Sharing collective impact success stories…
Sharing collective impact success stories…

By Tina Dirmann

staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation

They say just one determined individual can spark change. Sure. But what happens when  you join dozens, maybe even hundreds, of those determined individuals together?  Now, you’re not just solving a problem. You may just harness the power to move mountains.

And that’s the message John Kania, board member and managing director of Foundation Strategy Group (FSG), hopes to spread as he works with non-profits across the nation, showing the way toward real change for real problems. The way to do it, his company says — collective impact. It’s helping people with a common problem band together, combining resources, so no one organization works in isolation. Check out this quote from his company website:

“One-hundred percent of our people have a passion for social change,” Kania said. “They also love to work on big, hairy, gnarly problems.”

Big, hairy, gnarly problems… Don’t ya just love that description?

Something like, say, lowering the obesity rate of an entire state (and incidents of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease)? You know, all those things the $10.2 million Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana  grant program is taking on by focusing some 500 non-profits, city representative and educators on new wellness initiatives.

That’s collective impact.

Recently, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation hosted a Collective Impact Workshop, inviting several charitable foundations from across the country, working on a variety of societal ills, to participate. In attendance: Wisconsin Obesity Prevention Network, New York City Asthma Partnership, LiveWell Colorado,  Let’s Go!, Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, ShapeUp Somerville, Pennington Biomedical Research Center and San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiavite.

The point, said BCBSLAF Executive Director Christy Reeves, was to share experiences, learning what’s worked, and what hasn’t, when motivating independent groups to band together.

“The goal is to bring us together so we can all benefit from what everyone else is doing,” Reeves said. “Because we are all just one little part of this larger puzzle. But by sharing knowledge with each other, we are changing how we think about solving problems. We are changing how we work because we aren’t working on a problem, we’re working on a movement.”

Kania led the workshop’s talks, emphasizing the power of catalytic philanthropy.

John Kania, Managing Director for FSG
John Kania, Managing Director for FSG

Shortly after the workshop, we spoke to Kania and asked him to sum up his message from the workshop. Here’s what he had to say:

Whether you are talking about childhood obesity, high school graduation rates or adults living with asthma, there’s no single organization that’s going to bring about major results. You might have an organization working for years and years on a problem, and yet, it only gets worse. Because, they are working in isolation. You need multiple individuals, with multiple talents, collaborating. And I can tell you, people who are using the collective impact approach, they are the ones achieving those results.

“What I’m talking about goes way beyond improving a single neighborhood or school. This is a much broader vision. Here, you take into consideration all parties that may play a part in problem. So often, we have lots of groups battling the same issues and problems. And yet, they never touch each other, talk to each other. We’re saying, look around and make sure you are bringing everyone to the table who has a stake in making this change. Connect with everyone who is working on the same goal. And the key is to hold each other accountable for achieving that goal.

“But there’s a discipline to this kind of collaboration. It’s difficult to get together what can be, in some cases, hundreds of organizations. And then to make sure everyone is working from a common framework for how to bring about the change. Everyone has to be on the same page.

“But this is the way the world works today. I don’t know any other way to solve today’s most daunting social problems. Look, this work is hard. But you don’t have to do it alone, that’s the message.”

As the two day workshop came to a close, Kania used a powerful image to send home his words of wisdom. Think of it this way, he told the group…

“Think of Michelangelo, up there painting the Sistine Chapel… Now he was all alone. But you, you don’t have to be. You can do this together. And together, you guys can make a huge difference.”