By Katherine Murtha
There is no one sector that is incubating social change today.
That’s because entities in each sector have the potential to make an impact. Even more impactful are projects created by the collaboration of two or more sectors. Leaders who want to make a difference must develop skills to work across sectors, be willing to blur sector divisions, and recognize solutions regardless of the sector that originated them.
In December, the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership’s executive director Nora Silver wrote about two leaders who addressed humanitarian crises abroad by working across sectors, connecting nonprofit, business, and government resources to areas in need. She described how after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Patrick Meier shared nonprofits’ crowd-sourced data with radio stations to direct aid to earthquake victims. Since each sector can create unique solutions, she suggested it is important for leaders not to discount other sectors, but rather to develop facility with working across sectors to maximize impact.
In our lectures and research, the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership emphasizes the need to develop these cross-sector skills. These skills are embedded in classes like Social Sector Solutions, where students do consulting projects for nonprofit and social enterprise clients.
Here in the Bay area, there are plenty of examples of innovators working in all sectors to promote community development and enable local communities to thrive.
In a government-nonprofit partnership, the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control run an Animal Bonding program where inmates develop empathy and “learn how to accept responsibility for the care of others” while caring for dogs, cats, and birds. Rountree Minimum Facility reports that the program benefits inmates by providing them with the “therapeutic…intimacy bond produced from connecting with the animal(s). The bond helps reduce antisocial behavior by increasing the inmates’ capacity for empathy.” Society as a whole functions better when inmates develop socio-emotional skills before returning to their communities.
Innovators spanning all sectors were surfaced by a competition – Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change, held by Ashoka Changemakers and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. With the intention of identifying outside-the-box ideas, the competition solicited entrants from nonprofits, for-profits, government entities, and hybrid organizations.
Promising entrants that spanned sectors included a for-profit online platform that connects young people’s ideas to funding, a government-nonprofit collaboration, and many nonprofit projects. Even though the entry period has ended, you can view all the applications online.
One application came from a humane education program run by the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (a joint powers authority, the shelter is a quasi-governmental entity). A competition semi-finalist, the program, which aims to instill “empathy, personal responsibility, respect, and compassionate stewardship,” teaches students to care for pets and offers students the opportunity to volunteer at the shelter as well as to teach a summer school program.
Another semi-finalist was the nonprofit Watsonville Law Center’s collaboration with the state government entity San José State University (SJSU). Through the project, SJSU students could help clear eligible people’s criminal records.
“PeerSpring-Inspire, Invest, Impact” entered the competition as well. PeerSpring is a platform where youth can showcase their innovative social projects and attract either volunteers or investment. Although it is a company, PeerSpring describes itself as a “hybrid” organization because of its social mission: airing fresh ideas and connecting them with funders.
These are just a few projects demonstrating how working across sectors can amplify social impact. We hope Haas students who engage with the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership develop the skills to work across sectors so they, too, can amplify their impact.