Collaboration

Collective Impact: The Missing Link

Three ways to create an environment where interdependent stakeholders can perform their individual roles optimally and collaborate with each other effectively.

There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of multi-stakeholder approaches in solving large-scale social problems. Collective impact, which advocates a highly structured approach to collaboration, has become a poster child for this movement. Successful collective action, many say, follows only when we tackle all parts of a problem together. If we don’t synchronize efforts, we can kiss collective impact goodbye.

But how do we get here? 

To make such a structured collaboration not just possible, but also highly probable, we need an environment in which stakeholders can perform their individual roles optimally while also collaborating with each other effectively. And in our excitement over collective impact, we’ve overlooked this fundamental step that transforms failure into success. We’ve seen that until there is an enabling environment that allows all stakeholders—nonprofits, corporations, foundations, philanthropists, media, and the government—to work together as a system toward one or more goals, collective impact remains elusive.

In 2013, our organization, Dasra, entered a $50 million partnership with USAID, the Kiawah Trust, and Piramal Foundation to improve health outcomes for one million adolescent girls in India. The resulting initiative, Dasra Girl Alliance, planned to do this by raising awareness on girls’ issues through research and the media, unlocking indigenous philanthropy to fund nonprofits, and building its capacity to improve the lives of more girls. We needed collective impact to achieve the Herculean task of impacting nearly 10 percent of the country’s 1.2-billion-strong population. 

Going in, we assumed that stakeholders would be open to collaborating. But the reality was quite different, and our excitement was premature. Despite global consensus that investing in girls addresses Millennium Development Goals such as reducing maternal and child mortality, India’s girls have remained largely invisible. Starting out, Dasra worked hard to convince the relevant stakeholders that when you educate a girl, she marries later in life, is more likely to survive childbirth, and has fewer and healthier babies. She also has better employment opportunities and is more likely to send her children to school, undoing generations of poverty. Yet limited and ad hoc support from local funders told us that demand for investing in girls was shockingly low. 

Nonprofits, for their part, didn’t identify themselves as girls-focused. Not unexpectedly, they viewed their work through the lens of the service they provided, such as access to education, rather than through the customer—in this case, girls. The former meant a “silo” mindset and limited services, with few holistic interventions designed for girls. Organizations, often singularly focused on program improvement, lacked the kinds of institutional systems needed for scale. Worse still, a trust deficit between them and indigenous donors made partnerships nearly impossible. The collective experience and insight required for a common understanding of the problem, for co-creating joint solutions, and for assuming mutually reinforcing roles was missing. 

So how do we develop an ecosystem that’s primed for collective impact? How do we create an environment where interdependent stakeholders can perform their individual roles optimally and collaborate with each other effectively? 

First, we must build awareness for the issue. Nike foundation’s Girl Effect video and Girl Hub sparked a global movement supporting greater agency and voice for girls. To date, it has reached millions, tattooing its cause onto Nike’s brand and, more importantly, the minds of men and women from Boston to Beijing. 

Second, we need to build the capacity of stakeholders to help them perform at scale. UnLtd India, Villgro, Dasra, and Social Venture Partners help social organizations grow by funding and building their capacity through workshops, and through customized support—including business planning, impact assessment, brand building, and sustainability. This matters because organizations must first build internal stability before they can flourish as partners. And third, we must nurture a culture of collective impact so that nonprofits, funders, and the government can meet, collaborate, and grow together. 

While one organization need not own all these activities, we have seen particular benefits in doing so. Two years into the Dasra Girl Alliance, funders trust and are willing to support such initiatives. In an otherwise vast and fragmented social sector in India, where transparency is low and credible information is hard to come by, trust is indispensable. And so assisting funders in identifying nonprofits to support, building confidence by taking responsibility alongside nonprofits to deliver results, deepening funders’ understanding of the issue, and creating opportunities for multi-stakeholder interactions helps everyone see both the need and potential for collective impact. 

Dasra’s capacity-building workshops help NGOs build robust institutions and collaborate with each other. (Photo courtesy of Dasra)

Over time, as a result of Dasra’s multi-stakeholder exchanges, nonprofits have grown into the idea of actively seeking partnerships among themselves, and with others—including funders, media, and government. Many have seen, first-hand, the value of collective experience, learning from others’ mistakes, and drawing on one another’s competencies. And because Dasra is considered a partner in this collective effort, we’ve been able to nudge collaboration between seemingly unlikely partners. More frequent conversations and partnerships have also meant increasingly standardized measurement systems. Put simply, when all stakeholders can perform their best, and work together to get the best out of one another, the stage is set for collective impact. 

The world needs more collective impact initiatives, and we need more of them to succeed. Dasra’s efforts toward strengthening the ecosystem for girls in India are not unique; they bear lessons for others embarking on multi-country, multi-stakeholder initiatives. The ambitious targets of the post-2015 global development agenda won’t be achievable without collaboration that is structured and effective. Like a mise en place makes or breaks a chef’s dinner service, so a weak ecosystem counters efforts for collective impact.

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COMMENTS

  • BY Chris Thompson

    ON June 16, 2015 07:17 PM

    Great point that we need to help stakeholders perform at scale. Asking C performers to collaborate is a recipe for an F level collaboration. Collective impact demands high performing organizations, as described in Leap of Reason

  • BY Atanu Chaudhuri

    ON June 17, 2015 07:37 AM

    Great efforts; holistic, enabling, gap managing, connection building innovative approach. The task is though greatly difficult because of aeons of male superiority and poverty.

    In any efforts, I try to reach the ultimate customers directly, just as marketers do, or the strongest influencers of the ultimate customers.

    Building a few distributed models of successful implementations that directly shows the positive aspects of the focal idea go a long way to change the mindsets.

    As showing result in this type of venture takes relatively long time, perhaps targeting grown up segments with short term innovative targets may produce effectively usable results.

  • Harsha's avatar

    BY Harsha

    ON June 17, 2015 10:34 PM

    Dasra is reaching out to a sector which has probably been addressed earlier. But with collective effort internationally continuously is the only answer for success. I agree with Dasra.

  • Vikramaditya's avatar

    BY Vikramaditya

    ON June 17, 2015 11:25 PM

    Dasra’s experience in this field is clear from the astute observation of the tendency of organizations, in the indian development sector, to view their work through the lens of the service provided as opposed to the target group of their service.

    The Dasra Girl Alliance, by channelling indigenous philanthropy to non-profits so as to enable them to implement processes and institutions seen in established corporates, is transforming the landscape of the social sector. Collective impact will serve as a, much needed, catalyst of this transformation. 

    This is a great piece.

  • BY Mike Riddell

    ON June 20, 2015 04:11 AM

    in the UK we have developed a collective impact platform that is called Kindly.com.

    Our purpose is social and environmental change, driven by cross-sector collaboration.

    Our umbrella movement is called The Manchester Collective. http://www.kindly.com/manchester

    If any organisations out there want to join our growing movement then please create your own group on the site (it’s free) and send us a ‘partner request’.

    #PeoplePower

  • Shivanika's avatar

    BY Shivanika

    ON June 24, 2015 11:21 PM

    The Dasra Girl Child Alliance initiative is to be lauded for addressing the need to focus on the health and development of adolescent girls in India.  Creating a culture of collective impact in this country is always going to be challenging, but it is heartening to see the progress that Dasra has made and I am sure they will be able to build on this momentum going forward

  • Sakina Athanawala's avatar

    BY Sakina Athanawala

    ON June 25, 2015 02:19 AM

    This is the case in most non for profit organisations, where funders are plenty but there is uncertainty on whether the funds are actually trickling down to combat the real issue from a grass root level. Kudos to the Dasra Girl Alliance initiative for identifying this problem and sincerely taking steps to building a sustainable and scalable platform for all the stakeholders involved.

  • Nita Joshi's avatar

    BY Nita Joshi

    ON June 25, 2015 04:12 AM

    “when all stakeholders can perform their best, and work together to get the best out of one another, the stage is set for collective impact. ”  The Dasra Girl Alliance has clearly demonstrated how this can successfully be used towards the benefit of all involved.

    The world needs more collective impact initiatives, and we need more of them to succeed.
    Dasra really needs to be congratulated for their efforts towards creating and sustaining models that are actually addressing key issues that impede continuous and long term support of non profit organisations .

  • Claire's avatar

    BY Claire

    ON June 25, 2015 08:41 PM

    How willing is the social sector to work with the private sector?  I mean, I understand the strategic advantage of it, but is business too dispassionate to adhere to the goals of the social sector?

  • BY Mike Riddell

    ON June 25, 2015 10:21 PM

    @Claire - that’s a good question. In my experience (UK) the social sector completely distrust the private sector and that’s a real barrier to progress on both of their parts. There really is an advantage to both sectors if they could align their interests and support each others strategic endeavours (to bring about change).

    There are many enlightened business leaders who want to bring about change but struggle with the inertia that exists within their organisational structure. The bigger the org, the harder it is to make change. They know that to remain viable and relevant in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace that they need to respond to the consumer’s desire for change, but how do they do that internally when all of their staff are accustomed to business-as-usual processes and procedures.

    People are waking up to the fact that voting with their wallet is a better and more powerful experience than voting in an election where there is a disconnect between what you voted for and what you actually got. (#yeswecan).

    In a world of dwindling resources it is natural that the interests of brands, people and organisations will begin to align around the desire to bring about change. What’s important in my view is that the markets will find a way to commercialise this desire so that it can be invested in by everyone.

    This is social impact investing of a very new kind. Very exciting it is too!

    If you’d like to know more about what is happening here in Manchester (the birthplace of steam and the computer) then please do get in touch as we have some valuable learnings that we’d love to share. Please get in touch via this comments section or join Kindly.com (it’s free) and from there send us a ‘partner request’ which will connect us together and broaden the growing movement to #BRINGABOUTCHANGE

    https://kindly.com/manchester

  • Erik Speakman's avatar

    BY Erik Speakman, Speakman Management Consulting

    ON June 26, 2015 04:55 AM

    Great article.  I am interested to learn more about the activities/processes you all recommend for creating a culture for collective impact.  Thanks.

  • Mike Riddell's avatar

    BY Mike Riddell

    ON June 26, 2015 05:09 AM

    @erik

    Let’s begin by agreeing a new way of measuring success? GDP is no longer relevant, appropriate or purposeful.

  • Zarir DeVitre's avatar

    BY Zarir DeVitre

    ON June 26, 2015 11:01 AM

    The three pronged approach of raising awareness, capacity building of all stakeholders and fostering a culture of collective impact is an excellent solution for tackling social issues. The Dasra Girl Alliance is making a sizeable dent in the problem by combining all three of these and its efforts will effect large scale change. With so many stakeholders involved, it is heartening to see the emphasis here is on collaboration not competition.

  • BY Ganesh Natarajan

    ON June 26, 2015 08:23 PM

    The Dasra Girl Child Alliance is one more wonderful initiative of Dasra - collective impact will only happen if there is awareness, collaboration and a true spirit of venture philanthropy in helping NGOs to scale.

  • rohini komarappagari's avatar

    BY rohini komarappagari, Learn to Teach Online and Learn to make Educational video tutorials

    ON October 9, 2015 11:34 PM

    Social Entrepreneurship

    Research Methodology
    Entrepreneurship
    Social Entrepreneurship
    Venture Plan
    Basic Accounting
    Quantitative Research Methods and Computer Aided Applied Statistics
    Social Sector: Perspectives and Interventions
    Marketing for Social Ventures and Marketing Research
    Social Network Analysis
    Financial Management
    Project Management
    Evidence-based Intervention Advocacy and Policy Making
    Legal Framework for the Social Enterprises
    Fund Raising
    Social Marketing
    Social Enterprise Management
    Business Ethics
    Risk Management
    Corporate Social Responsibility
    Social Impact Assessment and Policy Valuation
    Entrepreneurial Leadership and Motivation
    Microfinance
    Performance Management
    Organisation Design and Human Resource Management

  • rohini komarappagari's avatar

    BY rohini komarappagari, Learn to Teach Online and Learn to make Educational video tutorials

    ON October 9, 2015 11:35 PM

    How can get learning resource or moocs or videos related to Social Entrepreneurship subjects as following

    Research Methodology
    Entrepreneurship
    Social Entrepreneurship
    Venture Plan
    Basic Accounting
    Quantitative Research Methods and Computer Aided Applied Statistics
    Social Sector: Perspectives and Interventions
    Marketing for Social Ventures and Marketing Research
    Social Network Analysis
    Financial Management
    Project Management
    Evidence-based Intervention Advocacy and Policy Making
    Legal Framework for the Social Enterprises
    Fund Raising
    Social Marketing
    Social Enterprise Management
    Business Ethics
    Risk Management
    Corporate Social Responsibility
    Social Impact Assessment and Policy Valuation
    Entrepreneurial Leadership and Motivation
    Microfinance
    Performance Management
    Organisation Design and Human Resource Management

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