September 2021

Working Together – Learnings from Collective Impact Journeys

Saamuhika Shakti hosted a series of sessions on collaborative working at the recently concluded #charcha2021 organised by The/Nudge Foundation.

 

Over the course of the last decade and especially in the last year, there is widespread acceptance among organizations - foundations, government, corporate and civil society organizations - that the scale, scope and complexity of the development challenges the world faces are better addressed with all the key actors working together. In a session, co-hosted with FSG, we brought together specialists and practitioners from various collaborative projects to discuss the lessons from collaborative action and how to make them sustainable, rowing collectively in the same direction whilst addressing problems with local context. 

The first part of the discussion centered around experiences of Saamuhika Shakti partners - BBC Media Action, CARE India, Hasiru Dala, Sambhav by LabourNet, Save the Children India, Social Alpha and WaterAid India - and started with the quintessential question on what works best in building a deep collaboration that goes beyond sharing insights but the sharing of ideas and resources as well.  While Nalini Shekar from Hasiru Dala emphasized using each partner’s specialty, and the willingness to work with one another for the benefit of the community as a big strength of a collaborative, VK Madhavan from WaterAid India mentioned that it is important to recognize clear incentives for individual organisations to collaboration that go beyond just the magnitude and intensity of the problem. The collaboration must not only benefit the community we serve but also the organisation and individual who will be collaborating.

On leveraging each other’s strengths, Priyanka Dutt, BBC Media Action, shared an example of how BBC Media Action does not currently have an on ground presence in Saamuhika Shakti and relies on the presence and community relationships of other partners to achieve their project outcomes. She emphasized that it is important to recognize the gaps in what an individual organization can and cannot do. Madhushree Narayan, Social Alpha, also mentioned how they rely on the knowledge of other Saamuhika Shakti partners to identify the entrepreneurial solutions in Bangalore that will work for the waste pickers, in particular who needs it the most, and subsequently the ecosystem that the selected organisations could work with. Another area where Social Alpha relied on the existing relationships of SaaS partners has been the identification of informal waste pickers who could work with the start-ups, many of whom have no on ground presence in the city.

An important aspect was to ensure that the community is not overwhelmed by multiple interventions being delivered by multiple partners. Nalini shared that it is critical to ensure that the collaboration is a positive experience for the community being served. In Saamuhika Shakti, right from the inception stage, Hasiru Dala spoke to the waste pickers directly, informing them about the project partners, their interventions and built trust in them by reinforcing that the community can leverage the support being provided by multiple partners for their benefit and upliftment. Nabesh Bohidar, CARE India, emphasized on the importance of continuing to invest in building trust and reducing the possibility of overwhelming the individual or a community. 

The panel then moved to discussing how to be nimble while adopting a collective approach so as to respond to changing scenarios, especially in light of the pandemic. Gayathri Vasudevan, Sambhav by LabourNet, emphasized the importance of building a micro-learning process at the organisational level to help employees synthesize all the experience and learnings from the field, and to have a long-term vision to achieve impact. It is also important to stay focused on what the community requires, ensuring all the partners and organisational goals, which are built in silos, are in sync, to achieve the outcomes as stated. And for collaborations to succeed, patience, understanding and trust is a must between all partners, noted Gayathri.

Vikas Gora from Save the Children India shared how the organisation had to re-strategise in light of the pandemic with children being severely affected by closure of schools. Save the Children also leverages partner networks to create maximum impact with schools and anganwadi centers being closed, and also towards re-imagining indicators of the success of the programme, in the new reality.

The second part of the session brought together sector specialists with deep experience leading collaboratives from ATE Chandra Foundation, Dasra, Rapid Rural Community Response (RCRC), Sattva, Samhita, and United Way (Chennai). 

Rathish Balakrishnan from Sattva shared his key learnings on how to bring people together to collaborate: 

  • Aligning on a common agenda: this is important because unlike in designing a single program, in a collaborative, partners come together deliberately to meet a common agenda, which may or may not require every partner to align on every aspect of the collaboration but to have a voice in defining what the collaborative aims to achieve.
  • Minimal viable scope: Having a minimum viable scope is important for each and every partner to build around something they truly care about. And this minimum viable scope can grow over time. For example, during emergency situations reaching the minimum viable scope is easier than during peace times because each partner is aware of what they are delivering and what they wish to achieve and in peace times this is harder to achieve and takes longer as well.
  • Complementary capabilities: Each organisation needs to recognize what they can best accomplish by themself and what can be best executed by leveraging the strength of others. 
  • Goals of individual organisations: It is important to recognise the goals, objectives of each organisation and not make an idealistic assumption that organisations will sacrifice or move away from their individual goals for the sake of the common agenda.
  • Transaction cost: While setting up collaboratives, we need to acknowledge that significant effort will be needed to address partner’s needs, alignment to common objectives and resolving any differences of opinion. there is a need to identify, upfront, who will take up this responsibility within the collective. Very often, this is done by a backbone organisation or program manager.

 

Adding their perspectives to the criticality of a common agenda, Gayatri Lobo, ATE Chandra Foundation, emphasised the need for alignment of organisational values with that of the collaborative to reduce the time spent in deciding how to achieve the shared vision. Deepa Gopalakrishnan, Samhita added that it is important to  reinforce the common agenda from time to time to achieve convergence of individual organizational goals with the collective vision. Shailja Mehta, Dasra, also pointed out the importance of milestones for individual organisations to achieve along the collective impact journey. She also mentioned the need to recognise that there could be some conflicts and ensure there are systems and processes to effectively and constructively resolve them.

Based on United Way’s experience of collaborative efforts, Meenakshi Ramesh shared that when outcomes are  very obvious and there is a pressing need / urgency, say in cases of disasters, collaboratives are much quicker to come together and deliver collective success.

Distribution equity i.e. respecting every stakeholder of the coalition be it their contribution of resources, human capacity, knowledge or grassroot access, was brought up as a critical factor of success by Ved Arya of RCRC. 

Shailja spoke about the need to commit to sharing insights, knowledge and resources. She also highlighted the need to document the learnings along the way - what has worked and why and what has not worked and why not. Adding to this, Aarti Mohan of Sattva shared that oftentimes measurement does not get built into the fabric of a collaborative but it is absolutely critical in order to capture real-time learnings which otherwise would be difficult to be aware of at a later stage. So knowledge building, monitoring and measurement must be a concurrent process to programme implementation.

Knowledge to be shared internally by the partners of the collaborative on a regular frequency to reflect, understand and address challenges and gaps in an agile manner. It is also important for network amplification, wherein it is not just important for the stakeholders to understand what is happening but to disseminate to the larger ecosystem as well.

Towards the end, Nalini Shekar had an interesting question “Are we killing volunteerism at a community level when organisations often onboard resources from the communities?” To which Aarti stated that it is often easier to find volunteers during emergency situations than it is during peacetime. It might therefore be helpful to engage them with regular routines, while aligning with the long-term goal as this helps them stay connected during peacetime and really contribute during an emergency. Thus, building a continuum of volunteerism.

With respect to bringing up challenges and issues to the government and to work on policies that can benefit communities, Ved Arya shared the experience of RCRC who conducted ‘voices from field’ webinars, providing a platform for affected people to speak directly to government officials in charge of respective departments. A collaborative or collective’s strength and credibility built over years should be leveraged to enable government officials to listen to the people directly, without the filter of organisations in between, said Ved.     

#The charcha2021 session concluded with participants emphasizing the vital necessity of having open and transparent communication channels amongst all the stakeholders to ensure success. 

You can watch the recording of the session below.





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