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Collaborating across the boundaries of organizations
by Mike Rowlands
on March 04, 2013
Article Index
Collaborating across the boundaries of organizations
4 factors to consider
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FreeDigitalPhotos.net by podpadPart 4 of Mike's 5-part leadership series


Collaboration has surely become one of the all-time great buzzwords. Seemingly everyone aspires to be collaborative. Unfortunately, for every successful collaboration, there are dozens of "partnerships" and "alliances" that fail to achieve their potential.


In this fourth part of our series on social enterprise leadership, we share insights into how great coalitions are developed, and how they can provide structure to implement diverse strategies simultaneously, and the resilience to undertake long-term, complex projects—typical of those undertaken by social enterprises.


Back in the second part of this series on social enterprise leadership, we focused on how effective leaders engage others. They support their colleagues, they work hard to develop their organizations as a whole, and they are open and clear in their communications with their teammates. All these activities happen inside the organization. Collaboration reaches farther.


The complex problems faced by social entrepreneurs often require coalition-building—cooperation beyond the boundaries of their organizations.


At their simplest, coalitions can look like strategic partnerships. In the social impact sphere, these simple partnerships often take the form of cause marketing campaigns. Think in-kind sponsors’ engagement in the Race for the Cure. As they get more advanced, diverse networks of like-minded organization can coalesce around a shared vision. Such was the case with the ten-year Rainforest Solutions Project in western Canada.


The project aimed to protect a vast and pristine coastal rainforest on Canada’s west coast. This spectacular ecosystem is the last untouched coastal temperate rainforest in the world. It is home to hundreds of unique species, and to First Nations who have lived there for thousands of years. “Canada’s Amazon,” as it has been called, includes about one quarter of all the coastal temperate rainforest on Earth.


It was also commonly referred to in government policy documents as the "mid-coast timber reserve," so it was essentially viewed as a commodity storage area, a heartbreaking misrepresentation of this priceless ecosystem. Perhaps the single greatest moment of genius in the Rainforest Solutions Project’s work was to rebrand the region as the Great Bear Rainforest.


The Rainforest Solutions Project was the organization set up to house a remarkable campaign. The systems approach that they took exemplifies the four key factors in effective coalition-building.



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