I had a vision, and Daniel brought it to life.
In 2009, Daniel designed and facilitated the first-ever think tank on issues facing adults with autism, and then designed and facilitated a Town Hall that engaged 1,000 people across 16 sites linked by video and groupware computers to set an action agenda for Congress and others. You can see some of the work products and outcomes at the Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) website. This work was conducted by Daniel through America Speaks.
We’re talking about changing lives. It’s very important to people, near and dear to their hearts, so we needed a very specific and special sort of person to do the work. I’d met Daniel when he was facilitating the Urban Zen Foundation town hall in New York for Donna Karan. I knew that was the format I wanted to use, and there’s something that’s genuine and authentic about Daniel. He’s a great listener, he has great facilitation skills, he’s able to help even a very passionate group suspend judgment until everybody really gets their voice in the room.
This was a tough process. We started with 16 organizations, and I really had to sell it to some of them. Daniel was with me from the very beginning. We worked through the financials, the personalities, the vision, the strategy – we were partners in the process, and he stayed true to it. The event evolved into something that was richer and better, and he contributed a lot to that. He’s very conceptual in terms of being able to see the parts to the whole and make things happen.
There were some strong personalities on the planning team, and I include myself in that, who wanted to influence the process. But he never rushed anybody. He has a great way of pushing back in a helpful, constructive way – you feel safe, regardless of your point of view, and that’s a unique and special attribute. If he felt that there was a significant point that had been glossed over, he’d stop and say, you know, I heard something there that I think we need to think about a little more. On a conference call with that many people and that many egos – it takes somebody very good, and he is somebody very good!
Phase I was the think tank, which brought together 50 experts from around the country. It was a tough group! We had a lot of egos and experienced people in the room, and Daniel engaged every one very effectively. He was able to establish common ground and bring some pretty disparate points of view together in such a way that we were able to focus on what we agreed on.
And then he was the leader of the national town hall – that was Phase II. We had 16 sites and 1,000 people around the country, all participating in one single event. Daniel was able to bring thousands of voices together and end up with one sheet of paper where everybody’s voice was represented. That’s a major, major outcome.
We have a national agenda that he helped us develop. We have state groups doing local and grassroots initiatives, we have lobbyists working in Washington, and we have every reason to believe that it’s going to result in policy change. We’re getting a lot of traction around establishing public policy that will support adults with autism, that will help create meaningful futures for families of adults with autism.
We still have a lot of work to do, but that’s a huge deal for a community that had been operating in these little pockets of excellence, but never really collaborating. The idea that we did it together is an outcome in itself, because that never happens.
I like to work with people I can be my best with. And Daniel is one of those people. He creates a safe place to test ideas and open up. Trust, safety, honesty, and authenticity. I feel like I learned a lot about myself, my strengths and opportunities, in this process, and I went into the process thinking I was already an expert!
He’s got that style, too, that’s just laid-back, non-intimidating, and he’s such a great listener. He makes great contributions, but he does it in a quiet, non-grandstanding kind of way – and he has such influence on the process.
If you’re interested in real change and really making a difference in your world, then Daniel’s your guy.
– Dr. Cyndy Hayes, Founder, President, Aging with Autism, www.agingwithautism.org