?” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I agree. And also, it’s such a difficult, large, huge problem, but there is no way that any of us are solving this on our own, period, end of story. And if I’m trying to, which I don’t do, I sometimes ran into other people in this field who were trying to elbow everybody else out of the field. I’m like, why? There’s so much disaster and it’s so difficult. These people are in so much pain, why not just collaborate and do it together. And if you’re doing one part of it, cool, then I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to worry about that. Or if I’m doing something, but I could do it better, you could inform me of that process and we can serve better, then let’s do it. Like everybody into the pool. But it’s not as common as I wish that it were sometimes.
“It’s the right thing until you do the right thing.” -Zack Rosenburg
Zack Rosenburg: We’ll get there. You guys will leave it to Yeah, I think we can get there, but we’re certainly not there yet. But it’s the right thing. And so you do the right thing.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: We only have a few more minutes, I want to make sure that you talk about the book that you and Liz co wrote called Getting Home.
Zack Rosenburg: Sure. Thank you. Thank you. It’s weird to talk about a book you wrote so I’m not probably the greatest advocate for it. But here was our theory. We wanted in essence, if you’re going to distill it, we wanted to show that if a bunch of outsiders and kind of people who didn’t know a hell of a lot about anything could drive the impact that SBPs driven over the last 16 years, we’re pretty proud out of it, we’ll do better over the next 16. We are sure that anyone can do this. We want to really enable people to see problems and help solve them. And the book is designed to do that by talking about our journey, talking about mistakes we made, and also how we leverage the principles of the Toyota Production System to pardon and drive the impact that’s needed. We don’t mind a pen. Okay, we’ll take a pen and gather a lot of dad jokes.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, I have a 14 year old and he loves dad jokes from his dad. So I’m subject to them all the time. It’s fine. Good, not a problem.
Zack Rosenburg: That is I think underappreciated,
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Underappreciated, for sure. There is a need for, I think that there is a need to actually memorialize the lessons so that everyone can have access to them. Whether that’s through a book, it’s why we have a podcast, it’s because it helps you meet people where they’re at whether they want to become somebody who’s a disruptor in any market, particularly in disaster. And I love the fact that you also share your mistakes, because we all make them all the time, and that’s how we get better by owning them. So I appreciate that.
“If we don’t make mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough. If everything works, we’re probably being too conservative.” -Zack Rosenburg
Zack Rosenburg: Well, if we don’t make mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough. If everything works, we’re probably being too conservative. And we’re in a field together that has to get radically better. And so you got to try some things. I don’t know, I feel like if we can be humble about what’s not working, it can also give permission to other people to improve, to try and be willing to fail. There’s this notion about failing harder.
“There is never any point in this work where any of us are going to have it all together or none at all. It just doesn’t exist like that.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So interesting, because right before we got on this podcast, I got it, I got it. It doesn’t matter which communities, but I just got an email from somebody who had wanted to set up a meeting. And then after he looked at our website, what we do, he wrote me an email. He’s like, let’s just cancel it. I already know everything that you know. And I was like, okay. I mean, nothing I can do about that, but I’m hoping that he comes back in six months and he says, I thought everything, but I forgot the necessity of having thought partners along the way. They keep us accountable and make us better. I have that sort of gentle honesty that helps you level up and change in your five, but there is never any point in this work where any of us are going to have it all together or not at all. It just doesn’t exist like that. So that’s timeliness for me. I’m just gonna share that with you.
Zack Rosenburg: Thank you.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Zack, I really hope to actually meet you in person at some point, and Liz as well to have you come out here and maybe speak at an event, or convening once we’re not all swimming in COVID. I think that our work and our approach is very aligned. Big difference is we don’t build any homes, I just want to be really clear. We used to be called Rebuild NorthBay Foundation and it confused everyone, so it’s good that we changed. I appreciate your ethos of constructive discontent. I really want to thank you for being on the podcast today. Can you tell people where to find out more about SBP?
Zack Rosenburg: Yeah, thanks. And you have such wonderful energy and what great questions, and the work you guys do is game changing.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Appreciate that, high praise. I appreciate it from you. I really do.
Zack Rosenburg: Website is sbpusa.org.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Wonderful. And so thank you once again for being on the podcast, How to Disaster. My hope is this is just an opening conversation for the future. And thank you again, Zack.
Zack Rosenburg: All right, it’s such a pleasure. Can’t wait, we’ll meet and make things better.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: All right, take care. Thank you. Bye bye.