Rich Graham of Year Here discusses the role of collaboration and his experience of working collaboratively with others.
Collaboration is both difficult and vital in the third sector. It is the key to solving Britain’s thorniest social problems, yet our society naturally fosters an environment of competition, not collaboration.
Large scale collaborations are rare, but when it does happen the social impact can be huge. Small scale collaboration is much easier in practice. There is less clunky bureaucracy to hurdle and individuals can work on an informal basis. As a fellow on Year Here, a post-grad programme in social innovation, I have been exposed to the benefits and difficulties of collaboration on both a large and small scale.
The growing trend of government outsourcing public services presents a major challenge to collaboration. This issue is particularly acute in the homelessness sector, where I spent 4 months working for a homeless charity. Local authorities are facing rising demand for homelessness services whilst their budgets are being slashed. The impact of this is that charities are forced to compete with each other for government contracts, with each vying to offer the best service for the lowest cost.
Although competition promotes innovation in the private sector, in the social world the stakes are much higher. As charities compete for government funds they become protective over their research, knowledge and resources. If we want to find the best solutions to thorny social issues, like homelessness, organisations must share their assets. By sharing what practices work well and those that don’t, they can gradually fine tune their services to provide high quality outcomes.
I’ve found that collaboration is much easier to practice on a smaller scale. As part of the Year Here programme, I’ve now worked on a number of smaller collaborative projects with brilliant results. For example, myself and the other fellows run a series of events called Beer Here. Beer Here is a regular meet up for socially conscious young Londoners. We produce engaging events, which offer a fresh take on deep rooted social problems.
Starting with virtually no money, we were forced to haggle and charm our partners into donating their time and expertise for free. At first I thought this would impact on the quality of our events, but to my surprise, I found that even top experts were happy to work with us towards a shared goal.
Our last event looked at London’s growing gang culture and we secured six brilliant speakers for the event. Our headline speaker was David Cohen, pioneer of the Evening’s standards Dispossessed Campaign. We were able to collaborate with speakers like David, because we shared a common purpose. We both wanted to give the public a deeper understanding of our native gang culture.
Although bigger organisations face more obstacles to collaboration, it is important to adopt a collaborative mindset where possible. People in the third sector are all motivated to improve society. By pooling their skills and resources this ambition can be realised.
This article was written by Rich Graham, a Fellow at Year Here, and published on the Unusual Suspects Festival website. Click here to read the full piece.