In the think-tank world of social change, collaboration is all the rage. Google "collaboration" for 310 million hits. The age-old notion that "two heads are better than one" has made a comeback.
Consider a few noteworthy cases in point:
- The prestigious 2010 Skoll World Forum's theme was Catalyzing Collaboration for Large Scale Social Change.
So what makes collaboration a useful tool for anti-poverty leaders and organizations? What makes it work?
Collaborative leaders, by their nature, take the long view, embracing the teaching of former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in Markings:
"Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road."
But, even a talented collaborating leader with his or her eye on the horizon can stumble or, worse, fall into a pothole. The path not only twists and turns, it is also steep.
The Opportunity Collaboration, which I founded, starts in two weeks. A global gathering of 300 social investors and nonprofit entrepreneurs who on World Poverty Day each year attend a strategic retreat to leverage anti-poverty resources, combine forces, share innovations and, well, collaborate.
As recorded by the social impact evaluation firm See Change, successful Delegates to the Opportunity Collaboration "shared the following self-described characteristics:
- An openness to outcomes, and no fixed, preconceived agenda; alternatively, a willingness to shift preconceptions, and find value in unexpected ideas and connections.
- A sense of humility, and a willingness to leave ego and status at the door.
- A willingness to engage with others, and to step outside of known networks.
- An assertive and proactive approach to getting the most out of events.
- Full participation in all aspects of the program... participating in the pre-meeting networking... taking advantage of opportunities for informal networking and relationship building."
From Bangladesh to Liberia, from Washington, D.C., to Canada and California, read about the stories of five "natural collaborators" and how they opportunistically leverage every moment, take the needed time to nurture alliances, employ good listenership, take organizational risks and put their trust in others.
While the typical conference swarms with speakers calling for more partnerships, alliances, information-sharing and the like, only a few leaders have the character and stamina to actually collaborate. In the end, visionary leaders collaborate with their deeds, not their declarations.