Last week marked the end of the Collaboration Action Fund, a fund we helped create with three other funders.
I have to confess that the power of collaboration is something I hadn’t dedicated enough time to thinking through before we got involved in the Collaboration Action Fund. I held a loose thought that it is too often a missing ingredient from the work I have been involved with and the work we fund but I had never given time to thinking through the way collaboration creates change and the reasons why we often don’t manage to pull it off.
Listening to the experiences of the collaborations we funded taught me much about both of these things. They talked about the importance of ensuring the people around the table have a shared purpose and common interest; they talked about the power dynamics that have to be resolved; they talked about the way misconceptions disappeared overtime and real insight grew and they talked about the time commitment it takes to make collaborations work.
It is the issue of time that I have reflected on most during the Collaboration Action Fund. What if we put time into trying to work with a business, local authority department, policy maker or expert by experience to design the one social solution that could really make a difference to the issue we are seeking to resolve? What could we achieve if we didn’t limit ourselves to what feels achievable quickly and gave this the same priority as we give the day-to-day urgent things. What if, throughout the course of all our work, we tried to create the collaborations that really matter to crack the issues that we only currently make a dent in? Maybe then we can create the change we are hoping for.
This is not just true for delivery organisations, it is true for funders too. Funders have agenda’s and processes we become wedded to, we are reluctant to give up power in the way that you have to if you are going to collaborate and we have a tendency to focus on the task in front of us rather than thinking about the bigger issues we want to address. The urgent task for us is getting money to charities that are applying to our funds, not having the slow but important conversations that underpin a collaboration.
But if the Collaboration Action Fund showed us anything it is that these conversations are valuable. That they should be prioritised in our work. That as funders we should be putting thought and time into cultivating the set of relationships that are really going to create the social change we are striving for. I think as we do, the processes and agenda’s we are wedded to and the anxiety regarding the time investment give way to a new hopefulness and determination to set these things aside so that we can together innovate to bring greater change.
Virgin Money Foundation