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About the Learning Centre

The Learning Centre, established in 2003, is designed to create a fluid, creative system of documenting community building activity and delivering this learning to organizations. The centre has a threefold purpose: to broadly disseminate knowledge gathered through research and practical experience; to help communities increase their power through learning; and to generate knowledge about community engagement so as to advance the field. Learn more about the Learning Centre here.

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Beautiful thinking for December from Tamarack Institute



In this Issue

rope © James BreyDon't Talk to Me about Driving Social Change
[By: John Kania]

I recently met with the former head of a major pharmaceutical company to talk about improving the lives of kids. This well regarded executive was excited to invest a significant amount of his time, post his tenure at the helm of a Fortune 500 company, in leading an effort to address youth substance abuse.*

I was energized by his passion and fervor for the issue, and his true desire to use his platform and experience as a leader to make a difference. But I was troubled by his orientation towards the leadership he felt was required. "We need to drive these evidenced-based practices through the system, from top to bottom," he said. "We need to force communities to understand what's good for them." Uh, oh, I thought to myself. Yet one more well-intentioned, influential individual in society who wants to bring about change for the better, but just doesn't get how social change happens.

The minute you use words like "drive" and "force" to describe your intended process for bringing about change I head in the other direction quickly. We can't force change in a system - or if we do, it's likely to result in only temporary change. If we want to exercise leadership in bringing about social change, our leadership task is really about facilitating the conditions within which others can make progress towards the goal. The leadership work of social change requires an ability to catalyze collective leadership in others - a form of leadership that Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton and I refer to in a new Stanford Social Innovation Review article as System Leadership.

Nowhere in the social sector is the need for system leadership more apparent than in the collective impact efforts many of us are involved in supporting. By its very nature, collective impact eschews top-down hierarchical forms of leadership that may work in the corporate world (though, even in the corporate world, most executives are finding that top-down leadership works less and less as an effective means for bringing about organizational change). Indeed, one of the qualities of collective impact that enables communities to achieve progress at scale - across, in some cases, hundreds of organizations - is the fact that no one individual or organization is in charge of a collective impact effort.

So what type of leadership does foster success in collaborative efforts such as collective impact? In our new Stanford Social Innovation Review article, The Dawn of System Leadership we describe three necessary capabilities:

  1. Helping people see the larger system of which they are a part. Creating this understanding helps collaborating organizations in a collective effort jointly develop solutions not evident to any one individual organization, and to work together for the health of the whole system rather than just pursue symptomatic fixes to individual pieces.

  2. Fostering reflection and more generative conversations than can result in truly innovative solutions. Deep, shared reflection is a critical step to enabling groups of organizations to truly hear one another's perspectives. It is an essential doorway for building trust where distrust has prevailed, and for fostering collective creativity.
  3. Shifting the collective focus from reactive problem-solving to co-creating the future. Change often starts with conditions that are undesirable, but artful system leaders can help people move beyond just reacting to these problems to building positive visions for the future.

A few years ago author and New York Times columnist David Bornstein described the need for collective impact this way: "When it comes to solving social problems, society often behaves like a drowning man whose arms and legs thrash about wildly in the water. We expend a great deal of energy, but because we don't work together efficiently, we don't necessarily move forward."

For collective impact efforts to move from thrashing to thriving requires leadership less like that described by the eager-for-change pharma exec, and more like the leadership examples Senge, Hamilton and I share in The Dawn of System Leadership. Folks like Molly Baldwin at Roca, a community-based organization who is transforming how communities think about supporting troubled young men and boys, and Darcy Winslow formerly of Nike, who helped catalyze an industry sustainability revolution in the design of athletic shoes and apparel.

Baldwin and Winslow truly get how social change happens. What they also get - because they've lived it - is the developmental journey that system leaders must go through to become effective at this work. This is a journey that's both inward and outward-facing - and one that typically advances through the use of powerful tools that support system leadership.

As a collective impact practitioner, what other capabilities and tools have you found to be helpful in catalyzing collective leadership? What advice do you have for other Collective Impact Forum members who are attempting to develop their system leadership skills? We look forward to hearing from you.

*Note: while this story is true, I've changed the issue here to protect anonymity. 

This article was originally posted on the Collective Impact Forum

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Aussie Girl © lucyluiA Bold Plan for the Future of Children in Australia
[By: Seri Renkin]

In 2011, on the eve of their 125 year anniversary, the board of GordonCare, a child protection and welfare agency in Melbourne, Australia, asked themselves "have we done enough to improve the futures of the children in our care?"

Tackling the causes of child abuse and neglect is a complex problem. The GordonCare board agreed new models that worked with communities and families beyond traditional organizational and sector boundaries, were required. "If it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to build the capacity of communities to take responsibility for their own future? We talk all the time about collaboration to address social issues. The reality is it's rarely properly resourced for a common agenda for success.

It was decided that seed capital was needed to fund an effective demonstration of collective impact in Australia to reduce childhood vulnerability. This decision in 2012 resulted in the wind up of the service delivery business of GordonCare and the initiation of a catalytic philanthropy fund called the ten20 Foundation. ten20's purpose is to reduce vulnerability in children between ages of pre-birth to 8, by funding and supporting collective impact efforts that solve complex social problems in communities.

Specifically, ten20 provides funds and brokers resources and coaching for local community collaborations. In addition, over the last 12 months, ten20 has undertaken a co-design process across Australia to determine what is required to build the capacity and evidence base that supports greater alignment for early childhood place-based efforts. In doing this, ten20 recognises that, working alone, they will not achieve the goal they have set. There is a need for significant early stage funds and capacity-building support, different skillsets and alignment of different parts of the system. ten20 also observed there was great risk of duplication of some of this work.

This understanding led ten20 to convene the intent for a strategic initiative called Opportunity Child. Opportunity Child is a national collaboration that builds capacity, learning, performance outcomes and advocacy with communities to accelerate progress towards greater place-based, early childhood results and systems reform. Opportunity Child enables ten20 to leverage and scale the impact of its own funding and strategic contribution with that of other key collaborators.

Opportunity Child collaborators share the bold goal of reducing Australia's child vulnerability from 22% to 15% over the next ten years, with an aspiration goal that 65,000 vulnerable children are ready to learn and thrive. Key stakeholders include: business; government; community; philanthropy; non-profits; research; and, advocacy organizations, as well as children and families.

It is early days and we are on a learning journey. Collective Impact is capturing the interest of many stakeholders and there are significant risks for how we build the capacity in communities for learning and continuous improvement. The challenges include: a lack of seed funding; fragmented exploration; no easy formula for creation, reliability & scale; stakeholder fatigue; and, most importantly, a lack of local capacity deems the goals of Opportunity Child as ambitious (often code for high risk!)

ten20 acknowledges these roadblocks, Our board and team have asked ourselves constantly as we adapt our strategy, do we accept the challenges that arise when attempting to support place based, collective impact efforts to solve our community's complex issues around early childhood vulnerability? And if the whole system must change its: mindsets, structures, processes and accountably to adapt to new ways of working together, what is the role of the funder? What changes do funders have to make to align their support to the collective impact effort and make a difference? Do we believe that we can responsibly demonstrate how this might be done keeping the community aspirations and voice at the centre of our work?

We have found this extraordinarily challenging at every step of the way so far. There has been a constant requirement to be more flexible and nimble, develop new skillsets, to be more comfortable with uncertainty and to migrate to a long-term orientation. Our individual and organisational credibility is on the line all the time. Our board has had to accept the uncertainties associated with adaptive strategic work. There have been hard decisions to make within the team when individuals demonstrate they are not fully committed to what it takes, or act in "old ways" that impact ten20's integrity as a neutral convenor holding leaders to new ways of working. We also have scar tissue associated with thinking we knew what communities needed and letting our own organizational priorities, timeframes and competitive interests get in the way of building trusting relationships.

Can we come together as different sectors with community to find new ways of working to achieve collective impact? We believe we can but it requires a small group of leaders to be prepared to risk making public mistakes to work it out. The joy in our work so far has been working with theses courageous leaders, holding each other accountable to the work when it seems too hard, and creating a new narrative that says "we don't have all the answers but together we are on the right path."

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Every Town Needs a Doc

[By: Sylvia Cheuy]

Video by Drew Morey, Drew Morey Productions. Narrated by Bernadette Hardaker, LifeStories 

10 Principles of a Successful Community Builder

I live in a pretty special place. My husband and I were intentional about choosing the kind of community that we wanted to live in and raise our family. Today, more than a decade later, our kids regularly let us know that they can't imagine living anywhere else, and truly, neither can we. Clearly we made a good choice.

What makes where we live great? Well, for one thing we have easy access to lots of green space and trails; a vibrant, walkable downtown with unique shops and restaurants; fantastic artisans, theatre, and music as well as great community spaces - that host farmers markets and festivals where neighbours meet up and visitors are welcomed.  

But, more important than the physical assets, what makes where we live a great place are the people. Like most communities across Canada, ours is blessed with many dynamic people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work together to make good things happen.

Service clubs and dedicated volunteers regularly champion projects that are beyond the mandate of any one organization - mobilizing people and funds - to work together on projects that contribute to making our community a great place to live.  In my community, there is no greater community-builder than long-time Rotarian Doc Gillies. Like countless others throughout the region, I have been fortunate to work with, and be mentored by Doc. Recently a group of Doc's friends commissioned this great video to share Doc's wisdom, so those of you who haven't had the good fortune to work along-side him first-hand can still benefit from the wisdom he generously shares by example. Doc's 10 Principles for Being a Successful Community-Builder are:

  1. Personal Credibility - Doc is active and well-known in the community. He volunteers his knowledge, skills and connections out of love for the community…not personal gain.

  2. Sense of Humour & Fun - Doc is easy-going and makes working together a lot of fun.

  3. Pick Winners - The projects that Doc contributes his leadership and energy to have strong community support that many would be willing to contribute to.

  4. Do Your Homework - Doc always comes to a project having done his homework. He has thought about what needs to happen, who needs to be involved and who will benefit - and can be engaged - in making the project a success.

  5. High Energy - Doc is enthusiastic and motivated about the projects that he champions. He is actively involved in them and inspires others with his enthusiasm.

  6. Persevere - Doc is well-known for his tenacity. If he sees a need in the community, he doesn't rest until he moves it into action. When challenges arise, he is creative and ingenious about generating alternative solutions.

  7. Model Commitment - Doc is someone who leads by example. He is the first one to commit his time and his own financial resources to the projects that he is championing.

  8. Finish the Job - Doc finishes the projects that he starts and makes sure that they are finished well.

  9. Hand-Pick Key People - Doc is a community connector. He knows who he wants and needs involved in each project and he brings them on board to lead the project with him.

  10. Mentor the Next Generation - Doc is very deliberate about building a leadership team and mentors those he engages by working with them so that they learn how to get things done in the community.

Every town has people with the creativity, the energy, the commitment and the vision to make good things happen. "You need somebody that will bring people together, that people will rally around and say, "Come on, we can do this!" because otherwise we are in a world where less and less gets done." Who are the community-builders in your town? Maybe it's you!

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Love Yes! - Actually - A Movie Review
[By: Paul Born]

I saw recently that a favourite movie of mine - Love Actually - is now on Netflix for the Christmas season. Love Actually is a great movie - especially the opening and closing scenes in the airport. I spend an enormous time in airports and most of it waiting. Seeing people reunited is the BEST THING ever. They hug - they kiss, they smile and cry. Love Actually - the movie has changed forever my understanding of these simple acts of caring for one another.

As with the Butterfly Effect, with every hug, smile or hello we ever participate in, we affirm for the world that there is love and that we are loved. Folks, at Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi, Yule, Pancha Ganapati and all the other great festivals at this time of year, sharing our love is as good as it gets. Happy holidays!

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Announcing Youth CI
[By: Ryan Conway & Tamer Ibrahim]

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and Laidlaw Foundation recently announced the launch of Youth CI: an initiative that strengthens existing and emerging collaboratives that are working to advance outcomes for youth in Ontario by fostering collective action between organizations serving youth locally. Youth CI is generously supported by the Government of Ontario to improve outcomes for youth as a part of its Ontario Youth Action Plan.
Youth CI is an extension of Innoweave's Collective Impact module, which was developed by Tamarack and born out of the notion that organizations are too often operating in the realm of isolated impact. Through this initiative, youth-led and youth-serving organizations will be able to access content and customized coaching resources on collective impact and related supports through online portals, in-person information sessions, workshops and one-on-one interaction. Eligible organizations will have further access to grants supporting the exploration, launch and execution of their collective impact initiative.
"Innoweave is proud of bringing organizations together in partnership to address major challenges," says Innoweave Managing Director, Aaron Good. "We have found that a small investment in organizations can provide huge value to them and their network. Youth CI is a big leverage opportunity."

Laidlaw Foundation will be working with a variety of partners who support youth throughout Ontario including small-scale grassroots and community organizations that are looking to enhance their capacity, resources and infrastructure through Collective Impact activities within their local community." It's remarkable to see how far Laidlaw has come," says Laidlaw Foundation Executive Director, Jehad Aliweiwi. "We are thrilled to be working with Innoweave and we look forward to continue playing a bigger role in supporting the development of youth across Ontario."
Youth CI will be holding regional launch events throughout Ontario in December with information sessions already scheduled in Ottawa, London, Hamilton, Kingston and online on December 11th. The initiative will begin with a schedule of workshops in February 2015 - and a Fast Track granting program for established collaboratives is already open. Interested stakeholders can learn more about Youth CI granting opportunities and its schedule of regional events by emailing info@youthci.ca.

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Updates from Tamarack's Learning Communities
  • Rediscovering a Mythic Worldview - Michael Jones notes that leadership is not just about skills and knowledge but also about our worldviews. He highlights an emerging worldview that taps into the ancient wisdom of our mythic imagination with  a narrative rooted in nature, art and community with the power to inspire the transformation of our world.
  • A Thank You to John Kania - Allyson Hewitt shares a poem she wrote for John Kania - in the spirit of Dr. Seuss - at the Collective Impact Summit after John mentioned that any day that quotes Dr. Seuss is a good day.

  • Creating a Road to Empowerment - Lori Kleinsmith shares reflections on the Road to Empowerment, a joint project of three Niagara Community Health Centres, that is celebrating community leadership. Looking ahead, local issues related to hospital discharge, transportation issues, food banks and stigma are the focus for future advocacy efforts.

  • Four Days in Ireland - Liz Weaver recently attended the Rights, Restructuring and Results Conference at Maynooth University. There she discovered the community development tradition and a rich storytelling culture of the Irish and witnessed their perseverance in the face of an austerity agenda similar to so many countries, including Canada.
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About Engage!

Engage! e-magazine is published by Tamarack - An Institute for Community Engagement, to bring you inspiration, ideas, and resources to envision and create vibrant communities. We would love your ideas to help us improve our format. Please email us with your comments.

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