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Are You Going For Individual Glory Or Team Gold?

21 August 2012 at 9:28 am
Staff Reporter
Australia has the local resources and leadership in many 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 asks Doug Taylor, the Chief Executive Officer of United Way Australia.

Staff Reporter | 21 August 2012 at 9:28 am


Are You Going For Individual Glory Or Team Gold?
21 August 2012 at 9:28 am

OPINION: Australia has the local resources and leadership in many 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 asks Doug Taylor, the Chief Executive Officer of United Way Australia.

I’m not sure what it’s like to compete in an Olympic event but viewing them has been exhausting. Exercising my muscles to use that TV remote has been a real workout and I’m certain that making the sprint to the bathroom and fridge in ad breaks has set a few PBs 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 x 100m 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 a community of 2 million people reduced to just 700,000 with a loss of 1 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 starting school unprepared and therefore likely to face a lifetime of disadvantage.
  • High school graduation rates of only 60 per cent meaning schools became ‘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 galvanised these people is a long-term commitment to making Detroit one the five best places in the US 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 $25m 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 organisation’s program and getting a PB 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?

Because 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.

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  • RachaelV says:

    Great article, Doug,

    ProBono readers might be interested to know that Doug is a graduate of Sydney Leadership, an eight month leadership program which teaches the skills to work collaboratively, across difference, to make progress on complex social problems.

    Sydney Leadership is run by Social Leadership Australia, the leadership centre at The Benevolent Society.

    The 2013 program is now open for applications, with information sessions to be held in Sydney on September 5, 12 and 26. Scholarships will be made available for NFP participants.

    This is an invitation to join a network of leaders from business, government and the not-for-profit sectors with the skills and determination to lead change on our toughest issues.

    Find out more at

    Rachael Vincent
    Communications & Marketing Manager
    Social Leadership Australia
    t 02 9339 9318

  • Kevin Robbie says:

    Hi Doug,
    Very good piece and hitting the right note in terms of a key challenge for the development of the sector in Australia in terms of addressing the deep social challenges we face.

    Few observations that I think are worth making.

    Firstly one of the key areas that would need to be addressed to develop more collective impact approaches is the prescriptive and competitive nature of current public tendering processes. Bringing government on board at Federal and State level to foster innovation is crucial but easier said than done.

    Secondly from my experience in the UK where I worked on a range of collaboration projects at national, local and international levels then building collaboration and effective partnership costs. As above it is easy to talk the language of partnership but there is the key challenge of how to get funding for the partnership development that is so crucial for collective impact to work, particularly within the current funding climate.

    Thirdly most if not all the successful collaboration/collective impact projects I’ve seen have had some core characteristics: a sense of equality within each of the partners who are drawn from across the private, government and non-profit sectors; starting small and building slowly: long-term funding; and a catalyst co-ordinating partner who pulls all the disparate aspects of the work together.

    There are very good examples and case studies of collective impact projects in the UK and Europe, alongside the work that is more recently developing in the US. Within Australia, SVA has been leading the way in terms of developing collaboration projects – our Education Dialogue in September last year was described as pulling together an ‘unholy alliance’ to begin to tackle some of the deep issues for disadvantaged communities within the Education system I think Australia. We’re continuing to build on this and there will be another Education Dialogue this year. Within my area of work in SVA we’re now starting to work with key stakeholders in the employment space around tackling issues within the employment system aimed at getting those disadvantaged in the labour market back into employment,

    It is interesting to note that the catalyst for activity in Detroit was adversity. Is this needed to galvanise action? Or can Australia become a progressive leader in collective impact on the back of the a more buoyant, successful economy?

    Kevin Robbie
    Executive Director (SVA)

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