By Nikki Sauber, Impact and Investment Manager
Last year, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house and volunteered to provide the turkey for the meal. The gathering was potluck-style, and as each guest arrived I watched my dinner table fill up with vats of potatoes, heaping casseroles and giant side dishes. By the time the 16-lb. turkey was ready, there was barely any room to put it on the table. I was overwhelmed by the quantity of food on the table. What were we going to do with all that turkey?!?
It wasn’t until I started pulling out dessert plates that I realized how much food our party had consumed. Most serving dishes were scraped clean, and little more than a carcass was left of the 16-lb. bird. I was relieved. Together, we had conquered the Thanksgiving feast.
It may sound silly, but sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the size of a project or the scope of an issue in our community, I recall last Thanksgiving and think to myself: You don’t have to eat the whole turkey. Albeit a poor analogy, a daunting Thanksgiving feast has a few things in common with a complex community issue:
1. Many people/parties contributed to the creation of it.
2. It is heavy and can make you sick if you try to conquer it by yourself.
3. Many people/parties must be involved to help make it go away.
Each member of my Thanksgiving party committed to do their part toward the shared goal of making the meal disappear. And in Collective Impact, community members and organizations commit to doing their parts toward a shared goal of positive change.
This approach works. I was moved to read some examples in a recent report by ORS Impact and Spark Policy Institute of how Collective Impact initiatives in communities across the country have contributed to long-lasting, population-level change. In Milwaukee, WI teen birth rates among girls aged 15 to 17 were reduced due to collaborative systems changes, such as modified sexuality education classes in schools and increased access to contraceptives. In Colorado, new public awareness campaigns, provider educator efforts and increased access to Naloxone are some of the efforts that have led to decreases in overdose deaths from prescription opioids.
In these examples and others, it’s clear that “big” changes only come about as a result of focused, tenacious, unified “small” efforts.
That’s why I’m so grateful to work with our community’s human services agencies, who are all doing their part to create change in the face of large, complex issues. That’s also why I’m so grateful to have lots of friends and family members with big appetites. I don’t have to eat the whole turkey.