The luncheon keynote during the first day of the Social Impact Exchange Conference featured talks by Melody Barnes, the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and now CEO, Melody Barnes Solutions, as well as Michele Jolin, Managing Partner of America Achieves and Member of the White House Council for Community Solutions. Michele described the findings from the Council’s work conducted by Bridgespan, and Melody announced the new Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and the launching of the “Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund.”
The Forum will promote the idea and practice of collective impact, with a particular focus on youth. Melody commented that local collaboratives have existed across the country for a long time, but “the time is now ripe” to broaden and deepen the practice of collective impact initiatives. The Forum will help build the practice and infrastructure of collective impact. It hopes to support the communities of practice that will generate deeper understanding about best practices, create the tools that will help disseminate those best practices, and develop the leadership capacity needed for collaborative initiatives to succeed. These tools may include, for example, ways of doing cost effective data collection, methods for engaging communities, etc. In addition, building the infrastructure needed for collaboration – through backbone organizations as they are termed – is another important focus and ultimately a key area for funders to support.
While Melody believes funders are critical for collective impact to succeed, it’s not just about the money. They bring on-the-ground expertise and networks that are critical to well-functioning collaboratives. They can also bring leadership. Putting her federal government cap back on, she suggested that foundations can play a key role as influencers in helping to solve the complex government funding eco-system. She stated that government funding silos must be broken down to enable integrated community solutions that are truly transformative. That sounds like a call to action for the assembled group!
Michele Kahane is Professor of Professional Practice at The New School for Public Engagement, Milano School for International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy.