Thomas's Community Connection

Collaboration Achieves Success

It is in the self-interest of groups to collaborate as they achieve more than they could by themselves.

In the previous Community Connection, I shared an adapted version of Dave Siburg’s organizational capacity leveraging model. In this Community Connection, I am expanding a bit on this model to explain a few of my experiences around building and strengthening social development and community resilience.

Dave’s model of organizational capacity leveraging is intended to show how organizations with unique missions can work together through collaboration by leveraging their own unique capacity to accomplish specific outcomes that supports each organization’s unique and individual mission. I adapted the model to depict the social development outcomes from the collaboration and resource-leveraging of a few organizations I worked with while as a graduate student intern at the Community Development Division of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city. In fact, I would go as far as saying this model explains in some part all effective community and social development efforts.


Sharing Resources Gets More Done

In everything we do, whether as individuals, groups or organizations, people typically collaborate and work together as a result of some shared purpose to achieve a common outcome. Think of the imagery of a family. Here we have people with differing abilities working together to do what they can to maintain a stable and healthy household. The differing abilities of each member of the family are each person’s unique capacities. They share their abilities (capacities) to create the household they desire. A kid does her chores because she wants her allowance, playtime, and parents’ love. Parents work to make an income in order to buy food, maintain a house, and keep the more vulnerable members of their family safe. You can see how people come together with their own abilities, their own desires and hopes, for a common outcome – in this case maintaining a stable and healthy household. This common outcome would not be as easily possible if each member of the family did not work together. It is therefore in the interest of each person to work together, to achieve the desired outcome.


This same imagery can be expanded to that of groups of people and organizations. Organizations with their different missions and motivators can come together to accomplish something together that by themselves would be more difficult or impossible. Collaboration is not always easy. It is built on a basic trust of each participant that an outcome is achievable and will be beneficial to them and to others.

To depict this collaborative effort, I am going to briefly present three different projects from my community organizing and development experiences. The first recaps my work in Windhoek, Namibia. The second highlights my work with residents of manufactured (mobile) homes. And, the third depicts my work in securing a modern and safe community gymnasium.

1) Community Bakery – Greenwell Matongo, Windhoek, Namibia

Here community organizing and community development leaders in the informal settlement of Greenwell Matongo in Windhoek, Namibia, collaborated with other social development organizations to begin implementing the construction of a local community bakery. I participated as a graduate student intern with Windhoek’s Community Development Division from May 2014 to August 2014.

Below is the model I used in my previous Community Connection depicting the collaboration of people and organizations leveraging resources and abilities to create the community bakery.

2) Rights of residents of manufactured (mobile) home parks – All Parks Alliance for Change (APAC), Minnesota, USA

APAC is a statewide non-profit working to empower residents of manufactured (also known as mobile) home parks across the state of Minnesota. APAC does this so residents know and can strengthen their own rights and take actions they desire to better their communities. I worked as a Community Organizer and Tenant Advocate with APAC for two years, from 2014-2016.

Below is a model of how different groups of people and organizations come together with the same goal of protecting and expanding the rights and voices of residents of manufactured home parks.

3) Gymnasium Youth Project – Brian Coyle Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

The Brian Coyle Center is a community center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that serves the largest Somali-refugee community in the United States. It is a non-profit community center offering a host of programs and services for all ages and abilities. Youth here worked hard to update a dangerous and dilapidated public gymnasium by securing public and private funds and overcoming racial, ethnic and religious prejudices held by “people in power”. I worked as a graduate-level social work intern with youth development programs from August 2012 to June 2013.

Below is a model of how different groups of people and organizations collaborated, organized by the neighborhood youth, to develop a safe, updated and state-of-the-art gymnasium.

 

These three examples depict the same imagery as that of the family I described. Each group and organization have their own mission and purpose, and yet they realize that through collaboration they can leverage their own capacities in order to accomplish their shared outcome. This shared outcome in turn supports the unique and different missions and purposes of each group and organization.

Self-Interest Drives Collaboration

Before I started using the language of resilience, I was a self-proclaimed community organizer. A prime tenet of community organizing is to build on the self-interest of each person, group and/or organization to produce a common outcome. This self-interest is often defined by a mission, vision, purpose or goal that drives the person, group, or organization. Many times, community organizers identify new allies and partners by identifying how these partners’ self-interests are aligned with the other groups’ interests. And, by working together they can achieve an outcome that benefits all their individual interests. As such, when I was first introduced to this capacity leveraging model, it was immediately familiar to me as it depicted graphically what I did professionally as a community organizer. Today, with my work in community resilience, I continue to understand that self-interest is a crucial motivator for collaboration in order to build and strengthen social and community development.

You might notice a common thread among the examples of capacity leveraging I shared. The community members are all considered in some way to be “marginalized”. Community members of Greenwell Matongo, Windhoek, Namibia, do not have stable, formalized home structures and have extremely limited income. Residents of manufactured home parks are often seen as “trailer trash,” often have limited incomes and are easily exploited by the landowners since their homes cannot easily move. And, neighborhood youth of the Brian Coyle Center are young, Black/African, Muslim refugees whose first language is not English. There are a lot of cards stacked against each of these groups.

Let’s be honest, the mantra of American individualism espouses that anyone can make what they want to happen all by themselves. In other words, they believe in the erroneous adage that they can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. However, this is often not possible if the person or group is not lucky enough to have access to boundless money to buy whatever they want. And so, if you don’t have boundless money, in order to make changes you must find partners and allies who share a common vision. These “marginalized” populations were able to make the changes they desired by partnering with others. By themselves, due to the stigmas other people held of them or the lack of money and other resources, they are not able to create their desired outcomes. But through identifying partners with whom to collaborate, they can achieve their desired outcomes, including making their lives better.

Without the collaboration of others, the community members of Greenwell Matongo, Windhoek, Namibia would not have been able to create their community-owned bakery. Without the collaboration of others, residents of manufactured home parks would not have been able to create their own resident-owned community or Home-Owners’ Association (or Resident Association). Without the collaboration of others, the neighborhood youth that go to the Brian Coyle Center would not have been able to advocate for themselves why they need and deserve a safe and updated gymnasium.

I am not saying that aid must support “marginalized” groups in order to make positive change. I am saying other partners also would not be able to meet their own missions and desired outcomes without collaborating with these “marginalized” groups. Examples: Without the collaboration of community members, the Windhoek Community Development Center would not be meeting its goal of empowering its residents to develop sustainable neighborhoods. Without the collaboration and feedback of manufactured home park residents, APAC would not meet its goal of empowering and training residents across all of Minnesota. Without the collaboration and feedback of neighborhood youth, the Minneapolis Parks and Rec. Board would not meet its goal of offering fair and safe recreational services that supports the needs of all Minneapolis residents.

Organizations and groups that collaborate achieve more than they would be able to by themselves. And, at the same time – it is in the self-interest of each organization and group to collaborate with others, because they individually get more out of collaborating than they could by themselves.

Until next time,

Thomas

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Next month’s Community Connection will dive deeper into resiliency as a desired community goal. Snapshot: Communities are always changing, and many individuals, groups, and organizations that contribute to the health, stability and sustainability within a community suffer due to these changes. A community is resilient when these individuals, groups, and organizations are able to effectively respond and adapt to changing circumstances and strengthen the health, stability and sustainability of the whole community.

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