Actuarially Sound

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

By: Geralyn Trujillo 
Senior Policy Director 

For so many of us of a certain age, the television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a wonderland of new people and, more importantly, new friends who visited us regularly in the comfort of our living rooms. Fred Rogers introduced so many children (and adults) to new people and new experiences in a way that encouraged us to test our boundaries, be comfortable with something new or out of our comfort zone, and to recognize that everyone is a potential new neighbor—and friend. 

Believe it or not, this philosophy translates well into our everyday work lives. Particularly when you consider how the Academy and the broader public policy community do what we do—inform, educate, and provide insights on issues that directly impact our neighborhoods. In two recent Actuarially Sound blogs focused on defining “external stakeholders” and highlighting the successful Academy Hill visits, the role of relationships has been underscored as one of the key components of our ability to fulfill the Academy’s mission and purpose.   

It can be hard to differentiate between advocacy and lobbying—especially when we think about relationships and the stereotypical behaviors that come along with those two roles. As we think about the Academy’s place in public policy, our ability to network and build relationships within and outside of the U.S. actuarial profession takes on a different perspective. We know that some of our external stakeholders are those elected to state and federal government. Other key neighbors include regulatory bodies, think tanks, membership associations, and trade groups, as well as employers and academic institutions—it’s truly a multifaceted community in which we live.  

Just like in our childhood, we must learn how to identify who within those larger groups are the individuals that we should connect with and engage. Part of that identification comes through experience—for example, our senior fellows have been in the public policy strata for years and can tell Academy staff and members who has influence on decision-making, who has an interest in our mega-issues, and who might have information that is valuable or necessary for our work products. 

Understanding the political landscape also helps, as it offers insights into worthwhile conversations around issues we have prioritized versus scenarios that would be a waste of time and energy. Personal networks—the individuals we meet at work, at conferences, on social media, or at the neighborhood barbecue—can also offer an opportunity to expand the Academy’s reach.  However, that can sound very siloed. How can all that information or the individual data points help the Academy on a broad scale? 

One way is through an exercise we call relationship mapping. Writing down and identifying who we know as a team, updating contact lists with notes about issues of shared interest or previous requests for information, and being deliberate when reading interesting articles or attending conferences or meetings—all of that information can be used to create a robust network of tiered relationships, which can then be leveraged to spread the word about the great work actuaries do every day. It’s something that most of us do every day without actively thinking about it—identifying people and engaging with them in a productive and useful way. 

Mister Rogers frequently spoke of looking for the helpers and to embrace our neighbors. In public policy, we do the same thing, with some slight modifications. We look for the helpers—those who make decisions and who inform the legislation or regulation that will influence a product, a market, an industry, or a community. At the Academy, we look beyond political ideology and focus instead on ensuring a baseline appreciation for the expertise and insights offered by actuaries.  

As we identify who else is in our neighborhood—those who live in the financial security and insurance worlds, who understand the federal and state government ecosystem that is the U.S.—we find new friends and grow our community. Putting all of that together, we better understand the needs of the public policy world around us, which leads to even greater opportunities for the Academy and our volunteers to strategically develop the tools and opportunities that lead to solutions that improve every neighborhood. 

Mister Rogers would be proud.   

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