Letters

Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Letters


And furthermore ?

Working Together

It's great to see an article ("Collective Impact," SSIR , vol. 9, no. 1, p. 36) advocating for whole-system social innovation in today's uncertain and chaotic world. This is what is needed in order to have signifi cant impact on intractable social issues. Your advocacy of comprehensive initiatives with long-term commitments from funders and key players is laudable. In my experience restructuring community planning for the California Ofi ce of AIDS, we found a simpler and less expensive way to achieve this. Budget cuts forced us to unwittingly use a rapid prototype approach, in which new structures were developed and tested quickly and inexpensively. The resulting system includes networks for action, communities of practice, knowledge sharing to facilitate new fl ows of information, new structures, and new ways of addressing HIV/ AIDS in California. Seventy-fi ve people, statewide, from dif erent sectors created a solution that went far beyond what one individual organization could have developed on its own. By seeing things whole we cut through the chaos and complexity and came to consensus on a more ef ective system that does more with less. One needn't wait for ideal conditions and full funding before launching into a systemic change initiative. The key is in the convening, and a commitment to working through the difi cult issues. I also know that one can't underestimate the deep insights that come from including individuals af ected by the social issue being addressed.

PATRICK MCNAMARA

Principal

Appreciative Inquiry Consulting

Boston

The collective impact model could apply well in the developing world. In Africa, after almost 50 years of independence, countries still struggle with three common enemiesnamely poverty, disease, and illiteracy. Hundreds of NGOs in each country work in isolation on all of these challenges, yet they have not brought any signifi cant relief to the majority of citizens who survive on less than $2 a day. The problems have been aggravated by corruption, damping out even the little achievements people might see. It is probably high time the collective impact concept is given a trial in Africa.

JOSEPH NGWEGWE

Tanzania Programme Manager

Hivos/Twaweza East Africa

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Guilty as charged! I have worked with donor organizations oriented to picking individual horses with "isolated impact." The broken health care systems in Africa where I often work-with myriad NGOs, social enterprises, bi- and multilateral donors, and U.N. agencies all tripping over each other to fi x discrete pieces of big problems-should be fertile ground for the collective impact approach. One problem I see is that the "backbone" entities that should be coordinating ef orts-the sovereign national governments (and respective ministries of health)-are often poorly equipped to direct such massive change. So, careful not to dissuade any potential donation, they often allow their agendas to be infl uenced by the sometimes confl icting and changing approaches of multiple large donors. Although there has been some progress in recent years at consolidating ef orts, there is still a long way to go.

JONATHAN LEVINE

Independent Consultant

London

For a student new to social entrepreneurship, the concept of collective impact introduces a whole new dimension to the field. The five conditions for collective impact are a great start to understand how to confront large and complex problems. I hope that further research and examples of its efec-tiveness prompt government agencies and foundations to look for organizations trying to employ these principles as opposed to focusing on more independent approaches. A body of research supporting collective impact and a set of reusable "tools" will give social entrepreneurs and existing agencies the ability to justify playing the role of coordinator and facilitator rather than directly addressing a specific issue. …

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