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Are You Going For Individual Glory Or Team Gold?

Are You Going For Individual Glory Or Team Gold?

I’m not sure what it’s like to compete in an Olympic event but viewing was exhausting. Exercising my muscles to use that TV remote was a real workout and I’m certain that making the sprint to the bathroom and fridge in ad breaks set a few personal bests, not to mention LRRs (Lounge Room Records).

There have been many highlights over the course of the weeks but mine was seeing our girls win Australia’s first gold in the 4 by 100 meter freestyle relay. While normally fierce competitors, the girls came together for the relay and, against all odds, blew the competition out of the water.

There’s something inherently appealing and logical about working together to achieve a common goal and it’s most evident in our community when we face a crisis or natural disaster. Somehow on those occasions the social sector is able to shift from running our own individual race to forming a champion team.

And there is no better example of this than the one related by my friend Mike Brennan, CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Mike was recently in Sydney and presented to over 200 community, government and corporate leaders over the course of a few days.

Mike’s community is in crisis. With the collapse of the auto manufacturing industry in Detroit, a community of two million people was reduced to just 700,000, with a loss of one million jobs. In Mike’s words this was “Hurricane Katrina without the water” – and without the tide of financial and other support that followed it.

The impacts were wide-ranging but two key social problems stood out:

  • One in two children start school unprepared and are likely to face a lifetime of disadvantage.
  • High school graduation rates of only 60 percent led to ‘drop-out factories’ rather than educational institutions preparing young people for a changing society and economy.

Detroit is rebuilding because community, government and business leaders are working together to address these issues. What’s galvanized these people is a long-term commitment to making Detroit one the five best places in the United States to live and work by 2030 (the date when those born today will graduate from high school).

This is a bold vision, particularly when the city so often finds itself in the ‘top five’ lists for all the wrong reasons, and it is this vision coupled with involvement of leaders across the sectors that has resulted in a USD 25 million grant from the GM Foundation.

So what does this mean for each of us as we strive to create social change in Australia? We have the local resources and leadership in many of our communities to do the work of building the common good, but do we have the blueprint to create lasting change and the resolve to be accountable for our progress?

Perhaps the answer to finding a blueprint lies in Collective Impact.

“Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations. Substantially greater progress could be made in alleviating many of our most serious and complex social problems if nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact,” Mark Kramer, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011.

Continuing the Olympics metaphor, check out this animation which uses a group of rowers to illustrate the power of collective impact. A great local example of this is 90 Homes for 90 Lives - a coalition of leaders that secured resources to provide permanent homes for 70 Rough Sleepers in Woolloomooloo, with demonstrated early success.

As for accountability, much of this comes down to what we define as being “our responsibility.”

Are we only accountable for running our organization’s program and getting a personal best in our own individual event? Or are we willing to take responsibility for the overall health and wellbeing of our community and take a step in a new direction to make change of truly Olympic proportions?

When we team up with the person in the lane next to us, magic can happen. And, against the odds, maybe we can even win gold.

Access this story in Pro Bono Australia.