The Art (And Diplomacy) of Real Collaboration

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By Marianne Lynch, Executive Director

There have been lots of articles written lately about the power of strong collaboration in the business world. Articles like the one I recently read in Forbes state that “Collaboration is not a “nice to have” organizational philosophy. It is an essential ingredient for organizational survival and success.”

The same is true in the non-profit world. Gone are the days when we can operate in silos, serving only a small sliver of those in need and trying to hold on to our very small piece of the resource pie. Just as in business, non-profits that are making huge community impact have discovered the secret to success – true collaboration. They use it to energize their stakeholders, partners, community members and even their own teams. New ideas are born out of collaboration – ideas that look at some of the same old problems in new, solvable ways. Collaboration can create a change in attitude and behavior where it may not have been possible before. Also, collaboration helps people at all levels embrace a shared vision for the common good. It uses resources more wisely – both funding and people. Collaboration is essential for non-profits wanting to make significant and lasting change with their missions and across multiple sectors.

At the same time, true collaboration is not easy. When people are passionate about a position or a cause, emotions can flare, and sometimes derail plans or even the collaboration itself. The trick to real collaboration is not to completely agree, but when disagreement happens, to handle it respectfully, in a way that allows for all to have a voice. The best collaborations disagree, but out of the disagreement come new ideas and solutions.

In Habitat’s work with Neighborhood Revitalization, good collaboration has been essential for true and lasting change to happen. For those of you not familiar with Neighborhood Revitalization, it aims to respond to community aspirations by empowering residents to create and sustain a vibrant neighborhood that enhances the quality of life for all who live there. Through collaboration with residents, government officials, the faith community and others, Habitat has been focused on this goal in Norristown for almost two years, helping community residents improve their quality of life in the Cherry Street neighborhood by addressing concerns such as blight, repairing and preserving homes, creating a neighborhood association, tackling crime, helping children have a safe place to go after school and more.  

Habitat shared these Neighborhood Revitalization efforts with members of the Pottstown community and many were excited at what possibilities could exist within its framework. In particular, the idea of kicking it off with Rock the Block, a one-day community clean up event linked to Pottstown CARES, seemed like a great way to ignite the community and create some momentum.  Working with a strong collaboration of 11 other organizations, including the Borough of Pottstown, the Hill School, Pottstown School District, Genesis Housing Corporation, Pottstown Fire Department, Phillies Fire Company, New Eden Community Development Corporation, Mosaic Community Land Trust, Pottstown CARES, Victory Christian Life Center, and Glocker and Company Realtors, we have been planning for our first Rock the Block in Pottstown on the 300 and 400 Blocks of Walnut, Chestnut and Beech streets.  Planning for this one-day event has allowed us to learn about many of the community assets, challenges, passions and possible solutions for strengthening the Pottstown community.

Each meeting we attend energizes me in a way that is almost unexplainable. First, it is exciting to know that there are so many organizations involved who care deeply for the community and want to improve it. Second, there is a great deal of talent in the room – talent that wouldn’t be known about if we hadn’t collaborated around this event and subsequent work we’ve collectively identified. There are also resources that come from collaboration – one group has a strong understanding of the youth in the community, while another has the ability to provide translation for Hispanic residents. Each of these elements helps improve revitalization efforts, helping all participants understand the needs of the entire community, not just one area or demographic. On our own, Habitat would struggle to understand and meet all of the needs of this community – collectively we have an abundance of ability.

 

 

The collaboration recently held a Community Meeting, where community members were asked to choose neighborhood priorities to be done during Rock the Block and beyond. These items were then listed around the room for residents to choose (or write in their own). By meeting with the community, everyone got a sense of the urgent community concerns, such as safety, crime and more. The collaboration also understood some of the community assets that will help move revitalization forward, such as informal leaders in the community who quietly support the neighborhood on a daily basis.

Right now, this collaboration extends to these 11 groups, but as the efforts to improve life for the residents of this area move forward, it is our hope that it will grow with the residents themselves, more of the faith community, organizations that touch other aspects of community life such as health, workforce development and who knows what else.  With the efforts to revitalize Hobart’s Run, the community adjacent to our targeted Revitalization zone, happening at the same time, the ultimate goal would be to improve life for everyone in this geographical area. That is the great thing about collaboration. If all are working toward a shared vision, there is always room for one more.

If you would like to get more information about efforts in Pottstown and the collaboration starting there, please contact me at mlynch@habitatmontco.org and I will be happy to provide additional information and resources.