Patterns, platforms and time for play

We’ve all seen the headlines.

The world is rapidly changing. Technology is iterating at great speed, pushing our minds and our bodies in ways we don’t fully comprehend.  The economy, which by definition is equal to the wealth and resources of a country or region, is under serious stress – and will be for some time.

Our natural climate is throwing us huge curve balls, thanks in no small part to the hits we keep sending her way.

And yet we know all is not lost.
c/o socialfinance.ca

c/o socialinnovation.ca

At MaRS, it is believed that entrepreneurship is key to leading the way through all of this change. Bill Drayton, Founder of Ashoka — and credited with coining ‘social entrepreneurship’ — would agree and add that the skill of pattern recognition is equally imperative.

Understanding how and identifying where particular stresses exist focuses the entrepreneurial mind.

Tonya Surman has been paying attention to patterns for a long time. Most recently, she has been considering what motivates the work of an entrepreneur – more specifically – her work as a social entrepreneur.

Tonya is no stranger to success. She was the founding director of the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment, whose work catalyzed a new legislative framework to manage chemicals and ban bisphenol A in baby bottles.

She co-founded and chaired the Ontario Nonprofit Network, an organization that serves 55,000 non-profits. She was also a founding trustee of the Toronto Awesome Foundation, an organization that distributes monthly $1,000 grants to fund local projects.

However, it’s Tonya’s work as Founding CEO of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) that has garnered her the most public attention. Not content to seed and grow one thriving co-working space in downtown Toronto, Tonya and her team successfully pioneered the use of Community Bonds – an innovative model for grassroots, sustainable capital campaigns. CSI used this financial product to purchase a second co-working space in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood and have now offered a second bond to purchase a building on Spadina Ave – opposite their inaugural home base.

c/o socialinnovation.ca

c/o socialinnovation.ca

In addition to all of this moving and shaking, CSI has a space in the Daniels Spectrum building at Regent Park and a whole other co-working space in New York City!

With all of this success, she might be content to sit back and smell the roses she’s been growing in her roof-top garden, but Tonya continues to push herself. As an Ashoka Fellow, she would likely agree with Bill Drayton that entrepreneurship is a life-long process. The work is never done. Just like the world of social innovation, once one peak is reached, another mountain reveals itself and one must keep climbing!

Talking through what she has learned on her journey and the secret to her impressive energy, Tonya joins the MaRS Global Leadership Series & SiG Inspiring Action for Social Impact for the first time on March 31.

Register for Tonya’s talk here.

A conversation and Q&A with the Toronto Star’s Catherine Porter will follow Tonya’s presentation. Catherine writes about everything from climate change, women’s rights, poverty, mental illness, international development and community activism. She has won two National Newspaper Awards for her work. Their discussion and your questions will be a great way to end an inspiring presentation.

Whet your appetite with this recent video interview below
where Tonya discusses her current motivations:

 

Don’t build a start-up, become a systems entrepreneur

560px-Morne_Seychellois_NP_footpath“Make sure you start the year on the right foot…”

…my grandmother always used to remind me. Given that I work at what is externally referred to as one of Canada’s main entrepreneurship centres (though I much prefer describing MaRS as an innovation hub), starting the year by writing a piece on why you should NOT build a startup probably wouldn’t meet her standard. But you have to put your job on the line at least once a year to make the ride worthwhile, right?

Whenever I am trying to solve a problem, whether it’s in my personal life, at work (first in management consulting and now in innovation) or in my relationships (where I get a lot of slack for treating problems like projects), I generally go through a three-stage process:

The why

How is success defined? How should it be defined? What is the North Star or goal post we’re going after?

The how

What are the options? What pathways can we imagine to get us there? Which one(s) should be chosen?

The what

Where do we start? What’s the first step? How do we track progress and learn?

There is also a big “who” question that runs through all three stages, but we will leave that for another time. For now, let’s consider the challenge proposed in the title of this article through these questions.

(Re)defining success: Why people build startups

When I consider the wide range of underlying motivations for why people decide to build startups, they generally fall into one of the following (non-comprehensive) categories:

  • Necessity: “This is my best chance at providing the basics of life for me and/or my family.”

If this is the case for you, you should absolutely take what you believe to be the best path forward. Nobody else understands your specific context better than you do. Just make sure that you understand the realities of the startup life and the risks associated with it, and also be sure to get access to the fast-growing range of public resources that can help support you along the way.

  • Achievement: “I am going to do this so that I can have more money/power/freedom/excitement/etc.”

While I have my own opinions about why these are the wrong settings on a personal compass, fortunately I can just defer to Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, who explains why you shouldn’t build a startup if these are your goals.

  • Impact: “I want to change or create a positive impact in the world!”

I’m lucky enough to meet a lot of people for whom impact is a primary motivation. Listening to them express their motivations makes my heart both melt and ache every time. It makes my heart melt because these are absolutely the kind of people we need much more of—those who seek meaning, are driven by purpose, and have a vision for the future. On the other hand, it makes my heart ache because I see so much of their amazing potential go to waste (or, at best, not go very far). This is due in part to their choosing the wrong “how,” even though they have the right “why” as their starting point.

Mission Big Change: Why building a startup isn’t the best path

Of those in that final category, almost everyone I speak to genuinely wants to create real, meaningful, positive, long-lasting, sustainable change—what we will call ‘big change.’

The next question is whether building a startup is the best way to get there (most people default to this option and only ask how to build the best startup.)

To answer that question, we can compare the most significant conditions necessary for big change with the most common pieces of advice given to the founders of new startups. As we can see in the chart below, for every one of the five key conditions, the common advice for startups is the exact opposite:

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 4.43.19 PM

A whole article could be written analyzing each condition and piece of advice, their respective underlying logic and their stark contrast, but we will leave that to another time. For now, I will just share a quote from Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab and One Laptop Per Child fame (who has, with freakish accuracy, predicted the future over the last several decades), from his interview with Stewart Brand of The Long Now Foundation:

“Startup businesses are sucking people out of big thinking. So many minds that used to think big are now thinking small because their VCs tell them to ‘focus’…they’re doing these startups and their venture funding tells them focus, focus and become cash-flow positive—which is a really stupid idea in a startup…keep the risk high, don’t become cash-flow positive.”

To be abundantly clear, no part of this is a criticism of entrepreneurial thinking or entrepreneurial spirit—both of which I love, with the former featuring prominently in our curriculum (led by our amazing faculty member Assaf Weisz) and the latter being a big part of our culture at Studio Y. Both are necessary ingredients to becoming a truly successful systems entrepreneur. The issue is that these really powerful, bold ideas and concepts have been corrupted in the way in which we’ve built our dominant startup ecosystems.

“But what about Elon Musk?” is an unavoidable counter to the arguments outlined above. Elon Musk, in this case, is exactly the exception that proves the rule. He thinks big, he gives away his intellectual property and he takes on big societal challenges that matter to our future. In fact, the fact that Elon Musk is celebrated for being such an outlier in how he goes about working on his ventures is what should concern us most.

Another great (and Toronto-based) example is Aled Edwards, director and CEO of the Structural Genomics Consortium, who has championed the view that drug discovery advances would be made more rapidly within an open access research environment in which no patents are filed, and materials and ideas are exchanged without restriction on use.

C/O NASA

C/O NASA

So if not ‘launch a start-up!’ then what?

The road less traveled: The rise of systems entrepreneurs

To make the case for an alternative path, it is important to also consider how big change happens. Two distinguishing factors include adoption and success definition:

Let there be light.  

The fundamental transformations in our world come from large-scale adoption, not from the act of invention. For a number of reasons, including very innate human tendencies, we reward invention significantly more than we do adoption, despite adoption being an absolutely necessary condition for big change. In my research for this piece, I came across Dr. Marc Ventresca, an economic sociologist in strategy and innovation at Saïd Business School, who makes this point in a TEDx talk using a great example. He argues that it is large-scale power-grid systems (each unique to its particular context) that have changed the world, not simply the invention of electricity.

We need to grow.

This is the shared mantra of almost every organization across industries. Even in those organizations focused on growing impact (rather than profits), the problem is that the “we” is the organization; our dominant, if not exclusive, approach to success definition is at the organizational level. Just think about the mind-blowing amount of resources that go into setting up, growing and promoting individual organizations, or about how highly we regard leaders (again, across all sectors) who grow an organization’s budget, size, reach or, in the best case scenario, actual impact.

Yet, what we know to be unequivocally true is that our biggest issues are so complex and interdependent that no single organization or solution can alone achieve the level of fundamental systems change required. One of the biggest issues with the startup model is that it fundamentally defines success as organizational success (and how fast, big and far you can grow it) with zero accountability for system success.

So who, then, are systems entrepreneurs? The concept of systems entrepreneurs is not widely recognized, as can be seen by performing a Google search for  “systems entrepreneur” or “system entrepreneur,” which return 25,000 and 5,000 results respectively, almost all of which are related to information, communication and power systems.

Both Engineers Without Borders and our team at Studio Y have used the term “systems change leaders” as a frame over the past couple of years, in developing the people we work with.

In her paper, “How Actors Change Institutions: Towards a Theory of Institutional Entrepreneurship” (2009),  Julie Battilana, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, suggests that while all systems entrepreneurs are change agents, to be considered a systems entrepreneur, two criteria must be met:

  • First, you must initiate divergent change (something that breaks with the status quo rather than simply improving or enhancing it).
  • Second, you must actively participate in the implementation of these changes, demonstrating an ability to marshal the resources required to implement change (speaking to the adoption point made earlier).

She and her colleagues then describe three sets of activities that systems entrepreneurs undertake:

  • Developing a vision — encompasses activities undertaken to make the case for change, including sharing the vision of the need for change with followers.
  • Mobilizing people — includes activities undertaken to gain others’ support for and acceptance of new routines.
  • Motivating others to achieve and sustain the vision — consists of activities undertaken to institutionalize change.

Note how none of these criteria and activities require building a startup. In fact, the dominant startup model limits one’s ability to truly focus on some of the most important elements of systems entrepreneurship.

More recently, Peter Senge, the author of The Fifth Discipline and a guru in systems thinking and organizational learning, co-authored a piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled: The Dawn of Systems Leadership. In it, the authors offer the following advice for those interested in getting started on a journey of becoming a systems leader/entrepreneur.

  • Learn on the job.
  • Engage people across boundaries.
  • Let go of control.
  • Build your own toolkit.
  • Work with others on a similar journey.

A plea and a pledge

I may not have listened to that piece of advice from my grandmother about how to start a new year, but one thing I learned through her actions (rather than her words) was never to shy away from a healthy debate about the future.

So whatever your vision or passion for the future, consider this a plea to make the pledge to take the road less travelled by way of systems entrepreneurship because, as Robert Frost said, we will look back years from now and know “that has made all the difference.”

For more on systems change roles, thinking, mindsets and initiatives, explore Ecosystems for Systems Change.

The Game Has Changed: The Empathy Keystone

For the past six weeks, our team and our SIX Summer School Vancouver 2014 partners – Social Innovation Exchange and BC Partners for Social Impact – have been sifting through, sorting and curating the wealth of content captured during the summit. The breadth and richness of the knowledge exchange at SIX is undoubtedly enough to write a book on the State of Social Innovation in 2014. Amidst this richness, however, is exquisite simplicity; for a field dedicated to working in complexity, two ‘simple’ (even primordial) practices surfaced again and again as essential for leveraging that complexity: collaboration and empathy.

Of course, engaging in collaboration or practicing empathy is neither simple nor easy; they have been the purview of faith and philosophical teachings for 1,000s of years and the centrepiece of kindergarten teachings, workshops, trainings, retreats, literature, and research in the past century. Moreover, they are interlinked actions: collaboration is a process enabled by empathy. Given this precondition of empathy for collaboration, the collective wisdom of the SIX Summer School pointed to empathy as a keystone of social innovation.

As this became increasingly clear in curating the learnings from SIX, further connections began to unfold, linking these emergent insights from an international network of social innovators more broadly to the global community of social change practice. Close on the heels of SIX, the SiG June IASI event — in partnership with Ashoka Canada and MaRS Discovery District — was In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of Ashoka; the dialogue was moderated by MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht. A champion and pioneer of social entrepreneurship, Drayton’s current message and mission is that the movement of the 21st century must be to nurture, teach and train empathy — especially in children.

Between the SIX Summer School, In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the ongoing work of both the SIX and Ashoka networks, and many more initiatives, it is clear that a mix of cross-pollination, simultaneous discovery, and knowledge exchange is nourishing a common valuation of empathy as the bedrock of the 21st century. A powerful mindset shift is underway.

In Conversation with Bill Drayton

For Drayton, the shift will be towards empathy-based ethics, replacing the current ethics ‘rulebook’ with a constellation of principles rooted in empathy (such as compassion, hospitality, initiative, intuition, contribution, and empowerment). Why? Because the rigidity of our current rulebook — and the rules themselves — apply less and less in an exponentially changing world. We are dragging the values, mindsets, and legal/financial structures of a Fordist, pre-digital, pre-networked system into the global, interconnected, interdependent and omnidirectional relationships of the present. The game has changed. Empathy is essential to understanding this new world and our humanity in it.

“Every child must master empathy-based ethics because the rules are changing; the less they apply the less learning them has positive impact” — Bill Drayton 

Arguably, empathy and collaboration have always mattered to the integrity of a society, but the argument now is that empathy is the essential skill to thrive socially, ecologically and economically in the present day. In a world defined by exponential rates of change across all systems, Drayton’s position is that everyone can and must be a changemaker, because change is the new game; it is not a question of whether we should nurture an ‘everyone is a changemaker world,’ it is imperative that we do so. Enabling and empowering this new norm of empathic agency is what Drayton calls a ‘teams of teams’ model; a model of collaborative co-leadership by and within teams.

A teams of teams model was similarly championed at the SIX Summer School as participants discussed the power and possibility of Public and Social Innovation Labs (PSI Labs), community-led development, co-production, co-working spaces, nested innovation hubs, cross-sector networks, and ecosystem building. The common call is that the operational norms of our relationships — working, personal, institutional, civic, and community — are shifting, and must shift, toward the principles of collaboration; a practical and mindset shift that is not only an essential driver of positive systems change, but is a form of transformative systems change itself.

“If everyone is a changemaker, there’s no way a problem can outrun a solution” — Bill Drayton

There is a convergence happening as both social entrepreneurs — which Drayton describes as entrepreneurs with big pattern-change ideas for the good of all — and communities establish a new precedent: the wellbeing of all supports the sustainable wealth of all. At the same time, system pressures are driving commerce, institutions and innovation in the same direction.  “All the evidence shows companies committed to values internally, do better financially,” says Drayton. An ethical and ecological imperative for empathy is now also an economic imperative.

“This is the most thrilling moment in human history, we are leaving an unequal, unfair world” — Bill Drayton
Practicing Empathy: Active Listening Exercise

This simple sounding exercise can be deeply challenging.  It takes one step:

(1) When listening to another person, turn off your inner monologue; silence the inner voice in your head that is reflecting, judging, observing, cataloguing, analyzing and preparing what to say next. Quiet that voice. Listen completely to the other person.

Try this with one person. Then another. Then another. Do you recall his or her name? Are you hearing more, and remembering more, about what that person is saying? Feeling?

          

In conversation with Bill Drayton from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo

Further Resources:

Start empathy

Ashoka

Bill Drayton sees a world where ‘everyone is a changemaker’ — Christian Science Monitor

Leading With Authenticity — 2014 Skoll World Forum

We’re Hiring! Social Innovation Generation (SiG) Communications Intern

Organization: MaRS Discovery District
Industry: Not-for-profit
# of Positions: 1
Position: Communications Intern

Posted: Dec 12, 2013
Application Deadline: Jan 03, 2014
Start Date: Feb 03, 2014
Term of Internship: 9 months

Address: 101 College Street, Suite 100,
Toronto, ON, M5G 1L7

Job Description:

Social Innovation Generation (SiG) is a collaborative partnership comprised of The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the University of Waterloo, the MaRS Centre in Toronto, and the PLAN Institute. SiG believes that complex, persistent, and “wicked” social and ecological problems can be solved. Our focus is enhancing Canada’s resilience by engaging the creativity and resources of all sectors to collaborate on social innovations that have impact, durability, and scale. Visit our website for more information.

SiG National is looking for an Intern to contribute to its team. To allow social innovations to flourish, the SiG intern will contribute to our goal to support whole systems change through changing the broader economic, cultural, and policy context in Canada.

Reporting to the Communications Manager, the Intern will have a broad portfolio of responsibilities, engaging across program related activities, with a strong focus on communications, educational materials development, promotional activities and social media. With a small team around you, this is a terrific opportunity for you to build a portfolio of communications assets as you begin your career.

At a time when “the need and desire for change is profound,” this is an exciting opportunity to work in a dynamic professional context to experiment with a different way of telling a story, learning new practices for tipping systems, and helping to create new possibilities for building resilience.

Responsibilities:

  • Support the Communications Manager in the execution of a broad strategy to foster cross-sector understanding of social innovation processes;
  • Inspire and inform our organization and emerging communities through editorial coordination of the blog;
  • Support the development and marketing of our knowledge mobilization strategy;
  • Drive engagement with SiG online platforms – website, Knowledge Hub, social media communities;
  • Assist the Communications Manager in the marketing strategy, publication and dissemination of SiG knowledge products;
  • Actively engage online networks in the development of social innovation understanding and applicability to Canada
  • Provide logistical support to development activities related to the Inspiring Action for Social Impact series including meeting coordination and research support;
  • Support lab development lead in research
  • Pursue self-directed projects as inspired that result in outstanding written, visual, or audio content; and
  • Other duties as assigned.

Minimum Education:

Diploma

Mandatory Qualifications:

The successful candidate will demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Demonstrated experience and/or ability in the development of communications products – audio and/or videoand/or written;
  • Excellent written and verbal communications skills;
  • Understanding of online community development and animation;
  • Interest in the fields of social innovation, public policy and finance;
  • Proven research capabilities;
  • Detail-oriented and self-motivated;
  • An openness to evolving responsibilities;
  • Strong organizational skills;
  • Ability to work independently and in teams; and
  • Proficiency at multitasking and prioritizing time and workload.

Additional Qualifications:

The following qualifications are considered an asset:

  • Demonstrable understanding of website processes, basic HTML, WordPress and other content platforms
  • Demonstrable understanding of design applications, particularly Adobe CS suite

Other Information:

Social Innovation Generation (National) is based at the MaRS Centre in downtown Toronto.

Employer Question #1:

Why does working for SiG appeal to you?

Employer Question #2:

What experiences in your past qualify you for this opportunity?

Employer Question #3:

What examples of social innovation in Canada or around the world inspire you?

To apply, please register on Career Edge and submit your application through Career Edge’s job posting “Social Innovation Generation(SiG)/ Communications Intern.”

Breakthrough Capitalism: “We are more than consumers, more than tax payers”

A UN Global Compact survey reported that 81% of CEOS believe sustainability issues have become part of their company’s strategy and operations.

Most people would see the survey as a positive sign for sustainable business. Volans’ Executive Chairman, John Elkington does not.

A few short weeks ago, John shared these survey findings to a crowd of Canadian business leaders and posed the question: if CEOs are ‘accounting’ for sustainability issues in their core business, why are we experiencing escalating pressures on our environmental, economic, political and social systems?

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John Elkington speaks to business leaders in Toronto, Canada.

The Volans team believes that part of the answer rests on the shoulders of executive level corporate leadership. Around one thousand companies control half the value of all the world’s publicly listed organizations. The power of some of the largest corporations and their leaders has become colossal in magnitude.

In response to the expanding dominance of business, Volans catalyzed a movement called Breakthrough Capitalism. Breakthrough Capitalism is a global call to action for corporate leaders to “reboot” capitalism through radically re-envisioning their business models. Volans has hosted Breakthrough forums in Berlin, London, Singapore and most recently Toronto.

In early November, Canada’s Breakthrough Capitalism forum challenged Canadian business leaders to rethink the way they do business in context to increasing global complexity. In his opening address, John Elkington acknowledged the increasing linkages between systems such as the food-energy-water-finance nexus, where one system cannot be fully understood without considering the others.

Toronto’s event brought together leaders from a cross-section of industries including financial services, energy, consumer goods, food, health, media and retail. The day was heavy on interaction and light on speeches. It opened the space for candid dialogue, questioning and brainstorming. Participants were asked to understand their business in relation to projecting three future world scenarios: Breakdown, Change-as-usual, and Breakthrough as depicted in the video below.

Following a fairly morbid discussion, participants recognized that the Breakdown and Change-as-usual scenarios are one and the same. Both will result in over-consumption, resource depletion, widespread poverty, and failed governance. The only distinction is that Breakdown will reach systems collapse sooner. Consequently, managers were quick to agree that the only viable way forward is the Breakthrough scenario.

 

What does Breakthrough mean to Canadian Business Leaders?

 

1) Executive Leadership

All participants agreed that buy-in from the top is critical. One only has to look at the likes of Paul Polman at Unilever or Jochen Zeitz at Puma to understand that executive level leadership holds immense power over corporate strategy.

2) Aligning Language

From shared value to corporate social responsibility, conscious capitalism to constructive capitalism, corporate social innovation to sustainability, the field is a cacophony of competing language. It’s painfully ironic that each movement is attempting to achieve the same goal of making the world a better place. Participants accept that language needs to converge in order to shift the movement from the periphery to the mainstream.

3) Creating Opportunities to Act

During the afternoon, the forum broke out into four groups prepared to hack the assumptions and models driving their respective industries. These breakout groups gave attendees permission to dig deep into the heart of their business and posit potential solutions.

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Hal Hamilton, founder of Sustainable Food Lab, facilitating a breakout session.

I.     Accountants

Generating a storm of new ideas and next steps, the accountants led the way for actionable solutions. Real time performance indicators, responsible resource stewardship, long-term thinking, and embedded sustainability education represented a handful of the accountant’s proposed objectives.

II.     Consumer Behaviour

Marketers wrestled with their dependence on ever-increasing consumption in order to meet their sales growth objectives. Group participants agreed that enabling consumers to align their social and environmental values with their purchases is the future of responsible consumer behavior.

III. & IV. Food

Solutions that bubbled up from the food systems group included creating a “sin food” tax, mitigating food waste, educating consumers, investing in local food, and collaborating along supply chains.

 

4) Personal Transformation

Although much needs to be done at the office, change must also start at home. Too often we ask the world to act differently and forget our own role in embracing the change we seek. It was widely recognized that we should be mindful of our own values and beliefs, and channel that energy beyond our workplace to permeate all aspects in our lives. Sandra Odendahl of RBC captured this spirit in her closing remarks: “We are more than consumers, more than tax payers. We are citizens.” As citizens, it is our duty and privilege to care for one another and support a healthy environment.

10820765253_a5e5f1c05e_b

Sandra Odendahl

What Now?

It’s up to us – business leaders, civil society and government – to push one another forward. As the CEO of MaRS Discovery District, Ilse Treurnicht, declared, “It feels like the world expects more of us than we expect for ourselves.” Let’s cut loose from the status quo and rise to meet the demands of wicked problems. We are ready. It’s time for a breakthrough.

Partnering skills are essential to scaling social finance in Canada

Editor’s note: this blog originally appeared on socialfinance.ca on March 28, 2013. It has been cross-posted with permission.

Moving the field of impact investing forward requires governments, businesses, social entrepreneurs and foundations to work together. This need for collaboration is precisely why social finance has the potential to be so transformative. And yet, this cross-sector work is also what makes the field a tricky one. In many ways, a fragmented and siloed reality persists.

My friends in the world of social finance have told me that specific challenges to collaborations include:

  • Managing the varied expectations that collaborators bring to the table about the work, themselves and other partners
  • Understanding the philosophies, approaches, and languages that are commonly used in one sector but may be unfamiliar in another
  • Ensuring transparency around organizational goals, motivations and values between collaborators

The good news is that these are common challenges faced by all collaborations that span sector boundaries.

The bad news? Unless we develop the capacity to overcome them, these challenges will make our work slow and frustrating, and will ultimately reduce our ability to create real value. So what should we do?

We need to get skilled in the art of brokering partnerships.

What is partnership brokering? Partnership brokering is the “skilled management of the partnering process”. This unique approach to managing multi-sector collaborations was developed by the Partnership Brokers Association in the UK. Their vision has been to create, “a more equitable and sustainable world by building capacity for innovation, efficiency and excellence in cross-sector collaboration”.

Since 2003, they have worked towards achieving this vision through the development and delivery of capacity building training and professional development for people who find themselves in the often undefined and murky role of coordinating and managing collaborations.

These roles have many names. I have recently learned about tri-sector leaders and boundary spanners, and I’ve also heard of weavers and change managers. What they all have in common is a requirement to make sense of the different realities, needs, expectations and motivations of partners in order to develop collaborations that deliver value and impact.

That means “brokers” often need to influence, negotiate, build consensus, and acknowledge and manage conflict while at the same time representing their own organization’s objectives at the partnering table. Adding to this complexity is the fact that brokers are often operating in situations where power dynamics are unclear and/or unbalanced. Sound familiar?

If it does, then you may benefit from learning how to use the partnering process framework and a set of partnering tools to bring greater success to your work. As Greg Butler, Senior Director of Education Partnerships at Microsoft explains in Good for Business? An enquiry into the impact of Microsoft’s investment in partnership brokers training:

“Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. In the private sector, many so-called ‘development partnerships’ are essentially transactional and tactical involving philanthropy on the one hand or service-type contractual arrangements on the other.

However, we came to realise in Microsoft that a true partnership approach is something very different. A better managed and understood partnering process can lead to genuine win-win collaboration—where the conversation moves from ‘here’s some money, this is what we expect you to deliver’ to ‘this is the problem/challenge, how can we solve it together?’

A few years ago, Microsoft’s desire to move away from a traditional “vendor-client” relationship to that of a “true” partner led them to the Partnership Brokers Association Level 1 course which focuses on developing this initial understanding of the partnering process and works to develop the skills needed to move through this process effectively. A recent examination of the effects of this training on Microsoft’s team of 94 brokers discovered the following benefits:

  1. An increased ability to conduct effective and productive conversations, leading to an increase in efficiencies in the process and increased overall value from the relationship
  2. An increased ability to make faster assessments of a partnership’s viability through effective conversations to understand each potential partners motivations
  3. Brokers were better equipped and more confident to approach others as agents of change, creating linkages, opening doors and suggesting new ways of working
  4. An increased ability and confidence to acknowledge and work with complexity rather than ignoring it

In addition to these benefits, many on Microsoft’s team were able to describe how changing their approach to developing partnerships (as a result of what they had learned in the training) had increased the success of the collaborations they worked on and led to a greater number of beneficiaries.

partnershipbrokers

If this type of training piques your interest, learn more about being a broker and the Level 1 training on the Partnership Brokers Association website.

The next training is coming up in Toronto on April 8th, courtesy Social Innovation Generation, and there are only a few spots remaining,  so sign up!

I took my Level 1 training last year in Wales and am now undertaking my Level 2 accreditation. If you’d like to ask about my experiences as a broker or my thoughts on the Level 1 training, you can reach me at ahamilton[at]marsdd[dot]com

2010 Canadian Social Finance Symposium

Philanthropic Foundations of Canada and Phillips, Hager & North, in association with Social Innovation Generation invite you to attend the 2010 Canadian Social Finance Symposium.

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