It’s a Theme: Collaborate!
It’s a Theme: Collaborate!back

Throughout the Social Impact Exchange Conference, the recurring theme is “collaboration.” A panel facilitated by Matthew Nash, Duke University, focused on that very subject, gave me much food for thought. 

Laura Callanan of McKinsey & Company gave it to us by the numbers. She admonished us to start assessments by clarifying an initiative’s objectives and gave us the guidelines for doing so.

6 types of interventions describe the range of activities that address social needs

  • Knowledge development
  • Service product development and delivery
  • Capacity enhancement and skills development
  • Behavior change programs
  • Enabling systems and infrastructure development
  • Policy development

4 stages to describe progress in addressing social needs:

  • Frame the problem
  • Develop approach
  • Demonstrate and refine the solution
  • Scale and sustain

Barbara Krasne of KrasnePlows, laid out the continuum of collaboration, along with the pitfalls. It’s always helpful to know what not to do!

Why collaborate? To leverage resources, especially financial, but also staff, administrative, and technological.To succeed, the collaboration needs a strong leader with clear vision, clear goals, an appetite for uncertainty and change, who can communicate early and openly.

Pitfalls of collaboration include:

  • inadequate commitment, by board, staff, or management
  • insufficient resources – time, money, management
  • organization is not an attractive partner
  • wrong people on the team
  • inadequate communications
  • limited due-diligence process
  • cultural incompatibility

Self-assessment before entering collaborative effort:

  • goals
  • assets
  • ability to reach consensus
  • leadership
  • appetite for risk
  • organizational health/resources

An example from Marcie Parkhurst, of FSG Social Impact Advisors. She focused on the considerations a large-scale collaboration – Strive – dealt with. Strive is a collaboration of education, business, nonprofit, civic, and philanthropic organizations in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

The collaboration dealt with youngsters from families of ethnic minorities, non-native speakers of English, low-wage earners, and the unemployed who represented the confluence of social, psychological, and economic pressures of urban life, often with severely limited access to adequate learning and career opportunities.

The Roadmap to Success developed by Strive systematically and pro-actively benchmarked the transition points to determine interventions and support needed at various stages of a youngster’s social and academic development.

The overall goal was to help each child in the urban core succeed, from birth through some form of college, into a meaningful career. The goals along the way:

  • Prepare for school
  • Succeed academically
  • Be supported in and out of school
  • Enroll in college
  • Graduate and enter a career

The collaboration required vision, commitment, and leadership from organizations as varied as the University of Cincinnati to United Way, from Proctor and Gamble to the public school system, from Xavier University to the KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

Collaboration like this is a system that incorporates:

  • leadership,
  • member time and commitment, such as biweekly meetings,
  • infrastructure and support,
  • public accountability.

Was it successful? It’s been scaled up to 15 cities.

Steve Goldberg had another example from Charity Navigator, the rating system for nonprofits that we all know. It’s former rating systems was one-dimensional and had been criticized for emphasizing overhead. Charity Navigator has stepped up to plate and is morphing into Charity Navigator 2.0, a robust but easy-to-use information system. Getting there required a collaboration of organizations to create this “platform for intelligent giving.”

Collaboration, he said, requires shared values, elimination of duplicated efforts, the right mindset, and the ability to play well with others. Charity Navigator’s undertaking was a collaboration of equals to jointly develop an approach to evaluate charities; it was an effort that didn’t have money and was undertaken by people who had more on their plates than they could handle.

But a limited beta version will be in use this holiday season.

Marianne Hughes, Interaction Institute, laid out thebuilding blocks for collaborations. A “cookbook” is needed, she said, to move from vision to action. She recommends How to Make Collaborations Work by David Straus. The basis for collaboration, she said, is that a group is smarter than any of us individually. Together, we need to answer the questions:

  • What is the goal we want to see?
  • Who should be involved?
  • Can we do old things in new ways? 

For complete coverage of the 2010 inaugural Social Impact Exchange Conference: Taking Successful Innovation to Scale, go to Ventureneer SIEX10.