System leadership can move agencies out of the delivery of services to the front line of social change. During this spark session, Robert Feikema, president and CEO of Family Services in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, will chart how his organization, which has provided the Head Start program for 50 years, became the system leader of a movement to establish a county-wide universal system.

In this session, learn:

  • How the organization’s board established the transformational goal to provide all children with the opportunity to enroll in quality, affordable early childhood development programs
  • How the organization convened the Universal Pre-K Initiative Steering Committee, consisting of leaders in the early learning field spearheading the campaign
  • What the committee has accomplished over the past three years
  • About plans to put a measure on the ballot in November 2018 to raise local taxes to implement the universal pre-K system

This case study will feature insight and tools around planning and executing a system-level change initiative in terms of these benchmarks:

  • Identify the issue – building on agency strength
  • Listen to the community – assess receptivity to system change
  • Create a vision – and identify an achievable goal
  • Recruit partners – determine the strength of your numbers
  • Make the case – do the research, assemble the evidence, develop the plan
  • Establish credibility – become recognized as the authority
  • Broaden the base – add champions from other sectors (enlist the grasstops)
  • Engage the general public and constituents – cultivate the grassroots
  • Set the strategy and secure the resources – to wage a successful campaign
  • Mobilize the voters

The presentation will draw upon concepts and strategies first presented to Alliance for Strong Families and Communities member organizations in the late 2000s by the Building Movement Project. Learn more by reading Social Service and Social Change: A Process Guide. The spark session also will feature the recent work of Peter Senge on system leadership. Learn more by reading “The Dawn of System Leadership” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Finally, early childhood development research will be referenced to illustrate how brain science can serve as a foundation for system change.  

Learning Objectives

  • Assess agency and community readiness to engage in a system change process
  • Define the steps in a system change process
  • Identify the elements of system leadership
  • Design and plan a system change initiative

Related Reading

Presenters: Robert Feikema, president & CEO, Family Services

Robert Feikema
Family Services 

Bob Feikema has worked in health and human services for 46 years. He became president & CEO of Family Services in Winston-Salem in 2013. Family Services is a private nonprofit with an annual budget of over $10 million and 150 employees. The organization provides behavioral health services; domestic violence and sexual assault programs; and early child development programs, including the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, in Forsyth County.

Prior to coming to Winston-Salem Feikema worked for human service agencies in Pittsburgh. He began his career in 1975 as a family counselor at Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, advancing to become the director of the agency’s family counseling, employee assistance, managed care, and community-building programs. After serving as the executive director of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force from 1999-2004, he was charged with both community initiatives and government relations at Family Resources, a Pittsburgh-based child abuse treatment and prevention agency.

Over the past 25 years Feikema has concentrated on designing and implementing innovative community building and civic engagement projects that bring people together to create a more just, sustainable, and livable community.