Building Partnerships

For today's post, we’re talking about building partnerships in our community. Why do we build partnerships with others? Because solving challenges that affect our entire community is difficult to do on our own efforts alone. Almost always, we'd approach and recruit others to help us realize the positive changes that we want to see in our community. We also gain important perspective when collaborating with others—we share ideas, consult approaches, define roles, create goals, and celebrate achievements. But that isn't to say that all efforts need to be started as a group. Individual initiative is typically what 'kick starts' a larger effort—an inspired individual decides to make a change, and through a conscious effort, invests his or her time and energy until that effort is ready to be accelerated through the help of other sympathetic individuals who confirm a stake in seeing that change succeed. This is often how communities get started with community improvement activities, like deciding to build a playground for the children in the neighborhood.  

So how do we begin connecting our ideas with others? Well, we can start by talking to those who are closest to us, like our immediate family and friends. This first 'circle' of social relationships gives us a chance to share our ideas in a 'safe space', where we can test our ideas in a supportive environment and where we can get sincere feedback from those we trust. A second 'circle' could be friends of friends, our neighbors, colleagues at work, or friends associated with our religious, interest or sporting groups. We connect with these folk through coffee or lunch dates, by knocking on doors, and through side-conversations while we're out doing activities together. A third 'circle' can include our larger community, perhaps through a central organizing group, like a community league, who could be approached to set up a meeting about your ideas. A fourth 'circle'? Well, this can include private, public, and non-profit entities who may want to support your efforts because those efforts also align with their vision for the community. They may have the resources to support your efforts more formally too, through grants, personnel or through the promotion of your ideas on their online or in-person communication platforms.  

We create partnerships with these individuals, groups and entities by gently persuading them of the merits of our ideas and coming to a shared vision for the community. Perhaps some of them have never thought about taking action on an idea like yours before; but, inspired by your vision, may confirm their support for you. It may take a lot of patience at first, but eventually that patience will be rewarded when you see others subscribe to your vision and when a first, tangible step is made towards realizing that vision.  

Let's focus for a moment on the fourth 'circle', as those in that circle can often be the most difficult to influence, but who may also significantly reward your cause because of their station and role in the community and the resources that they may be able to direct to your cause.  

Broadly speaking, this 'circle' is made up of public organizations and agencies (think municipal, provincial and federal governments and the agencies they fund); those who work in private, for-profit businesses; and those who work in non-profit organizations. What sets these entities apart from each other? And how can they lend their support to you? Let's look at their inherent motivations as a way of deducing their willingness to support your cause.   

Government entities, supported through the collection of taxes, deliver a level of service to society that can be generally described as the maintenance of public order and the protection of citizens from domestic and foreign threats. How 'far' a government goes to regulate and support the social and economic lives of citizens depends on the social and economic climate in which it was elected (this is true in liberal democracies, at least). What this suggests is the following: where an elected government sits on the political and social spectrum will define how far it will go to directly or indirectly support your efforts. If your efforts are politically benign and seen as a common social 'good', you may be able to garner support from this entity more easily than if your efforts are opposed either directly or indirectly to their elected platform (even if you think that your efforts have positive social merit). An example could be an effort that you are leading in encouraging responsible environmental practices under a government elected on the promise to expand and encourage industrial activities (at the expense of a certain level of environmental protections); unless that government agrees that your effort will support, and not harm, its efforts to encourage industry, it may not be amenable to supporting your cause, even if there is a tangible social and health benefit to be realized. Government entities may also more narrowly define their role in how they support citizens; in this case, they may not offer opportunities to access resources that they may have for efforts like yours if they do not believe that it's their role to encourage such efforts. Or if they do, they could be inundated with other, competing requests that may distract them from being able to focus their attention to your cause. Try building relationships with this entity by contacting political and public administrative bodies directly and asking about the kind of support they are able and willing to provide to you. Perhaps they have programs and funding opportunities for exactly the kind of ideas that you have in mind. And don't be discouraged if you don't receive a 'warm' response on your first attempt in contacting them—it may take multiple conversations before you come to understand whether they can and how they will be able to support you (bureaucratic processes can sometimes tie the hands of those in government who want to help—so it's best to be patient). Let's look at for-profit entities next.  

For-profit entities are motivated by making a profit from the goods and services that they sell to the community. And while profit is the primary motivation for their existence, that is not to say that these entities are not interested in investing in the community by incurring a financial cost—many for-profit organizations donate their time and money to support social causes. What they gain is a measure of 'goodwill'—positive recognition and an identity that suggests to their customers and the wider community that they care about the community. Connect with them by contacting their leadership or public representatives and ask about the kind of support that they can offer you. Know that, like government, your efforts may not align with their mission, and they may not support your efforts if those efforts are in conflict with their mission. Also note that in 'lean' economic conditions, their willingness to support your efforts may be weak (and the opposite may be true in 'good' economic conditions). Let's look at non-profits next. 

Non-profits typically have a specific or special motivation in supporting those in society who are under-served or who not served at all by the other two entities. They fundraise, apply for grants, are provided direct funding through arrangements with other entities, or sell goods and services to support their work. They are offered generous tax benefits by the government because their work is not motivated by profit and, therefore, qualify for certain financial benefits that are used to keep their efforts sustainable (as these entities typically operate on a 'fine line' when it comes to financial security). You may want to formalize your own efforts as a non-profit entity at some point, so that you can take advantage of the legal and financial benefits that come along with being a non-profit. As with the other entities, not all non-profits may have the same motivations or aspirations that you may have, or they may not have the means to support your efforts formally because of a lack of resources. But you can always try connecting with them for ideas, to learn how they operate, or to get some words of encouragement to help you get started on your own path. 

That's it for this post!  


(Summer break!)

Looking at Health Data