The Last Mile Strategy

by Kim Scott, January 22, 2021
As we are all witnessing right now with the global vaccine race, the last mile is always the hardest. Operation Warp Speed set a record for vaccine development, but then FDA approval delays put the U.S. behind. Now on the last mile of reaching people’s arms the headlines read, “America’s messy vaccine rollout”, “The crash landing of operation warp speed” and “…working to change people’s minds”.

The government and pharmaceutical companies were only part of the ecosystem or team needed to win. The states, health departments, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and pharmacies making up the rest are struggling to coordinate. Logistical challenges like finances, cold storage, equitable distribution, and delivering the right message to get people to trust and take the vaccine stand in the way of success.

As the 50 states now limp towards the finish line, an unlikely innovator is leading the pace. West Virginia is being heralded for focusing on the challenge of getting people to trust the vaccine. Instead of opting for the federal partnership with two chain pharmacies, they built a network of local pharmacies people were more likely to trust enough to roll up their sleeves. Our country and states need to apply lessons like this to help in the struggle to win the other global race being made more urgent by the pandemic.

Operation Slow Speed might be a way to describe the global race to realign education and workforce development pipelines for the knowledge economy. An ecosystem of cross-sector collaborators has been growing around the realignment race since the federal government’s 1983 Nation at Risk Report.

At the time, President Reagan was confident that if the American people were properly informed, they would take immediate action to protect our society, people, families, and future generations. Unfortunately, that is the last mile of this race and we are only just now about to reach the hardest part.

Unlike Operation Warp Speed which formed a new ecosystem around an obvious threat and solution, Operation Slow Speed involves breaking down entrenched, siloed, complex systems while testing new ways to reimagine or interconnect them and awakening people to the need for change. Changing engrained behaviors across society and building a new common language takes decades.

The economic fallout from the pandemic is so severe that it will take winning both global races to fully recover. The shortcomings of our education and workforce development pipeline are now obvious. The sudden shift to virtual learning and work is changing behavior. The masses are now awakened to problems and new opportunities. Many thought leaders believe progress has been sped up by at last five years. Now is the time for an all-hands-on-deck approach and a last mile strategy. Now is the time for unlikely innovators, ingenuity, and outside-the-box thinking. Fortunately, a shift to virtual
conferences is creating learning opportunities that will help new talent get up to speed.

For the past 11 years, the ASU+GSV Summit has been helping to fuel the movement and support the cross-sector collaborators and technology innovators working on changing the game, policies, and practices surrounding education and workforce development. The 2020 summit brought together an ecosystem that included 500 speakers, 15,000 attendees, and over 135 countries represented. Thanks to the pandemic induced virtual format, https://virtual.asugsvsummit.com/2020, now has free access to 150 on-demand sessions featuring over 500 thought leaders available to help support anyone hoping to
become an innovator in this space.

Social innovators new to the challenge will find this learning opportunity empowering. It is the easiest way to explore the interconnected problems and emerging new common language. Gaining insight into the current field is also an effective way to test how well potential solutions align with current thought leadership and national initiatives across the entire ecosystem. This is a recap of the emotional journey I went through studying ASU+GSV on demand content, which allowed me to test and validate my thought leadership. I will also present the last mile strategy I was researching and developing that the summit sessions helped advance and a glimpse of the ServeFully solution it has convinced me to launch.

Excited by giant leap forward

Summit co-founder Michael Moe’s opening keynote highlighted the positive and negative impacts the pandemic has had on education and workforce development as well as progress brought on by the sudden, large scale shift to online learning. The digital learning market has permanently changed.
Instead of physical and linear growth, after the disease it will be exponential growth and digital. This is creating a second boom for “Weapons of Mass Instruction” that will increase access to higher education globally and support workers having to adapt to the “Pre-k to grey” lifelong learning model.

Alarmed and frustrated by the new reality

The new era of digital learning will make the global realignment race even more competitive at a time the U.S. has already fallen well behind in education. As Moe pointed out, the U.S. is currently in 31st place on PISA’s ranking of industrialized countries. Even more alarming is that it is coming when issues surrounding inequality have been worsened by the pandemic. The challenges our country must overcome to remain competitive and protect future generations are massive, complex, and entrenched. Inequality and inequity limit access to digital learning for much of our population. It frustrating that our country will miss out on opportunities to capitalize on progress to come from behind in education.

Amazed and scared by what is missing

While processing the impact “Weapons of Mass Instruction” will have on the global race, my mind kept going back to a future of work panel discussion at the 2019 Indiana Weldon Conference for Higher Education. Like at the ASU+GSV Summit, panelists reported cross-sector collaboration is growing and progress is measurable. However, when the discussion turned to how much about lifelong learning and credentialing was really understood by parents, students, and even teachers and faculty in communities around the state, it was agreed that part of the heavy lift of this social shift is a communication challenge. It was agreed much work needed to be done when it comes to helping people understand the new realities and trying to figure out how we get messages to students, parents, and returning adults.

So far, I have not found a summit session dedicated to a national strategy for informing the public. This is amazing and scary because a 2015 National Governor’s Association report concerning competency-based learning declared, “Change that does not sit within society’s current entrenched vision of education is unlikely to occur unless the need for change is successfully communicated to the public.”

Successfully communicating change is the goal line all 45,000 members of the ASU+GSV ecosystem and all leaders of the state and community ecosystems must reach. At this stage of the race, systems thinking, cross-sector collaboration, and collective leadership focused on last mile strategies are critical.

Frightened of repercussions for failing to act

Speakers in several sessions discussed the lack of a common language as a driver of inequality. In the session, “The Open Skills Network: Building a more equitable, skills-driven labor market”, Constance Yowell, Executive Vice-President of Southern New Hampshire University, summed it up well. One place where inequality lies is in the disconnect between how we talk about learning, how we talk about our courses, and how the world of work talks about jobs and the skills that are needed. When we don’t have
the same language and are not talking about things in the same way, it means only those who have had previous experiences and know both systems well are going to be able to build those connections. It is a privilege to have that type of information, so where we have those disconnects, we have inequality.

Failing to help people in every community and every state understand and embrace the new common language emerging will allow inequality to continue growing, hamper the economic recovery, negatively impact future generations, and hurt our country’s ability to remain globally competitive.

Relieved the window of opportunity is finally wide open

Time and time again, ASU+GSV panelists seemed amazed that the pandemic suddenly sped progress and the timeline for reaching goals that had been 40 years in the making. However, there is precedent for a major financial impetus like the pandemic bringing reluctant stakeholders to the table and fueling the adoption of a new management style like the cross-sector collaboration that is finally growing. There are also precedents for social shifts taking 40 years and for the length of time it is taking our complex, education system to move through the three-stage process of change. We have just reached the launch point of the social shift that poises our country to reorganize around technological advancements and harness their power to increase productivity and surge back ahead. The window of opportunity is finally wide open, and progress will be more obvious.

A new common language is finally emerging that encompasses lifelong learning, competency-based learning, multiple pathways to the workforce, and skills-based learning and hiring. Facilitating the adoption of that language to communicate change, so that people can become informed, understand the value, and embrace the new way of thinking, is paramount to the ultimate goal of protecting our society, people, families, and future generations.

It is time to focus on harnessing the power of communication technologies and every available resource to spread the new common language. We know retraining is hard, so it makes sense to start with youth.

Positive who should lead

In the session, “The Challenge of Change: Sparking innovation in the U.S. workforce system”, the panelists from JFF, New Profit, MIT Solve, and xPrize shared a belief that talent and ingenuity exist everywhere and that big ideas can come from anywhere. Their hope is that through a commitment to entrepreneurs, anyone that is sitting on their couch has a chance to participate regardless of their background or where they went to school.

Harvard Business School’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter added where not to look for solutions to complex and entrenched problems. The intro to her session, “Think Outside the Building: Keys to successful innovation for positive social impact in education and beyond”, says it all. “Change-makers and entrepreneurs know that innovation rarely comes from inside the establishment. Incumbents tend to defend past decisions, don’t readily embrace change, and get stuck in the past, the status quo, or both.

Innovators lead by creating new models for solutions that work across sectors and silos.”
There is a lot of work that governments, businesses, and non-profits are just not well suited to do or fund. Our country needs every ounce of ingenuity we can muster, and we know diversity and inclusion are critical to good service and solution design. If we are designing solutions for students, we need them at the table. In his fireside chat, Charles Koch perhaps gave some of the best advice, “Don’t make the mistake of a top-down approach that treats people as a problem rather than empowering them.”

Students are uniquely qualified to create and lead the scaling of solutions for the communication challenge. They possess relevant experiences, personal relationships, tech and media savvy, empathy for fellow students, and most importantly, they are born collaborators. Research and insights from American Student Assistance, Pearson, and other community members that were presented at the conference can help attract students and support the design of student centric solutions.

Inspired to share the last mile strategy

As someone who has spent decades studying and thinking about how to facilitate this social shift based on a personal passion rather than any kind of a formal role, it was very inspiring to hear the panelists’ encouragement and support for unlikely innovators from outside the building. Observing from a systems thinking perspective and having attended over 300 listening and learning opportunities across multiple states, fields of discipline, and sectors, here is an idea the national community should rally behind.

The last mile strategy for successfully communicating changes in education and the workforce to the public is to unlock and tap the talent and ingenuity hidden in our community service networks.

One of our country’s greatest strengths is the engrained community service mindset generated by our give/get ecosystem that encourages volunteering. Colleges and employers weigh community service in their screening processes which motivates people to serve others to help themselves. When we measure social impact, the impact on both society and the volunteer is weighed. To serve fully, one must also benefit fully.

Students and employees understand that community service is a way to boost resumes, gain experience, grow social capital, and improve career prospects. Businesses understand having a social purpose is now central to attracting customers and employees and remaining profitable. Volunteerism is at an all-time high and the age of contemporary capitalism or “mission corps” as Moe suggested in his keynote, is here to stay.

Creating community service, service learning, and corporate social responsibility projects that are designed to facilitate the adoption of a new common language, while making it easier for people to fully serve others and themselves, is the optimal way to facilitate the social shift.

Overwhelmed at the scope of the challenge

In his opening keynote, Michael Moe described the Infobesity trend by stating, “Too much noise is overwhelming us, so how do you separate noise and ultimately create signals and ultimately insight?”

America’s big challenge is competing for and holding the attention of students in each of the 13,300 k12 school districts, getting them and their families to buy-in, and then keeping them engaged throughout their lifelong learning journey. There was a lot of talk about the need for big, audacious goals at the ASU+GSV Summit. The goal to win this challenge certainly qualifies.

Energized to pursue a big, audacious goal

Repeatedly panelists discussing issues surrounding inequality used the phrase, “we need to meet people where they are”. In his keynote, Moe encouraged more invisible learning embedded into video games because that is where K-12 students spend their time. Both concepts validate the last mile strategy.

America’s culture of using community service to empower education and career development provides a unique opportunity to meets students where they are. Opportunities to interact with vital information can be embedded into projects students are seeking to meet service hour requirements, improve their college applications, or support leadership activities. A graduating level of projects can be designed to support volunteers all along their lifelong learning, career, and service journey.

Imagine a peer mentoring opportunity that requires a student to watch a training video before volunteering to reach out to younger students to share new insight or offer advice. Now imagine collaborating with the college Greek network to mobilize their 750,000 members with a contest within or between college campuses to see who can relay academic advice back to the most students at their old high school. How many of the 13,300 school districts could they manage to reach? How viral could a relay-it-back challenge go from there if the students they served were encouraged to do the same with
middle schools? How many college grads or credential earners would reach back to their alma mater? Where would our highly motivated student leaders think to take it from there if presented with an invitation to join or help design other last mile collaborations?

Optimistic we can scale a solution

No social solution has scaled at the pace or to the level of business ecosystems like Amazon or Uber. That is the type of scale our country needs to facilitate the adoption of a new common language and a social shift. A dual-sided mobilization platform that empowers education, career, and business development through specially designed community service projects on the front end and empowers communities to lift up and build a web of support around their volunteer networks on the backend can scale a solution.

Rather than a program that involves lots of training and complex reporting, our communities need a simple, shared process for inventorying the resources they already have and a consistent flow of new ideas on how to optimize their potential. The session “Wayfinding for American Workers: Bringing clarity to the reskilling and reemployment landscape” demonstrated how easily collaborative ecosystem mapping activities can be accomplished online. Due to the pandemic, community stakeholders are now comfortable with online meetings and activities. The interest and capacity to collaborate has never been greater and the stars have never been more aligned to scale a national social solution.

Thrilled about the potential to better support volunteers

It is simple to use design thinking and other innovation strategies to create community service opportunities that make volunteering easier. The focus needs to be on overcoming barriers to participation and helping volunteers do jobs they are already struggling to do. For example, quickly find a project or partner, overcome time and transportation issues, or hand projects off so other volunteers don’t always have to start from scratch and the impact being made can continue growing.

It is more complex to ensure volunteers can get what they really came for, help empowering their education and careers. The same language gap problem of describing skills learned in school applies to skills learned volunteering. The language students use to describe their activities are not recognized by the algorithms used to screen batches of resumes which hurts their chances of moving ahead.

Technology changed the way we hire making it harder to score an interview. Community service is losing its effectiveness as a resume booster. Closing the language gap will help draw new participants and increase the value of our community service networks.
New infrastructure and partnering opportunities already exist to help volunteers understand the skills they are learning and articulate valuable skills on resumes and profiles.

In the sessions “A New Open Skills Framework to Help People, Education, and Work Speak the Same Language”, and “Mapping Sought Skills to Taught Skills”, panelists from WGU and EMSI demonstrated their system and how it will support the Learning Employment Records used to convey skills acquired through education, employment, and personal learning in the future. Community service will be a part of those records.

Troubled about a danger that lies ahead

In several sessions, it was clear how deeply the narrative about skipping college because it is no longer relevant has impacted enrollment and financial support. Colleges have been shutting down. A similar narrative has begun regarding listing community service on resumes. Many of our national organizations that promote and facilitate community service are already under great strain. We cannot afford to lose these valuable networks that have long played a role in education and workforce development.

Volunteer networks are already doing the hard work of capturing our youth’s attention and providing a direct line of communication to the talent and ingenuity we need. Intentionally designing community service projects to empower the education and careers of their members will help ensure these networks stay relevant and active so they can remain in position to help win the global race.

Convinced a lifelong, community service partner is needed

In the session “Long-life Learning: Designing for a 100 Year Work Life”, panelist and author Michele Weise discussed the challenge of preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet. People must prepare for a longer, more turbulent work life and will need to gain skills at an unprecedented rate. It does not make sense that all that learning would only occur in school or on the job. As skills-based learning and hiring becomes the new norm, help translating skills acquired while volunteering will become a necessity. A mobilization platform that makes it easy for people to connect with projects designed to maximize their social impact while empowering their own education, career, or organizations will increase the capacity, value, and social impact of volunteers as well as everyone else working to transform society and business around learning and work.

Ready to serve fully

A give/get ecosystem is the foundation of our country’s unparalleled community service culture. There are countless volunteers relying on community service to empower their education, careers, or businesses who need projects specially designed to help them serve fully. Start inviting them to visit ServeFully.com so they can join the global realignment race as last mile collaborators and co-creators. Don’t forget to sign up yourself to follow the progress and support volunteers as they help us go the last
and hardest mile.


Kim Scott, The Last Mile Strategist and Founder of ServeFully and Last Mile Collabs, splits her time between Huntington, WV and Indianapolis. A college assignment back in the days before the internet even existed alerted Kim to the impacts technology and rapid change were predicted to have on our country and the need for the long, hard work of a social shift to protect future generations. After years of joining community task forces and
volunteering locally to support youth, her passion for the subject led Kim to take on the role of an unlikely social innovator. Following a listening and learning tour that included over 300 events across multiple states, sectors, and fields of discipline, Kim founded ServeFully to help volunteers maximize the social impact they have on others while empowering their own education, career, or business development. You can reach her at
Kim@Servefully.com or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/kim-scott-1642277b or follow on Twitter@Servefully.