In nearly every facet of our lives — from our workplaces to our homes — we work with others to achieve common goals. So when our neighbors, communities and region face challenges, it only makes sense that we unite to resolve them together.
In the world of service providers, this is known as “collective impact.” At United Way of Metro Chicago, we created the Neighborhood Network Initiative to unite residents, government leaders, social service organizations and others in 10 neighborhoods to tackle problems they identify. José Rico, our Senior Vice President of Community Impact, sat down with Carley Mossbrook, our Digital Content & Communications Specialist, at the 2019 Collective Impact Convening in Chicago last week to better understand the power of this work.
* * *
CM: “Collective impact” is one of those jargon-y terms that we, in the social service sector, use pretty often. But for others, it can sound a bit wonky or mystifying. Can you tell us what exactly “collective impact” is?
JR: Collective impact is when neighbors come together to make a change. That’s really what it is. There’s obviously a lot of flow charts and theory, but it’s about people who feel invested in something together, whether its their neighborhoods or an issue they care about. They know that there are other people who have an interest in doing it and find ways to work together to accomplish something they can’t do on their own.
CM: From what I hear, it’s a very effective way to drive large-scale change. But how is collective impact specifically serving communities here in Chicago?
JR: It’s powerful because of how Chicago is organized — it’s a city of 77 neighborhoods. People see what the challenges are in our city through the lens of the neighborhood they live in. Collective impact is a way for people to organize and change the problems they’re facing at this local level. Residents are involved with their school council, in their church and through neighborhood associations.
CM: As one of the largest health and human services providers in the state, how does United Way of Metro Chicago practice and facilitate collective impact?
JR: Six years ago, United Way began supporting Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), a neighborhood group that organizes residents around policy issues, provides social services and creates connections between residents and local institutions. We’ve provided financial and technical support to help this organization and others in the area work better together. Since, we’ve created similar networks in nine other neighborhoods. They lead the work, but we provide resources so they can grow and tackle more problems and serve more people.
CM: How do the non-profits and social service agencies who serve individuals and families in these neighborhoods benefit from participating in these networks?
JR: Through the Neighborhood Networks, our partners tell us they’re now able to work with more neighbors and institutions in the neighborhood to make the changes they want to see. Folks who are in the neighborhoods learn what problems other organizations are tackling and the work they’re doing, and align their programs to meet those needs and fill any gaps.
CM: It sounds like this doesn’t just benefit each neighborhood, but also benefits the city as a whole. How is collective impact achieve change on a larger scale?
JR: Our work to enhance resources in communities helps revitalize the region and helps it operate in a more equitable manner. If we don’t invest more in uniting and building up communities, Chicago is going to stop being the “City of Neighborhoods.” It’s going to be the “City of the Central District and the Northeast Side” and everything else will be gone. There won’t be any local flavor. There’s not going to be strong ties to one’s block.
CM: And none of us want that! At the end of the day, the Neighborhood Networks convene all of these changemakers to improve our neighbors’ lives. How do the people who call these neighborhoods “home” benefit from service providers working together?
JR: When social service providers, schools, hospitals and others work together, the people who need these resources can more easily access them because they have more opportunities to get connected. Also, when these stakeholders work together, we can address every need that a person or family has. For example, a parent enrolled in a workforce training program may need daycare for their kids in order to attend classes. If the staff at the training program is connected to childcare providers in the area, they can offer referrals and that parent can actually participate and be successful.
CM: It sounds like, through these partnerships, the complexities of people’s lives are acknowledged and they can be supported in the various ways they need. I’ve seen this at play in Brighton Park. What’s happening with our neighbors there?
JR: The community is seeing great successes! When United Way first gave them a grant, BPNC used those resources to increase the number of health promoters and parent ambassadors in their schools. In turn, students’ academic and non-academic needs were better supported and their parents became strong community leaders.
Because of these successes, more funders are now getting on board to invest in this community. Two community buildings are being built in Brighton Park — a health care clinic and a day care center — and family safety and domestic violence programs are expanding.
CM: Wow! That’s exciting to hear. So, lastly, if someone wants to be a part of this work, how can they get involved?
JR: You can get involved by investing your resources, time and energy into your community or seeking out opportunities to bridge relationships between groups you work within. We also encourage you to learn more about our Neighborhood Networks and to create connections through volunteer opportunities with United Way.