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How a big city is building community one relationship at a time

The New Year holds a lot of promise in Topeka. (Above photo: Adobe Stock Images)

Thanks to a hundred or so community minded volunteers enrolled in Topeka United’s Mosaic Partner Pairs program, the city now has close to 200 current and past participants ready to serve the community for the good.


Topeka United: A Movement is a refreshingly unique initiative for community building across racial lines in the city where segregation effectively ended with the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court decision. In fact, Topeka United was founded on the 65th anniversary of Brown!


We've been thrilled to help facilitate the program with Topeka United, using a combination of our ISPI tool and a demographic questionnaire, that assures diverse matches across race with each partner pair. We also train staff and liaison with the Topeka team that manages the program on site.


Mosaic Partners is all about pairing two people who are different on the outside, but very similar in how they think, approach problems, accept or avoid risk and get stuff done.

In the corporate world, we use the ISPI to help businesses form teams usually comprised of a good mix of risk averse members (we call them “Builders”) and risk tolerant member (we call them “Pioneers”) and several degrees of the spectrum in between. In those cases, we SEEK to put together people who are very different in their thinking, because innovations need that diversity of thought.

For Mosaic Partners we use the ISPI, sort of in reverse, because here we want to pair individuals who are very much the same in how they make decisions. The whole idea is to get two people together who are very much the same in personality, even though they’re different racially and/or ethnically.

Each partner pair has one person of color and one white person. It’s brilliant to see how they become unstoppable in their two-person partnership for community building. The Partners meet regularly to get to know each other. We provide a year-long questionnaire that starts with a few basic questions – Where did you grow up? How old are you? Etc.


“Those questions tend to get deeper and inspire much more reflective conversation,” said Kenn Burke, ICS’ Interim Mosaic Partnerships Program Director. “This helps with the bonding process over the course of nine months within the program.”

The Partners are also expected to join other pairs in clusters that we organize to help facilitate further sharing and growth across the pairs.


“So, between meeting privately with their partners and meeting in a group setting where the topic of anti-racism is broadly discussed, we've created strong partnerships and friendships that are willing to go out into the real world and tackle issues in their communities and join other partners on their mission,” said Burke.

By the end of each year, and Topeka United just finished its third season, the Partner Pairs are truly a force. They’re two-person teams of FRIENDS who are keen to serve the community. We’ve seen this kind of friendship create a growing network of positive community building, not only in Topeka but other communities and we’re planning to roll it out in more communities across the nation.


As the program closed out its third year in December, Idea Connection Systems principal Bob Rosenfeld and Kenn Burke joined the current class of Mosaic Partner Pairs via Zoom for a luncheon and program recap in Topeka.


“The December gathering was as rich as always, with reports from the partner pairs and comments like, ‘Everybody showed up ready to share’ and ‘It’s a great place to come together for open conversation,’” said Burke. “While the Mosaic Partner Pairs’ mission is lofty, it’s very inspiring how the discussions are as down to earth as they can get. Conversations that start with ‘the food I grew up with’ or 'the street I lived on' really resonate with people and gets them to open up, share and listen so they understand each other in a way that builds trust.”


Mosaic Partners is just one segment of ICS’ work, but it’s the one that brings us a true sense of fulfillment, knowing that our science can form such powerful bonds for good causes.


Going forward with Mosaic Partnerships


Last year marked the finish of our three-year full-service contract with Topeka United. But the program was so well received that both parties are excited to be entering a new licensing concept agreement that will allow the program to continue for years to come. Going forward, it will be self-managed by Topeka United, while ICS focuses on training and using the ISPI for partner pair matching.








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