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3 ways collaborative partnerships can transform social impact

Craig Zelizer

March 27, 2017

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Bob Spoer

citizen sector talent herder, inventor, social entrepreneur (full bio is below)

As I watched the movie Dr. Strange, one line really hit home for me: "it’s not about you". Armed with this wisdom passed along to him by the Ancient One (spoiler alert) Dr. Strange goes from the direct service model of defeating bad guys to devising a system solution to protect against the destruction of Earth.

This lesson offers special meaning given our present day reality. We face social challenges at an unprecedented scale and rate. At the same time, technologies have made it possible for everyone to contribute and act collectively. There's no more important time than now for collaborative arrangements between organizations, especially in the social sector, to scale solutions and keep us on the path for the greater good.

Despite the need, collaboration has not been the #1 operating priority for the social sector. Fragmentation, shift to restricted funding for projects rather than organizations, and overall challenges in funding, hiring and influencing has led to more competition than collaboration. The answer may lie in developing collaborative partnerships to pool scarce resources to achieve collective impact. I want to explore ways to collaborate around 3 of the most critical resources, draw out potential outcomes and highlight a vehicle being piloted to make such collaborations easier.

  • Collaboration for Talent
  • Cross-Sector Team Advocacy
  • Collaboration for Financing

Collaboration for Talent:

It is generally understood the biggest challenges facing social sector organizations today are people and finance. I believe it boils down to one, people, since if you get the right people, financing can be improved. Making matters worse, in an article about a recent study by RippleWorks, CEO Doug Galen, said "as funding becomes less of a challenge, human capital becomes more of one."

I recently wrote a blog outlining the need to flip the system for talent that is centered on the individual, not organizations. With this system in mind, organizations in the social sector can leverage collaboration to turn their disadvantages in terms of budgets, job security and talent shortages into advantages.

There is huge excess capacity in the interview process as generally 1 in 3 people interviewed is hired.  Collaboration is key to being able to connect the silver and bronze medalists to other relevant opportunities in a smart way. This reduces time for all parties involved and ensures that a good job is found for every interested candidate

Given a collaborative culture and the many ways people can support social sector organizations beyond being an employee, hiring managers in the social sector are incentivized to help job seekers to find jobs that match their passion and capabilities even if it means giving them up for another organization. This way you end up with an ally for life versus an employee for a few years. Hopefully, this new collaborative environment can provide potential employees more stable incomes over time and a sense of long term job security.

Organizations can pool collective networks and knowledge to make it easier for people to refer jobs and people for other organizations. Enabling cross sector referrals from private or government sectors can result in not only a great hire they wouldn't have otherwise but also a newly engaged partner who has a vested interest in their referral succeeding in the new job.

Cross Sector Team Advocacy

Social sector organizations are just beginning to tap into the power of collaboration for advocacy to achieve challenging goals. According to Linkedin, companies who empower employees to share content perform better as their employees are the best advocates. In the trust economy, having non employees from multiple sectors and diverse backgrounds serve as influencers to achieve shared goals could prove even better.

At Ashoka, over the past year, we've experimented in enabling aligned non-employees such as Ashoka Fellows and nominators to share our content via a common content management platform. Not surprisingly, the person with the highest shares and engagement rates is a partner, not an employee. It served as a contributing factor to a 40% jump in job applicants, 25% increase in followers, and multiple new funding opportunities.

Based on this early success, and borrowing from the lessons learned from hybrid value systems to power social impact, we are putting together hybrid value advocacy teams to address challenging goals such as every child mastering empathy, and urgent sustainable development goals. The teams consist of innovators from industry, youth organizations, government and social entrepreneurs. The idea is to measure impact in terms of jobs filled via referrals, new partnerships established, and increased engagement.

Collaboration for Financing

Sharing funders is both the most challenging area and promising area for collaborative partnerships. The pooling of money and funders between organizations is quite rare. Many barriers exist such as lack of management and reward systems. But solutions are emerging from social entrepreneurs like Thread, founded by Ashoka Fellow, Sarah Hemminger. Using a community development model, Thread is going beyond organization by embracing a grander vision for equality and redistribution of social and financial capital across multiple sectors and organizations to where it is needed most.

Collaborative partnerships that involve organizations willing to turn down funding and redirecting it to where it can be best utilized will achieve complex goals faster and better. Sharing networks to enable the right solution to be matched to the right funder or bigger funding can be another way to accelerate impact.

Collaboration for Impact

Ultimately, what is needed is a platform for collaboration tied to a network of participants sharing common vision, values and goals which makes it significantly easier to tap into shared resources. At Ashoka, we are experimenting with this idea, working with other social sector foundations, accelerators and private companies, centered on shared goals with finding talent as the top priority.

With Collaboration for Talent, the idea is that by breaking down the walls between organizations and sectors, as well as the walls between hiring, messaging and fundraising we can achieve greater social impact. Overall, we need to embrace an abundance mindset to make this transition effectively. Given the amazing capabilities afforded by social technologies like Linkedin, Jobvite, open source and net neutrality, we are excited about the possibilities for new forms of collaboration.


Bob Spoer is Chief Entrepreneur for People at Ashoka, the world’s leading network of social entrepreneurs.

A veteran of Silicon Valley search Spoer has recruited business and technical innovators globally for a number of Silicon Valley companies.  In addition to LinkedIn, he led global recruiting at Trimble and Teknekron.  He began his search career with Spencer Stuart based in Hong Kong.   Bob is the co -founder of “Recruiting for Good” (RFG)at Linkedin, which does probono searches for ngos globally, leveraging the Linkedin platform.  Pro bono clients have included the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows (RFG was the primary outside recruiting partner), PlayworksGlobal Network Initiative and Ashoka.    Thanks in part to RFG’s recruiting success at the outset of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, President Obama signed the bipartisan Talent Act making the Presidential Innovation Fellows program permanent.

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