At South Australia’s very first Collective Impact Symposium hosted by Together SA, Seri reflected on ten20 Foundation’s journey and shared some lessons learnt as a catalytic funder on how to influence lasting, systemic change. Here is a blog version of Seri’s keynote.

In 2013 I sat with a group of non-profit, government and philanthropic leaders in a room in Adelaide, convened in a new conversation called – Together South Australia. The intent was bold – how could they change the way they worked together to create better futures for all South Australians?  Especially given the increasing complexity of the social, economic and environmental challenges experienced by regional and urban South Australian (SA) communities.

The leaders around the table asked not only what do we need to do, but also how do we do it within a democratic system that is increasingly failing to address systemic issues of inequity and inequality. Of note this was a time when the SA Government was reviewing the child protection system and GMH was winding back its manufacturing operations in Adelaide. There was genuine concern that communities with families already facing complex problems, were going to be even worse off.

Now four and half years later I observe a movement taking place in South Australia and other Australian states. It is a pioneering movement and one I hope will be embraced more widely. It’s the movement that runs counter to, and in spite of an overall lack of institutional leadership. The leadership, that whilst holding a lot of power, is often not close enough to the problems they are authorised and resourced to solve.

This is a community organised movement dedicated to building new ways of doing things for its citizens and stakeholders. It has at its centre the ideas, voices and lived experiences of those that are often left behind or forgotten in the organisational noise. Its undertaking is all about what it’s going to take to build a prosperous, inclusive and engaged Australia where everyone gets the chance, at the right time, for the best opportunities in life. A nation where the lottery of birth, which dictates your first experiences of family and community, doesn’t necessarily predict (or stigmatise) the direction of your life.

Social change of this scale progresses at the speed of trust. But as I reflect on the last four years of the collective impact movement in Australia, I recognise there are more of us starting to think and work differently with communities to break cycles of inequality and inequity in Australia. We now understand that the question before us is not why, or even what needs to change. We have enough research and data that tells us this. Instead we are interested in how we build the eco systems around entrenched social issues and resource the collective efforts required to develop a proof of concept around working differently. How do we manage the change required to embed new leadership models, authorising environments, organising structures and networks? How do we enable the shared learning, measurement and communication of the progress of place based collective impact, to ensure these efforts have the time to drive long term population level change?

As a catalytic funder, I’d like to reflect on four key areas:

  • The promising progress that comes when funders intentionally catalyse and/or support the development of a social innovation eco-system, responding differently to enable communities to develop a proof of concept and evidence base to share with others;
  • The changing role of funders in supporting new collective investment models, to embed and sustain community driven, collective
  • Four areas of new knowledge about this work – that can influence lasting, systemic change and
  • What’s next in terms of going the right way – it’s all about bold leadership and this includes philanthropy.

 

Catalysing an innovative eco system to develop a proof of concept

All too often, we want quick and easy solutions, even when we intuitively know that sizeable change requires a different formula. And while moving to a more nuanced understanding of how we address disadvantage is easier said than done, the principles that drive local innovation and a collective impact response are really based on common sense.

What ten20 Foundation is seeing in this long term systemic work across communities and organisations is that when we invest in structures to create new knowledge, evidence and practice, and when we at the same time support this with smart learning networks that connect up and embed local insights and challenges, we make progress. In this progress we are starting to observe new ways of coordinating and organising locally so that communities can improve their own prospects. A broader network of stakeholders has a greater understanding of the effort, time, risk and co-ordination it takes to develop shared accountability across a network, that sustains long term change. And through this new knowledge, these stakeholders (although still in pockets) are bringing different ways of measuring and interpreting data together to learn – allowing refinement and adaption of the collective effort on the ground.

A part of the new formula are intermediaries like Opportunity Child, that are essential for establishing critical evidence and proof of concept of the approach, peer to peer learning to support local skills building as well as providing the conduit to connect local work up to influence policy at the national level.

 

Changing roles of funders engaged in collective impact

At the same time there are an increasing group of funders speaking up on behalf of new approaches to support community led innovation and change. As we engage directly with communities we are finding other funders that have the appetite and ability to partner for collective impact. And the power of funders partnering, is that we have more resources to support the capacity it takes for innovation in community and across the non-profit system. It also means we learn more about how the collective impact approach works in practice and how we as funders can invest in: new notions of power, trust building, the strengthening of relationships across an eco-system, skilling up community leaders, scaling impact and taking on shared risk.

At ten20 Foundation we have been testing with community partners multi year, but long term seed grants as well as changing our own practices so that we can provide additional rapid response funding to support the unexpected costs of local learning and change. In high performing initiatives like Logan Together in Queensland, philanthropic, federal, state and local government are exploring how to align around collective place based social investment and service commissioning models.

New precedents will be established that allow others to think about how they might adapt these models to their own contexts.

 

Four areas of new knowledge that differentiate collective impact efforts

Like any new blue-print, the road to success is always under construction and we are continually evolving our funding approach in the light of what we learn. At ten20 our view based on our work with communities thus far is that: 

  1. We must invest in highly competent backbone leaders that drive local coordinated innovation and shared action. These leaders can be supported by a network of backbone functions (can be an organisation) but must have ability to engage with the public sector to add value locally.
  2. We must empower, and actively engage with the very communities who are impacted – supporting the additional resources and networks required to undertake collective impact efforts. Most importantly this includes investing in local skill development to enable sense making of community data and stories and co-design of improved solutions. As well as the processes required to set up effective decision making structures so that communities can take action.
  3. We must realign our funding and resources to make it more agile and accountable to community shared goals and plans.
  4. We must invest in the platforms and networks like Opportunity Child and Together South Australia, required to build and scale up the field of practice.

 

Next Steps

The highest potential collective impact initiatives we see are successful because of the small considered steps that keep them moving forward. That slowly accumulate into something more. Mostly, these steps are pioneered by a small group of change makers that lead a new path and think differently about the way they engage with other stakeholders. This takes enormous courage.

And It starts with how we as individuals show up to the work and think about social change; how we engage with the people and the communities we seek to serve; and act on what is in their best interests, as opposed to ours. It starts with how we stand in the arena day after day, how we persist no matter what the setbacks, how we bring our vulnerability to the complexity of the work, with the courage to not avoid the “hard stuff.”

And through this I see the power of the local leaders who are able to reflect on and share their personal learnings of doing the work to others, giving permission for mind shift changes more broadly.

At the end of the day this is the work – if we believe in the notion of common good and want to see Australia reach its potential as a prosperous and just social democracy.