Collaborating for Transformational Change

Posted by Liz Schlegel
on August 6, 2014
WAA Team Huddle

I’ve been thinking a lot about collaboration lately because we’re in the middle of planning a Sustainable Communities Leadership Academy in September – “Empowering Community Resilience.” We’ll be helping participants build unique relationships with their community that will lead to creative climate resilience and adaptation solutions. There have been many articles about new regional collaborative partnerships trying to tackle large global issues. It’s becoming clear that collaboration is critical for getting beyond status quo and creating change. At ISC, we focus mostly on enhancing cross-sector collaboration: bringing together individuals who represent diverse views and come from different backgrounds, geography, cultures, and professions. If you want to learn why exactly collaboration is so effective at driving change, The Necessary Revolution by Peter Senge offers some incredible insight. Peter Senge is a thought leader in organizational learning and promotes collaboration as critical to improving the way things work. In the simplest terms, successful cross-sector collaboration comes down to two things: (1) listening to viewpoints you wouldn’t normally be exposed to and (2) building relationships with peers who represent different sectors, organizations, geographic location, or culture.

Listening opens us up to new ideas

When we’re collaborating across different sectors and across different cultures, we’re exposed to all sorts of different ideas. As we get exposed to and listen to people from sectors other than ours, we begin to acknowledge and recognize one another as people, and not just as our “labels” (businessperson, or civil society advocate, or academic, for example). We begin to see the deep commonalities we have with each other, and build respect for competing – or otherwise different – opinions. As soon as we open ourselves up to competing opinions, major change can happen. Think about this: Why is cross-sector collaboration becoming so common in tackling large scale global problems like climate change? It’s because climate change involves many different facets – sea level rise, disease outbreak, drought, increase of extreme weather events, and it also requires many different types of people to solve it: academics, private sector players, activists, and scientists, etc. In convening individuals from a variety of backgrounds, people start to encounter competing explanations for how they think about climate issues. By listening, we can temporarily detach ourselves from our commonly held beliefs and views, allowing an openness to very different views of the issues and potential solutions to climate change. This can lead to fresh, creative ideas and discovering creative ways of working together.

Extraordinary change requires building extraordinary relationships.

There are incredible success stories about relationships resulting from cross-sector collaboration. Thriving relationships have been built between leaders of multinational corporations and nonprofit activists that have allowed new doors to open and transformquote for blognational change to occur. For example, in 2007, Coca-Cola’s VP for Environment and Water Resources teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to conserve water in Asia – an issue deep at the heart of the NGO, and critical to Coke’s continuing production of its beverages. Because of the relationships that grew between Coke and WWF, they were able to gain an understanding of the issue at its entirety and begin working on viable, transformative water solutions that benefit everyone involved. If the idea of cross-sector collaboration sounds interesting to you, look for ways to apply it to your work. Check out resources like Peter Senge’s Society for Organizational Learning and the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Stay in touch with us via our website, Facebook and Twitter to find out when our own collaboration events will be happening!