“Large scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations .” This opening line presented six years ago by the Stanford Social Innovation Review started the conversation and coined the buzzwords “collective impact.”
After several years, we have come to the realization that collective impact is so much more than merely better collaboration. It requires breaking down the barriers that keep us buried in our silos and focused on the smaller, immediate and more attainable interventions. It is shifting our thinking to a bolder, riskier goal. A goal that takes a shared vision, time, organization, planning, constant communication, a leveraging of resources but most importantly trust. A goal that does not seek individual “credit” or short-term interventions, but seeks the accomplishment of a grand, noble and a mutually agreed-upon agenda. It is only through the development of these deep collaborative strategies can we hope to tackle a problem as complex as poverty.
We have long recognized that the solution to poverty is not linear. It has many starting points. It could be education, housing, employment, employment opportunities, job training or any one of hundreds of emergency interventions. Most important, progression toward self-sufficiency does not progress along an unfettered continuum — there are often many bumps and detours along the way.
As the World Bank notes, poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, so the process of addressing poverty on an individual family level is as unique as the families themselves. To design a prescription of interventions that would work in all situations is not practical or feasible. But, through true collective impact, each family can have the resources of an entire community of providers working together to develop their individual plan for success.
So let this be our call to action — to take on the grand and noble goal of reducing poverty! To break down our silos, share our ideas, coordinate our efforts and redesign our interventions based upon a more robust understanding that emerges from true collaboration. Let us actually set out to accomplish what the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson set out to do over 50 years ago. This is not an “agency” problem to solve — it belongs to the community, and it will take the entire community working together to solve it.
The writer is executive director of the Berkshire Community Action Council.
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