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MONGOs (My Own NGO) Not Always the Answer: the Power of Collective Impact

Collective Impact. A powerful concept in a world where everyone wants a MONGO – My Own NGO. Our passion and commitment to make a meaningful difference often feels more real or genuine when we roll up our own sleeves and put our ‘’skin in the game’’. But our sweat and money can sometimes be even more effectively employed when doing it with others.

Real impact often requires a collective effort. Malaria increased 3% per year until 2005, and then the Roll Back Malaria programme brought about a reduction of 75% over 10 years, saving 6 million lives. In Cincinatti, Strive is a partnership of 300 organisations who have turned the dire education system around after years of fragmented and extensive efforts. Teen smoking in the USA feel to 9% in 2014, from 37% in the 90s, thanks to Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, and there are many other examples. What they had in common was a deliberate collective effort rather than ongoing fragmented initiatives.

In the private sector Michael Porter coined the phrase ‘’co-opetition’’ – indicating that companies in a cluster can raise the competitive platform for everyone, and continue to compete with each-other (famous examples include IT in Bangalore, electronics in Guadelajara, London’s financial centre or shirt-making in Emiglia Romana). In the public sector, city leaders often work together to attract investment to their country and cities, rather than going abroad. Yet in the third sector, where altruism should trump ego, collaboration seems strangely much more difficult.

We can only do so much on our own, with limited resources. Relative to the mass of smaller organisations trying to make a difference, there are not many Wellcome Trusts, or Gates Foundations. Yet ironically, or based on evidence, they are the ones who recognise the critical nature of partnerships. Co-Impact is an organisation recently been set up and financed to fund such collective activities, by Bill & Melinda Gates, Jeff Skoll, Rohini & Nandan Nilekani and others to encourage collaboration for impact.

Yet collective efforts don’t necessarily require new entities, mergers or proposing that donors channel money through advisory funds. Collective efforts allow diverse organisations to do what they do best, but to align their efforts around a collectively determined set of goals and key performance indicators (see future blog on HIV/AIDS 90:90:90).

At Bateleur Partners, we strongly encourage clients to engage in collective impact processes, to collaborate through existing teams, or to provide a small amount of pooled funding for ‘’collective infrastructure’’ that can have significant leverage. We have experience in facilitating this in the private, public and third sectors.

There are 5 key elements to making Collective Impact work at scale:

1. A Common Agenda

  • Shared vision for change

  • Common understanding of problem

  • Joint approach to solving it

2. Shared Measurement System

  • Collecting data and measuring results consistently on short list of KPIs

  • Aligning efforts

  • Enabling learning from each other’s successes and failures

3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities

  • Don’t need to do the same thing, but to do what each does well in a way that supports and coordinates with actions of others

4. Continuous Communication

  • Develops trust and a common vocabulary

  • Requires regular meetings, high level delegates, structured agenda, external facilitators

5. Backbone Support Organisation (ideal)

  • Separate staff with specific skills to support entire initiative – ongoing facilitation, technology, communications support, data collection and reporting, handling logistics and admin (e.g. Strive has project manager, data manager, facilitator)

  • A lack of this is frequently the reason collaboration fails

For a fuller discussion see the excellent and still relevant 2011 Article ‘’Collective Impact’’ in the Stanford Innovation Review by John Kania & Mark Kramer.

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