“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Those are the words of Helen Keller. Helen Keller was born deaf and blind, yet went on to become an author and activist. Without working with others, she might have stayed confined in her mind and house like others born without sight and hearing had in the past.
Working together: It’s not as easy as it sounds
What do most organizations working for social change say they want: more collaboration, more coalitions, more joint actions. “There is no one who says they don’t want collaboration,” a human rights lawyer stated. “That would be taboo. After all, we are all civil society organizations trying to get along.”
In this post we list five things that hamper coalitions. Subscribe to the Tip Sheet for more details on how to address these issues.
What prevents working together?
What is the reality? Well it’s a bit messier. It turns out that it’s not so easy to really work together. Coalition building is complicated by a number of factors.
What are the top things that prevent collaboration?
Many people and organizations working for social change are limited by time. Just how much time is there in a day? How much can one person or organization do?
It can be hard to put limits on your time when your dreams of a better world are so big. It’s common for people working for social change to have more work than one person can possibly do. It’s hard to say no when there are so many issues needing addressing.
In this situation it would seem that cooperating with others on a joint project would be an easy yes. After all, it would take the burden off of you and help you meet your goals.
In fact, however, it can seem like one more thing on the to-do list.
2. Who gets the credit?
Another factor that limits organizations and individuals is ego. Yes, ego. Who gets credit for an action can keep organizations from working together.
This is something organizations fret over. “Our members want to hear: hey look at what we were able to accomplish,” a director of a membership-based organization stated. “They don’t respond as well to look at what we were able to accomplish by working with this and that and the other. That’s a harder sell.”
The best way to address this is to remember the ultimate goal. Keep trying to get there as effectively as possible.
It might also be useful to educate members or funders about how important the coalition was in bringing about change.
It’s just so complicated
We like to tell ourselves stories about how great historical changes were made. It’s easier to understand that way. It’s easier to package. In fact, change is complex. It takes many different forces and people.
This can be a complicated issue, because it can affect funding for organizations as well. They want success stories that are easy to communicate. It’s easier to deal with one organization than many.
Remember that change requires an ecosystem.
It may sound odd, but ideals can get in the way. Organizations and individuals may have unrealistic expectations regarding the alignment with their ideals.
It can be as though we are dreaming of that perfect partner who has everything we want: the same concerns, the same mission, the same tactics, the same strategy. Throw in sexy hair and a great singing voice, and you’ve got yourself a deal!
The reality is that change comes when there is pressure from many different sides. Change comes from a variety of strategies.
If our partners were in 100% alignment with us, there would be no need for partners at all. Again: Change requires an ecosystem.
4. Who’s the boss?
Who is in charge anyway? Someone has to take charge of the process. Someone has to guide the collaboration.
5. Keeping the team motivated
Knowing who is in charge does not mean that orders come from the top and work their way down. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Activists do the work because of their passion and sense of justice. It’s important that the connection between those doing the work and those setting the strategy remains intact and vibrant.
This means communication, communication, communication.
What is required for good communication? Good listening skills.