Be Bold.

With the perspective of a couple of days to recover my energy and reflect on the Social Impact Exchange Conference 2012, there are a couple of powerful themes that resonated throughout the many provocative presentations and discussions.  My own unscientific note-taking and scan brings up variations on the words “collective” and “shared” as the conference mantras, instructive in a number of ways.

Repeatedly, we were encouraged to collaborate, to rally our resources and to work in concert in order to bring effective solutions to scale.  We examined the challenges and successes of funder collaboration to join forces to reach a common goal – whether providing enriched, productive out-of-school activities to students in communities across the nation, addressing the critical need to assure that students achieve Grade Level Reading or the ambition to prepare and retain 100,000 new STEM teachers.

In every case, coalitions of both national and local funders are amassing their financial resources as well as their experience, expertise, political savvy, contacts and networks are generating activity and results that far exceed the mere sum of their grants.  These coalitions unite efforts from different locations, different fields, different approaches, but with a common goal and purpose that leads to results and accelerates progress.  And over and over, we were reminded that success requires true collaboration – a shared vision, shared vocabulary and shared metrics.  That’s the path to celebrating shared results.

The theme of collective action also applied to those delivering services on the ground, scaling by working collectively within a community and then spreading to others.  STRIVE provided the most direct example, starting in Cincinnati with a cradle-to-career approach for community impact focused on shared goals, measures and action.  But this was evident in other effective initiatives, particularly as programs developed peer networks to share best practice, innovate and continue to scale.

Working together is important so that we can do more and do better.  We can’t continue to leave children waiting for services, unable to access the initiatives that we know will make a difference if only they were available.  The recession has bequeathed our communities with growing needs and decreasing public investment.  The response must be through collective action – not parallel play, but winning teams.  Not just replicating new sites, but creating new approaches and making connections between and among initiatives, across traditional silos.  Otherwise, we will limit our impact, miss opportunities for leverage and waste time and resources repeating the mistakes of others.  Beyond collaboration, the second theme that continues to resonate for me was the exhortation to be bold.   The conference was a time to share ideas and now it’s time to aim high and take action together.

Robin Willner is Vice President, Funder Engagement at Growth Philanthropy Network and the Social Impact Exchange.

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