The Road to Third Plateau

November 7, 2017

This post was written by Paul Perry Paul is a Director with Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. In this role, Paul works with social impact ventures around the world to improve outcomes alongside the communities they serve. He specializes in learning systems, strategic planning, community engagement, and public innovation.

Running for Congress.

That’s what I was doing before joining Third Plateau. After last year’s election, it seemed like the natural extension of a career spent in public service through education. I felt called to step up and serve based on new political realities that felt, well, unreal.

But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.

After six months of spending most of my days (usually 12–16 hours to be precise) focused on raising money above all else, I ended my campaign. I had a real conversation with myself about personal values, how I was/wasn’t showing up within my own family, and the actual work that I wanted to accomplish with my one, wild life.

I’m still not sure which was the bolder move: running for federal office in the first place or withdrawing and choosing a better path for myself, my family, and my community. Though, I can certainly tell you which one feels better.

In just one month, I closed up my campaign and transitioned out of my role as the leader of a national nonprofit in which I had a seven year tenure — six on the board and one year on staff. As fate would have it, a committed romantic relationship with a partner ended around the same time as well.

Needless to say, it was a lot of transition at once.

Real results

Credit: Ross Findon

I knew I was stepping into the right place when one of the principals shared a snippet from the team’s early deliberations on my joining the firm:

Question: What happens if he wins the race and has to leave the firm?

Answer: Umm…if someone leaves this firm to go serve in Congress, then we’re doing pretty well!

Our mutual leap of faith paid off.

Ultimately, I chose direct service in support of meaningful causes over electoral toil.

I was greeted warmly by the team and made to feel at home quickly, despite being the one employee 3000 miles away in the affectionately-named “Walrus,” our office here in Philadelphia (aka my apartment).

Two others colleagues, Amanda and Somoh, onboarded at the same time which was wonderful to have folks in a similar position, learning together. This cohort model is unique to Third Plateau, and something we do with our summer fellows as well.

Right from Jump Street, I was asked to take the lead on one of our largest projects with nationwide reach. The team encouraged me to embrace my passion for writing and start our firm’s first Medium publication. So here we are.

Now I find myself working on incredible projects:

  • An effort to bring greater access and equity to arts education in one of our nation’s largest school districts.
  • Digitizing and expanding access to sacred texts in Jewish education programs.
  • A national gathering of top thinkers and doers focused on political reform in our country.
  • An innovative school serving mostly homeless youth in need of strategic planning support to boost its already-noble work.
  • A multi-million dollar community action agency supporting families living in poverty in need of a turnaround development plan.

I get to wake up everyday and solve wicked problems in our society. And I get to witness measurable results in real-time. Screw calling donors all day for campaign donations!

Coming full circle

Credit: Todd Quackenbush

It’s not just the work, it’s the culture. Our firm asks us to prioritize our families and outside pursuits. We often work remotely and flexibly so we can meet our personal needs which helps us show up strongly for our clients and those they serve.

Looking back on the first decade of my career, I have been in the shoes of so many of our clients:

  • The overwhelmed school leader working 18-hour days to serve young people in our poorest neighborhoods
  • The underresourced nonprofit executive struggling to meet ambitious, budgeted fundraising goals
  • The thinly-spread district administrator striving to push a bold new initiative forward despite significant resistance

I am able to apply my learnings from those successes and failures as I chart a path forward alongside our clients. I help them see around corners. I assist them with engaging in “there-is-no-box” thinking. I nudge them to push the envelope and increase their impact.

Now when people ask me what I do, I tell them:

“I solve big problems alongside the smartest and most caring people I know.”

In the final analysis, I believe I found what I was looking for —a small C “congress” of kickass change agents. An enviable perch filled with a like-minded yet diverse team working to empower and improve communities across the country.

I look forward to getting my hands dirty with this daring crew in this new sandbox.

We’re going to build some amazing things together. Stay tuned.