Giving Compass’ Take:
• Stanford Social Innovation Review uses the example of the James Irvine Foundation’s New Leadership Network to illustrate lessons about fostering civic progress.
• Collaboration is the main ingredient here — and trust is essential. In what ways can we take these lessons to our own networks and build stronger partnerships?
In 2012, the James Irvine Foundation hired Monitor Institute, where I was then employed, to research the potential for a nonprofit leadership network in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The area was of particular interest to the foundation because it is rich in challenges — high unemployment and poverty, poor air and water quality, and health inequities, among others — and it has relatively few philanthropic resources with which to address these problems. In Irvine’s conversations with local nonprofit grantees, the foundation had uncovered an interest in more capacity building to help nonprofit leaders tackle these challenges.
Our theory of change posited that real impact mostly happens on the ground, in a physical place. By connecting leaders in one city and county, helping them create shared approaches to the work, building deep trust, and expanding their ability to work across boundaries, we thought we could reach critical mass.
With this framework in mind, we also wanted to integrate several important — and relatively new — approaches to social change. To that end, we drew on everything we’d learned at Monitor and elsewhere about catalyzing and developing collaborative networks, underpinned with a focus on building trusting relationships. Additionally, we approached our understanding of the local context, and the ultimate “end game” of community change, with a systems lens — seeing the larger whole and finding leverage points for intervention.
We began integrating design thinking, working with colleagues from Stanford University’s d.school and others to see how this method could help simplify big problems, provide insights about end users, and create a human “container” for civic innovation and community problem solving. For the most part, we set aside frameworks related to management and individual leadership development. We also approached the work with a sense of urgency. Rather than having each cohort last a year or more, our program constituted nine days of convening over six months.
Last, we designed an intentional arc of learning for participants: The first three-day convening was about understanding their local context and community through a cross-sector and systems lens. We also used that weekend to go deep very quickly: Through three-minute speeches, participants shared their personal stories and the “why I do what I do” behind their work, getting to know one another and building trust.
Read the full article about creating a cross sector leadership network by Heather McLeod Grant at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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