Collective impact has power

Image shows small humans in the palm of a hand to represent delegating

We all tend to live in our own bubbles. Businesses make goods and provide services that they hope will make them a profit. Governments devise laws and policies that civil servants then try to implement. People go to work to sustain themselves and raise their families. Charities identify problems and set about aiming to solve them.

The bubbles interact only through delegating parts of our responsibilities to each other. We elect governments to run the country and we give money to charities to help others. Is this a successful model for us to conduct our lives? The rocketing number of food banks in our cities; the fact that we spend £11bn on managing reoffending rates; and the appalling lack of diversity in boardrooms suggest not.

We sometimes step out of our bubbles – a bit of mentoring here, a spot of volunteering there – but it’s increasingly apparent that neither the system itself nor our attempts to stick plasters on the edges are taking us to the better place we all desire.

I hosted a meeting of past and present gang leaders along with businesspeople, politicians, charities and social enterprises to discuss reoffending rates and how to tackle them through entrepreneurship. Many conversations have taken place about offenders and criminals but rarely with them. As if to prove how wrong this has been, the rest of us usually rather talkative folk were largely quiet while the guys from the gangs set us straight on many of our opinions.

Largely driven from the US, the notion of ‘collective impact’ is rapidly gaining traction and is now slowly making its way here. It recognises that there is no silver bullet which anyone owns that can solve the problems around us, and suggests collaboration instead for deeper success.

Social meddlers, like yours truly, have a propensity towards talking rather than listening. But we are more effective when we use our ears as much as our mouths and this comes from deliberately bringing new voices into conversations. Governments, for example, have historically failed to support businesses because we simply weren’t involved in policy creation.

At a recent meeting of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, I saw an excellent example of the welcome drift towards collective impact. Instead of ministers and civil servants drumming up more impractical schemes for apprentices, they have asked us (businesses, the TUC and CBI) what would work best. That’s a lot more radical than it may sound but, if followed through, will have huge benefits for businesses wishing to hire the young jobless. The next stage is to bring young people to the table to see what works for them. Then we’ll start getting somewhere.

I was telling Richard, a mentee of mine who is the only one in his school applying to go to university, that employers in the catering sector were having trouble finding young people who wanted to work. He replied that many of his age group weren’t going to university because they needed to find a job and earn money. I told him we had a vacancy at Roast and a couple of hours later he called to say he knew eight people who were keen to do trials and be interviewed.

The first one we met impressed our team and he got the job. So while we collectively moan that many youngsters don’t want to work, the truth often is that we don’t know much about them, and that’s because they are not part of our conversation. If they were, we would engage with them more effectively, filling our skills shortages and helping people to step onto the career ladder.

Likewise, another group who aren’t included in conversations about employment opportunities are housewives. A social enterprise a friend set up last year called Mum’s the Chef has taken on 60 women from the Croydon area who have never considered their domestic roles as skills and put them through catering school to make them employable as professional cooks.

The project was a tie-up between the founder, the local college, the Jobcentre, which provides job referrals, and businesses, which hire them to make staff meals. Without logrolling, it would never have taken off. And without them, I would have to prepare lunch for parties held at my home, which in turn allow guests to hire them for their own events.

By nudging the boundaries of convention, the collective impact becomes huge.

About author

Iqbal Wahhab

Iqbal Wahhab

Iqbal Wahhab is a restaurateur who drives social impacts to the core of his businesses. The founder of The Cinnamon Club and Roast is chair or patron of a variety of social projects and is planning more restaurants this year.

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