May 02, 2017
How can the social sector create lasting impact? By changing the way it thinks about and approaches social change, writes Tynesia Boyea-Robinson in Just Change: How to Collaborate for Lasting Impact. Drawing on her experience in both the private and social sectors, Boyea-Robinson shares lessons she's learned and strategies she's found to be effective for changing how we think about and create change, how our organizations work, and how we collaborate.
It's an approach well worth considering; as chief impact officer at Living Cities, a partnership of foundations, financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, and the federal government that's committed to improving the vitality of cities and urban neighborhoods, Boyea-Robinson is tasked with ensuring that the organization's investments lead to measurable impact. She also has witnessed, both in her own family and in her previous work at Year Up National Capital Region, the barriers that many poor urban children come up against, leading her to acknowledge that the challenge of creating change, let alone lasting change, is daunting.
Something like closing opportunity gaps, for example, is a complex problem, one that involves interconnected relationships unique to each situation, as opposed to a merely complicated problem, the solution to which involves many difficult steps but can be mastered and replicated. And yet, she writes, we can create lasting impact, even around complex problems, if we work together and focus on a problem's underlying cause instead of its symptoms, continually improve our efforts through ongoing feedback, use data to define the impact we are looking to achieve, and align our programs, policies, and funding streams with clearly articulated goals.
Boyea-Robinson is careful to note that meaningful social change rarely is driven by a single individual, organization, or sector. And while forging cross-sectoral partnerships is just one of the six ways, as she puts it, to "change how you create change" (the others are focusing on bright spots, changing systems through individuals, defining success in terms of people not neighborhoods, engaging the community, and supporting racial equity), it really constitutes the core message of the book. By definition, participation in a cross-sectoral collaboration creates the possibility of achieving something bigger than any one individual, organization, or sector could achieve alone. At the same time, collaborations, if they are to succeed, require solid relationships and a high level of trust, not to mention partners who are willing to commit to a collective goal that transcends their own individual objectives or reputation.