Why Don’t We Make a Scene? Together.

We can do a lot alone, but we can do so much more together.  This is not a new concept by any means, yet there seemed to be a sense of urgency at the Social Impact Exchange Conference last week to move towards such collaborative efforts.  Why now? Well, I think there are a lot of reasons, but that’s not what I want to discuss.  I want to talk more about what “together” means.

These days, with “collective impact” the buzz term, working together is expected to involve collaborating across sectors – nonprofit, business and government – but collaboration starts at a more basic level with individuals.  Every person brings a unique set of skills and experience when working as a team, but it is becoming more evident that each generation also provides different and necessary perspectives.

Lance Fors, Chairman of Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2), touched upon this concept during the funder collaboratives panel.  He explained how each generation has brought new ideas or skills to the nonprofit sector: the Baby Boomers taught us about movements, Generation X taught us how to build organizations, and Millennials have shown us how quickly technology can pervade society to change the way we live and work.  Granted, these are just a few aspects of society that each generation has influenced.  The point is, each generation can play a part in the conversation and no one should be counted out.  To make this work we must be willing to learn from each other.

During the final panel of the Conference, Jacob Harold, Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation told the audience that there are over 110 websites that help people give money away.  Despite this surplus, Jacob is constantly meeting young social entrepreneurs who believe his or her online giving platform is the next best thing.  Katherine Fulton, President of Monitor Institute, echoed this sentiment urging the motivated newbies in the sector to lift their noses from the grindstone and look towards their elder counterparts – the original social entrepreneurs who have been in the field for 10, 15 or 20 years already.  This is great advice, but there is also overwhelming evidence of a generation eager to get involved, start something newand do good.  There are some who have already found success – Adam Braun of Pencils of Promise and the Kielburger brothers of Free the Children are two examples – and others who are positioned to achieve it.  So what’s the solution? How can the sector harness the ambition of these young social entrepreneurs while building upon knowledge already obtained?

I think the answer lies in collaboration and in recognizing the unique abilities of each generation.  Younger generations shouldn’t underestimate the valuable knowledge and wisdom of the people who have been in this field for years.  It is their work that has brought the sector to where it is today.  At the same time, older generations must not dismiss the ideas and innovative potential solutions that their younger colleagues suggest.  It is their work that will help scale innovation and move the field to places never before imagined.  We must also realize that this is a new era – one in which no generation truly has the upper hand and, as Robert Safian at Fast Company explained, is best described as “Generation Flux.”  So let’s work together, learn together, harness the knowledge we have, foster the ambition we see and create spaces for collaborations we need to move the needle forward.  As Lisa Hall, President and CEO of the Calvert Foundation said, “It’s not about the 99% or the 1%.  It’s about the 100%.”

Maureen O’Brien is Communications Associate at The Philanthropic Initiative.