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Q&A: How local organizations are coming together for “collective impact”

April 28, 2014 Category: Uncategorized

A recently convened session brought together thought leaders, stakeholders, community leaders, people with lived experiences, and funders together.

Nonprofits based in Greater Philadelphia are looking at the idea of “collective impact” as a means of achieving their goals. The Foundation Strategy Group (FSG), an international nonprofit consulting firm, which has embraced the idea, defines collective impact as having five essential conditions: common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and a backbone organization.

In Greater Philadelphia, the Federation of Neighborhood Centers, Strategy Arts, and Philadelphia Youth Network have been inspired by collective impact. Each of these organizations represent large networks and have a city-wide footprint.

Generocity spoke with Diane Cornman-Levy, the executive director at Federation of Neighborhood Centers, Elizabeth Guman, a partner at Strategy Arts who leads nonprofit planning practice activities, and Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, to find out how their organizations have employed collective impact.

When did your organizations first decide to employ the collective impact strategy? What are some specific examples of successful implementations of “collective impact?”  

Diane Cornman-Levy: We brought partners together and created common goals and approaches. We worked with six neighborhood centers, including United Communities of Southeastern Philadelphia, the North Light Community Center, Diversified Community Services, Lutheran Settlement House, and the Friends Neighborhood Guild on Teens 4 Good, which is a youth-led program with vacant lots. This involves 30 different partners and six farms. It expanded to Camden, and has been going on for eight years. This demonstrated collective impact to a greater degree, in that it was systems’ change, not just program development.

From our Partners

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend: We had two collective impact initiatives in Philadelphia. The first was Project U-Turn. This was created to try and help resolve Philadelphia’s dropout crisis. The second was WorkReady Philadelphia. This was dedicated to improving economic outcomes for young people and aligning and investing resources in youth workforce development strategies.

Elizabeth Guman: We’ve been incorporating elements of collective impact before collective impact was the model. One example was the green economy initiative in Philadelphia, which involved creating a common agenda. We’ve done some work with a national partnership called Community Matters, which is based in Vermont. They’ve done citizen engagement across the nation.

Your organizations have collaborated on the issue of re-entry. How has collective impact helped with this issue?

DCL: About three years ago, the Federation received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the Career Support Network. We were approached by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society about the Roots to Re-Entry program for returning citizens. These citizens were trained by landscape architects. [PHS] realized you can’t just provide skills training to men coming out of prison. We came on-board about two years ago, and worked with DHS, the DA’s office, and the Public Defender’s Association. We were struggling. We had previously worked with Strategy Arts on another program, and did a work-flow analysis with them. We realized that PHS already had the City Harvest [urban farming using prisoners] program in prison. But what happens when prisoners get a job? We started understanding redundancy with Strategy Arts, and started developing shared measurement metrics.

How has collective impact helped PYN with youth workforce development?

CFT: Project U-Turn has been going for eight years. There have been a lot of challenges during this time. In the beginning of Project U-Turn, there was the need to understand the nature of the problem. Communities of practice were formed, which led to systemic changes to actually improve the Philadelphia dropout rate. The School District houses the Re-engagement Center at 440 N. Broad. DHS implemented an education support center. When systems have traditionally been siloed, you have to build trust. The last challenge is raising awareness to the point of urgency and action. The graduation rate is now at 64%. Since launching in 2003, we developed a strong infrastructure, which created a centralized system for investors, through philanthropy and public dollars.

How does collective impact enable organizations to more effectively work with each other?

DCL: Philadelphia and regional work that is being done by multiple stakeholders is really profound. There is a rich, robust climate of people and organizations committed to doing work around education, healthcare, and re-entry, but they don’t know how to work across sectors. There is a wealth of expertise, history, passion, and commitment to work together.

EG: In a lot of partnership initiatives, stakeholders get that they have to work together. They have to build up trust and learning. There is a strong foundation to take it to the next level with “collective impact.”

Which of the five conditions of collective impact as outlined by the Foundation Strategy Group do you find to be most important?

EG: The backbone organization, because it’s about capacity. If you don’t have the resources, you can’t fully leverage the initiative.

DCL: I would agree with Elizabeth. People come together and learn from each other, but they really don’t have the backbone organization. Without a backbone, it’s not going to be sustainable, and as a result, much more difficult. Service providers are there to provide  services. Direct service providers don’t have the time to leverage.

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