Collective Impact Gathers Momentum

Making multi-sector collaborations work—a report from the CECP 2012 Corporate Philanthropy Summit.

Collective impact—the idea that organizations from different sectors of society need to join together to tackle pressing social problems—captured people’s imagination as soon as the concept first appeared in print in the winter 2011 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review. One and one-half years later, the idea continues to gather momentum.

Earlier this week I attended several events—the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) 2012 Corporate Philanthropy Summit in New York City, the White House Council for Community Solutions meeting in Washington, D.C., and a roundtable on collective impact hosted by SSIR also in Washington, D.C.—where collective impact was front and center in the discussions.

In New York City more than 200 executives in charge of corporate philanthropy at many of the word’s largest corporations (including General Electric, Credit Suisse, McDonald’s, Total S.A., and IBM) gathered for two days of discussions. One of the sessions, “Making Multi-Sector Collaborations Work: Lessons from the White House Council for Community Solutions,” focused on the role that business can play in fostering collective impact solutions.

The panel was moderated by Willa Seldon, partner at Bridgespan Group, and featured John F. Clayton, workforce development manager at Independence Blue Cross; Stephanie Gambone, vice president external relations at Philadelphia Youth Network; Deborah O’Brien, senior vice president and market manager for corporate social responsibility at Bank of America; and Paul Schmitz, CEO of Public Allies.

Seldon and her panelists used the Philadelphia Youth Network as a case study to better understand how collective impact works. Bank of America and Independence Blue Cross both work closely with the network to tackle the problems Philadelphia’s underprivileged youth face. About 10 percent of the business executives attending the session indicated that their companies were also participating in collective impact work in their local communities. Limited Brands, for example, is involved with Learn4Life in Columbus, Ohio. Learn4Life was initiated by Nationwide Insurance to improve the educational opportunities for young people in the Columbus area.

One of the difficulties of making collective impact work is that business objectives often focus on short term results, while collective impact requires a long-term commitment to the effort. “That can prove to be a challenge for business,” says Seldon. It can also be difficult for companies to work collaboratively. “We aren’t very good at that,” admitted the president of one of the corporate foundations. “It’s not in our DNA.”

The CECP panelists also discussed the lessons learned by the White House Council for Community Solutions, an advisory group created about two years ago by President Obama to explore ways that communities can come together to solve pressing social problems. The collective impact approach provided a guide for much of the council’s work. The final meeting of the council took place at the White House on Monday, when it released its final report.

SSIR took advantage of the gathering by hosting a roundtable discussion on collective impact, made up of members of the council and others. The roundtable was moderated by Michele Jolin, managing partner at America Achieves and a member of the White House council, and myself. There were ten participants: John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises; Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities; Lucretia Murphy, co-chair of Raise DC; Norman Rice, president and CEO of the Seattle Foundation; Paul Schmitz, president and CEO of Public Allies; Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary in the US Department of Education; Stacey Stewart, executive vice president of United Way Worldwide; Patty Stonesifer, chair of the White House Council for Community Solutions; Mary Lou Young, president and CEO of Greater Milwaukee United Way; and Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York.

The roundtable discussion raised a number of interesting and new ideas about collective impact, which you can read about in the fall 2012 issue of SSIR. The issue will appear in mid-August.

Read more stories by Eric Nee.

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  • BY Daniel Bassill

    ON June 8, 2012 01:50 PM

    I hope in coming issues you’ll write about how communities might be using GIS maps to help focus attention and resources to all of parts of an urban area, state or country where the same problem persists but different people are in places working to solve the problem.

    Maps of a community are the same for everyone who chooses to use the maps in planing where they apply their time, talent and resources, thus they can be a tool used to support the collective involvement of many people and organizations helping a universe of organizations in different places.

    See ideas on using maps at

    I’m sure that if SSIR were to search the world they might find examples of others using maps to draw resources to a wide range of places where the same type of resources are needed for many years by many different groups.

  • Chicago_Mom45's avatar

    BY Chicago_Mom45

    ON June 8, 2012 07:09 PM

    Part of the problem here with “collectivist” solutions is the failure to do a thorough root-cause analysis on how some of these problems began. It sounds nice to bring all of these smart, successful business people together, but as indicated here, they are ill-equipped to fix these problems, individually or collectively. Without having heard any of the content from this, I can bet there’s been VERY LITTLE in the way of frank discussion about the state’s role in eviscerating the role of key stakeholders, such as parents, from things like LBJ’s “war on poverty” when the government decided to incentivize single parenting with welfare handouts that would only work by requiring the father to be absent or unnamed. So rather than going back and attempting to undo the damage done by well-intentioned but terribly misguided policies, we’re now [still] trying to put a band-aid over these things with other well-intended but half-baked ideas that are untested and unworkable; “WH Council for Community Solutions”, etc.  I’m sure that SSIR has all of the best intentions in the world in seeking to resolve all of these problems, but it will never work until there is public support for ending the government’s war on parents. Stop trying to kid yourself that you have better answers through collective means. Protect parent-child bonds at all costs, and you’ll find a better solution to many of the issues you seek to resolve.

  • ericnee's avatar

    BY ericnee

    ON June 11, 2012 10:08 AM

    Thanks Daniel for your suggestion of writing about how people are using maps to identify and bring attention to social problems. It is a powerful tool that organizations are just now taking advantage of. We have written about Ushahidi, which provides mapping software that nonprofits can use for that very purpose. We will continue to look for other examples.

    Chicago Mom. You are certainly correct to point out that government policies have played an important role in undermining families, wrecking neighborhoods, and fostering poverty. Welfare policies that made it more advantageous for a dad to leave the home, rather than stay, are one example of this. A book that does a great job of analyzing the role of government welfare in the US is “Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare,” by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward.

    That said, the movement toward more collective approaches to solving these problems is a positive trend. Not all of these collective impact initiatives have a sophisticated analysis of the roots of the problem, but many do. I encourage you to get involved in initiatives in Chicago and bring your perspective to the problem.

  • BY Daniel Bassill

    ON June 11, 2012 12:42 PM

    I think ChicagoMom points out a symptom of a much larger problem. There are extensive libraries of information that people could read to build a much deeper understanding of root-causes of poverty and related problems.  However until strategies are developed that connect thousands of people beyond poverty with people in poverty and with the research, in ways that empathy develops and grows, too few people will be motivated to spend time reading, reflecting and learning that is needed to build mufti-layered solutions that reach people in thousands of neighborhoods and last for many years.

    Over the weekend the head of the Chicago Police Department said “the city’s crime crisis is not going to be solved overnight”

    I agree. Yet we have a huge demand for instant problem solving.

    I’ve built an extensive library of links pointing to articles and research that people might read. . Each link points to sites like SSIR where there are even more articles to read. 

    We need to be thinking of ways to bring people into this information when they are young and keep them learning from it throughout their life time, in combination with volunteer involvement, work force development, civic engagement, education, entertainment and other forms of direct engagement, if we’re to reach a future where we really have the type of collective action needed to reduce these problems.

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