Collaborating for impact

By: Jacqui Jones   |   Australian Business and Community Network

If we understand the merits of collaboration, and the strength of partnerships in collective impact, what infrastructure and skills need to be in place to allow it to thrive?

At the Australian Business and Community Network’s (ABCN’s) recent national thought leadership symposium, It’s Who You Meet, in partnership with Philanthropy Australia, a group of experienced business leaders discussed how they have successfully collaborated for impact within ABCN’s unique business model.

For those not familiar with ABCN, we are a not for profit organisation that supports disadvantaged students through sustained mentoring programs with professionals from the corporate sector. We partner schools and students with member companies to improve education outcomes, facilitating a variety of programs focussed on skills development. Fortunately for us, ABCN’s business model focusses on collective impact and has since our inception in 2005 when a group of visionary business leaders decided to join forces to improve the career prospects of disadvantaged youth. We owe much to their legacy - they realised their impact would be more powerful as a collective than individually.

ABCN’s business model involves member companies paying an annual subscription fee to be involved in mentoring initiatives. Not only does this fee allow them to participate in ABCN facilitated programs, but it also ensures a voice on ABCN’s Council which is comprised of Chief Executives from each member company. These Executives contribute directly to ABCN’s mission and objectives by leveraging their professional networks, profile, experience and influence. Chief Executive engagement cements the commitment of our members, and many find the Council helpful in extending their professional networks.

Collaborating for impact in the philanthropic world is not a new idea. In 2011 Kania & Kramer wrote about collective impact in the Stanford Social Innovation Review flagging the need for a new nonprofit model for collective action to succeed.[1] They explained that “substantially greater progress could be made in alleviating many of our most serious and complex social problems if nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact.” Kania & Kramer also highlighted that many not for profits fail in their attempts to affect social change due to their autonomous and independent approaches. “No single organization is responsible for any major social problem, nor can any single organization cure it.”

So, if we understand the merits of collaboration, and the strength of partnerships in collective impact, what infrastructure and skills need to be in place to allow it to thrive?

While we’re not suggesting ABCN has all the answers, there are key elements (many of them linked coincidentally to the analysis of Kania & Kramer), that contribute to our success. ABCN is much like the ‘Backbone Organisation’ which Kania and Kramer refer to which exists to foster a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all stakeholders.  

At ABCN, we’ve stablished ourselves as the glue that links all involved parties – removing and counteracting many of the obstacles that would ordinarily get in the way of success.  

Many critical learnings along the way have enriched ABCN’s collective impact and some of these were discussed at It’s Who You Meet with experiences shared by ABCN’s stakeholders. Panellists from member companies and schools discussed the importance of putting aside ego and competition for common good.

Anton Herman, Director of MinterEllison's Pro Bono & Community Investment, and a panellist at It’s Who You Meet, explained that having competing law firms involved in ABCN activities never crossed his mind as a reason not to participate - MinterEllison’s ethos is that a strong network of aligned businesses achieving a collective outcome is more meaningful than competition when it comes to community investment.

Panellists at the symposium also shared their belief that there is a direct correlation between collaboration, relationship longevity and financial security. Genevieve Simson, Principal, Victoria University Secondary College in Melbourne, spoke about the significance of trust and long-term partnerships. ABCN’s membership subscriptions model has meant that her school has been able to participate in ABCN programs year-on-year knowing they are secure, unlike others that are culled due to funding set-backs.

Working collectively within the ABCN framework has given stakeholders confidence - confidence that their investment is well managed and that impact is being made. By reporting on outcomes and impact as a collective, ABCN’s stakeholders understand their contributions relative to the total picture and the end-game everyone is striving for.

Donna Mullins, Associate Director, Corporate Citizenship at KPMG explained at the symposium that ABCN is KMPG’s longest term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) partner – quite an achievement in a landscape where there is great competition for CSR share of wallet.

At ABCN we’ve got collaboration in our DNA and hope more organisations will join us in collaborating to drive and support community change. As we can attest, the effort is well worth the reward and easier than you may think if you have the right structures in place.

Australian Business and Community Network >


Jan. 31, 2017

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