In my long career in law, finance and government, I’ve encountered my share of big thinkers and their big ideas. New York City and Washington, D.C. are full of “silver bullet” pitches that promise to solve all of society’s problems and make millions in the process.
But more and more, I have noticed the most inspiring and practically interesting examples of innovation are coming from America’s smaller cities and local communities.
MY DAD GREW UP in Savannah. I remember, when I would go back with him for visits, we could barely cross the road without running into someone he knew, or who knew his family. It’s clear that folks who know their neighbors – and so can trust them to work together across sectors, sharing the costs, decisions and responsibilities for the common good – are figuring out that they need to collaborate to get things done.
And those folks are setting the bar pretty high.
I’m thinking specifically of the Central Savannah River Area’s inspiring Augusta Warrior Project, and its work across sectors and industries to support local veterans and military personnel between tours. Readers of this paper are probably already familiar with the AWP, but it came as an exciting surprise to me. I have long been fascinated with the collaborative space – the “intersector” – that occurs when leaders from public, private and nonprofit sectors can agree to work together for the betterment of the community.
THAT DESCRIPTION fits the AWP to a T.
Anyone who has tried to unite diverse interests, let alone whole industries and sectors, will recognize the achievement of the AWP’s executive director, Jim Lorraine. His collaborative approach – developing partnerships with other nonprofits, local businesses and governmental agencies – significantly improved veteran care in 13 counties in Georgia and South Carolina.
And while Jim’s ability to build an intersector space might have a lot to do with his personality, even the best leaders need strategies and tactics to lead. In fact, I know that there are some simple, broadly applicable tactics that anyone seeking to collaborate across sectors can use in their efforts.
THERE’S A TACTIC that I’d call “sharing discretion” – for example, sharing different aspects of authority with those who have expertise, so that everyone involved in a collaboration does what he or she knows best. That might sound obvious in hindsight, but it’s a process often forgotten in big projects involving several leaders.
The CSRA wasn’t lacking for veteran support services before Jim Lorraine got involved – but many of the services weren’t in communication with one another, or with the veterans who could benefit from them. By simply identifying the diverse resources and talents of the folks involved, Jim facilitated a collaboration that gave each one of them a role and sense of purpose. Now the Veterans Center is administered by Aiken Technical College, funded by local businesses such as Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, E-Z-Go and Club Car, and staffed by AWP employees.
AWP IS NOT just a triumph of community organization, but a striking example of shared discretion.
Even more encouraging, the AWP is part of a real trend emerging across our country. Local leaders from coast to coast are building bridges, connecting sectors and solving their communities’ problems with innovative leadership and collaborative tools. But a success such as the AWP makes me suspect that the more close-knit a community – the more familiar folks are with each other before the project even begins – the easier it is to share in both the effort and the reward of collaboration.
(The writer – chairman and CEO of the private investment firm Abacus and Associates – is chairman of the Intersector Project, a a New York City-based research organization dedicated to profiling and promoting collaboration across sectors when public, private and nonprofit stakeholders work together to solve problems.)