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[Video] Funder Collaboratives: A Conversation With Tade Akin Aina, Program Director, Carnegie Corporation of New York

September 30, 2011

(Susan Herr, a longtime advocate for social change, founded PhilanthroMedia, Inc. in 2007 to "celebrate the end of philanthropy as usual and advance the perspectives of those leading the charge." This is the second of four interviews she conducted for PhilanTopic on the topic of funder collaboration. Click here to view the first, with Patricia Swann, a senior program officer at the New York Community Trust. And be sure to check back next week for the other two chats in the series -- with Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust and Mai Kiang of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.)

As Pat Swann noted in the first of our conversations with veteran grantmakers on the art of funder collaboratives, collaboration is a valuable and important strategy for grantmakers looking to leverage their resources and maximize their impact.

And as Tade Aina, director of the Higher Education and Libraries program at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, makes clear below, funders who come to complex social challenges with predetermined answers would probably do well to go it alone.

Maybe I'm a sucker for a good metaphor, but I was moved by Tade's grasp of the "zenlike" approach that foundation program officers need to adopt when trying to advance a collaborative effort. For Tade, grantmakers shouldn't be gatekeepers; they should be "platforms" for the sharing and dissemination of knowledge, ideas, and values. Inherent in that assessment is a profound respect for differences in organizational culture and a frank acknowledgment of the deeply entrenched nature of so many of the social challenges that confront us today.

Tade has led collaborative efforts at both Carnegie and the Ford Foundation, and for him the most effective program officers are those who either know or can find the most knowledgeable experts about a given problem. The job of the program officer, in effect, is to gather the right pieces and set them in motion within a clear framework.

No one is born knowing how to do that; it comes through hard-won experience. But in our increasingly networked world, voices like Tade's remind us that individual differences still matter and, when harmonized in service of a larger collective goal, can be the difference between success and failure.

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)

(Running time: 8 minutes, 39 seconds)

What would you add to Tade's observations? Do you have an example of a collaboration that succeeded because of the differences that various partners brought to the table? And what's the most important thing you've learned about collaboration in the nonprofit sector? Use the comments section below....

-- Susan Herr

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