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Yes we can. But we can’t do it alone.

By David Swardlick for the greaterthan > conference, August, 2009

Few would disagree that we face urgent, complex and compelling challenges in society,
in our communities, around the world, and throughout our entire ecosystem.

But after two days at the inaugural greaterthan > conference in the historic, coastal city
of Portland, Maine, a powerful sense of optimism and inspiration prevailed. While by no
means without recognition for the stark reality of the clock ticking toward confrontation
with countless, at times overwhelming, problems, the sense of positive energy,
determination and encouragement shone through.

The theme of the urgency of time was ever-present. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Maine’s
former governor, Angus King, brought perspective in his morning address, "The dogmas
of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high
with difficulty, and we must rise – with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think
anew, and act anew."

King, in the spirit of cross-sector collaboration, personally exemplifies leadership across


the sectors – as a successful business entrepreneur, a highly popular elected official, an
engaged leader on countless nonprofit boards, and as a teacher of leadership at Bowdoin
College. He raised the issue of creativity and suggested that perhaps we will look back
and see these times as “the Age of Innovation, Creativity and Connection.” King added,
“We must create a culture of creativity.”

Brian Dumaine, Fortune magazine’s Global Editor, kicked-off what would be a rich,
densely packed, two-day agenda, by introducing four leaders whose organizations – City
Year, Comcast, Green For All, and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs –
are answering what was billed as “A Call for a New Era of Partnership and
Collaboration.”

Michael Brown, CEO and Co-Founder of City Year said, “It’s time for serious people to
come together, to do big things. But we can’t do it alone.”

The urgency of time and the need for innovation and collaboration – these were key
themes that ran through greaterthan >. There was a very clear and powerful message,
heard over and again throughout the conference: “We can do it – but we can’t do it alone.”

Leaders from all four sectors – business, nonprofit, government and academic – echoed
these themes. David Cohen, Executive Vice President at Comcast said, “I see an expansive
future for the kind of cross-sectoral partnerships greaterthan is all about.” But directing
his words toward corporate leaders he added, "Corporations should come down from the
skyboxes and get down on the field."

Citing many inspiring examples of people and organizations committing to public service
and working for the common good, Michael Brown suggested, “Americans are ready to
answer the call to active citizenship, but scale and impact are the next great challenge.”

As was said in the opening words of the greaterthan > conference, the challenges are too
big and too complex for any one sector, let alone any one organization, to address. One
who brought numerous organizations together in a time of crisis and disaster is Chuck
Banks, former State Director for Rural Development, USDA, (Kansas). In the wake of
the May 2007 tornado that destroyed 95% of Greensburg, KS, Banks used a model of
partnership and collaboration that he contends can be applied to countless challenges.

In the words of Chuck Banks, “We have to be willing to think out of the box. We can’t
have blinders on. We have to know how to modify plans, and take risks.” Banks added,
“These are key skills for success.” Banks has been called the “architect of the Greensburg
Recovery” – a plan that is coming to fruition as Greensburg becomes America’s first,
master-planned green city. This inspiring story was shared at greaterthan >.

The scope of opportunities for powerful, innovative new approaches is global, as


evidenced in the presentation by Randall Kempner, Executive Director of the Aspen
Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), an affiliate of the Aspen Institute.
Dozens of previously disconnected charitable foundations and technical service
organizations are now collaborating through the efforts of ANDE. By coordinating and
focusing resources, there will be an acceleration of support for the vital contributions of
“small and growing businesses (SGBs)” to creating sustainable communities in
developing regions around the world.

The difficult work of organizations actually implementing productive and enduring


partnerships was a major topic at greaterthan >. Key issues related not only to the
motivations for partnership, but such serious impediments as the core values and the
cultures of organizations, plus the complexities of multiple owners, varied interests of
stakeholder groups, and legal and financial considerations. Over the two days of the
conference, each of these concerns emerged, along with numerous case studies and
strategies, and “how-tos” for addressing the well-acknowledged difficulties associated
with successful collaboration.

Melissa Bradley-Burns, Senior Strategist at Green For All, shared the pressures of
balancing the need to work with major, corporate partners, along with the commitment to
upholding value systems and principles. She said about an offer of partnership with one
of America’s corporate giants, “Don’t just show me the money!”

In reconciling how nonprofits and NGOs can effectively work with corporations with
whom they may, perhaps, not fully agree in terms of values or policies, Bradley-Burns’
examples of engagement suggested finding ways of making progress together. Building
trust and understanding – step-by-step.

More than once at greaterthan >, Charles Darwin’s famous words were cited, "In the long
history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and
improvise most effectively have prevailed."

The Alignment of Values

The alignment or misalignment of core values in potential partner organizations was a


matter of deep discussion at greaterthan >. A group of academic leaders put forth far-
reaching perspectives on the evolution of corporate structures, missions and values – all
contributing to the motivations for, and ability to succeed with, partnerships to address
issues outside of traditional, core business concerns.

The motivation to initiate partnerships and collaboration need not come only from the C-
Suite. In the words of Sandra King, of Bentley University, a respected leader in the field
of academic marketing and veteran of numerous cross-sector partnerships suggested,
“Motivation for partnership doesn't have to come only from the top. It can come from
anywhere in the organization.”

Why are businesses reaching beyond the day-to-day work of making and selling better
products and maximizing shareholder wealth? This sort of question was implicit in many
presentations, panel discussions and audience questions and comments at greaterthan >.

Raj Sisodia, author of the recent book, Firms of Endearment: How World-Class
Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, made the assertion that companies whose
mission goes beyond shareholder wealth – focusing fully on bringing value to the full
spectrum of stakeholders – have actually outperformed the market in financial terms.
Companies that exemplify what Sisodia and others are calling the “Conscious
Capitalism” movement are defining their missions and values to make their larger
purpose for existence very clear. Citing the example of Whole Foods, Sisodia said, “John
Mackey wanted to build a company based on love, not on fear.” Such “Firms of
Endearment” are actually loved by their customers.

Another example of a successful corporation that has transcended the old model of a
single-minded mission focused solely shareholder return was referenced Michael Brown
of City Year. “Timerberland, City Year’s longest-term corporate partner,” says Brown,
“was built on Boots, Brand and Beliefs.”

As Babson College’s Mark Albion – author of More Than Money – said, “For business,
there should be only one bottom line, social and economic value (together).”

The structures, values and missions of corporations were the subject of a presentation on
Sustainable Enterprise by Sandra Waddock of Boston College. She suggested that major
changes will be required in the way businesses operate to address global challenges,
particularly in terms of environmental sustainability. Waddock proclaimed, “The
population of world has quadrupled in the past 100 years. We’ll need more than tinkering
to achieve sustainability.”

Waddock also mentioned “B-Corporations” as an innovative evolution of the structure,


function and commitments of corporations. Bart Houlahan, Co-Founder of B Lab and the
B-Corporation designation, led a panel of three innovative B-Corp companies. In
defining the essence of those companies seeking a clear identification with a higher
purpose Houlahan said, “B-Corp certification is for those whose business and social
missions are one in the same.”

At an entertaining and energizing luncheon address, Joe Sibilia, CEO of Meadowbrook


Lane Capital and president of CSRwire, summed up one of the key issues that will either
forever be the impediment to full corporate engagement in social and environmental
issues, or will someday allow and encourage the prioritization and acceleration of the
application of corporate resources into efforts for the common good. Point blank, Sibilia
said, "The way business accounts for value is outmoded."

Constructing and Managing Partnerships To Achieve Strategic Results

Over the two days of the greaterthan > conference, operational partnerships between two,
three and multiple organizations, working across sectors, became the focus of discussion.
Recognizing the difficulty of organizations coming together, staying together and
producing meaningful results, Co-Founder of The Rhythm of Business, Inc., a
consultancy in the field of managing complex organizational collaborations, Jeff Shuman
said, with a bit of “tongue in cheek,” “If you can do it alone, don’t bother to collaborate.
It takes too much time. But it’s clear, some things just can’t be done alone.”

Shuman, who is also a management professor at Bentley University, defined


collaboration as, “a purposeful way of working that leverages the resources of each party
for the benefit of all.” He suggested that, too often, you hear what he called, “the radio
station heard around the world – WIIFM – What’s In It For Me!” Mutual benefit and
achieving highly valued, common objectives are essential. Shuman added, “It’s hard
enough managing the work of the collaboration, but you also have to manage the
collaboration.”

Two experts in the field known as “Cause Marketing,” – Ed Chansky of the international
law firm, Greenbergy, Traurig, and David Hessekiel, Founder of the Cause Marketing
Forum – led a discussion of the operational, legal, an ethical issues involved in bringing
companies and nonprofits together to engage consumers in fundraising for causes and
issues in the public interest.

Building Leadership Capacity and Taking Initiative

As several at greaterthan > cited, “Trust is the glue that holds collaborations together.”
And, along with building trust, another core theme that ran through the greaterthan >
conference was leadership. In several fascinating presentations and panel discussions,
corporate executives and nonprofit executive directors shared approaches to the
development of leadership strategies to foster change.

The Institute for Civic Leadership, a Maine-based nonprofit, has been working for 15
years to help build regional leadership capacity by engaging corporate leaders where their
personal passions lie. Through an intensive program of skill-building and corporate-civic
program matching, companies such as those on a greaterthan > panel – L.L.Bean, Unum
and Fairchild Semiconductor – are providing a new echelon of engaged and capable
professionals to work in partnership with nonprofit organizations to fulfill communities’
vital needs.

In similar fashion, another organization that for 40 years has been helping to increase
leaders’ “capacity to collaborate” is Interaction Associates, and their affiliate, the
Institute for Social Change. These partner firms presented deep program offerings to help
accelerate the development and refinement of personal and professional skills vital for
planning and managing effective partnerships and collaborative efforts. In one such
program, called the “Accelerator Expedition,” to take place in the rainforest of Ecuador
in October of 2009 – offered with first priority to attendees of the greaterthan >
conference – will combine (in the words of the program directors), a unique immersion
experience that combines accelerated leadership development with deep learning
in sustainability, facilitated by experts in both fields: Interaction Associates and the
Pachamama Alliance. It promises to be leadership immersion experience geared to global
change.

In an additional demonstration of the rapid expansion of mission and purpose of


corporations, and the increasing ease of movement across traditional lines of business and
nonprofit realms, a panel of three organizations shared their proactive agendas for change
to help achieve environmental sustainability.

Timberland, already cited as a role-model company for its boundary-breaking approach


to stakeholder issues, presented a great example of what might be called, “co-opetition”
or the willingness to engage cooperatively with competitors in their industry to address
complex challenges. Betsey Blaisdell, Manager of Environmental Stewardship at
Timberland, talked about a far-reaching initiative related to industry practices in the
procurement of leather to solve serious sustainability concerns.

Wood Turner, Executive Director of Climate Counts and Terry Kellogg, Chief Executive
Officer of 1% For The Planet, described the creation of nonprofit organizations to fulfill,
and dramatically extend, the deep commitments of their corporate founders and
collaborators.

Climate Counts, founded and supported by Stonyfield Farm, “scores” the world's largest
companies on their climate impact to “spur corporate climate responsibility and
conscious consumption.” And, 1% For The Planet, affiliated with Patagonia, is a growing
network of over 1,200 companies that have committed to contributing 1% of their sales to
nearly 1,800 environmental organizations worldwide.

Sustainability: The Issue Driving Change

Sustainability was “teed up” as one of the key issues driving new models of partnership
and collaboration at greaterthan > because of the inherently interdisciplinary and cross-
sectoral nature of the stakeholders and “actors” involved. A number of specific case
studies relating to global and regional environmental initiatives involving corporate,
nonprofit and government partners were shared by academic leader Jon Fink of Arizona
State University, who has served as Director of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

Providing specific insights into the operational issues relating to several recent initiatives
and partnerships, Maurice Bechard of JohnsonDiversey and chairman of the Global
Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI), and Jason Mathers of the Environmental
Defense Fund (EDF), presented “lessons learned” from case studies contained in the
Guide to Successful Corporate-NGO Partnerships, recently published by EDF and
GEMI.

Living Locally, Acting Globally

As an added feature at greaterthan >, a spotlight was pointed upon several small, but
inspiring, social enterprises either started by, or actively engaging, young adults working
to make a difference in the world. Three such locally based, but globally focused
organizations receiving special attention were, Working Villages International, with
headquarters in Topsham, Maine, building a sustainable village in the Democratic
Republic of Congo; the Tanzanian Children’s Fund, based in Portland, Maine, operating
an orphanage, an organic farm, and a microfinance program in the Rift Valley region of
northern Tanzania; and also, Safe Passage, a Yarmouth, Maine, based nonprofit that
works with the poorest children and families who have been living off of the Guatemala
City garbage dump.

Finally, a special preview presentation by Bangor Savings Bank, featuring a soon-to-be-


released, feature-length documentary about the heartwarming and inspiring work of the
“troop greeters” who welcome soldiers and marines back from Iraq and Afghanistan –
often in the middle of the night – when their transport flights first touch down on U.S.
soil at Bangor International Airport. The film is called, The Way We Get By.

The brief presentations and displays by these organizations, along with the documentary
preview, helped bring to life the interconnectedness of our local, national and regional
actions and concerns. And, they illustrated what individuals and smaller organizations
can do by reaching out to partner with others, sometimes across continents and oceans.
Activating the greaterthan > Community

In a closing presentation, followed by a roundtable and conference-wide, open


discussion, talk was of “activating” the greaterthan > community. Many expressed hope
that this forum for bringing representatives of the four sectors together will continue and
grow. A preview was made of a new web-based facility that will soon help connect
organizations and individuals with offers of resources, descriptions of shared needs, and
indications of willingness and commitment to be a resource to others, to work in common
purpose.

Based on feedback from numerous conference attendees and speakers, greaterthan > was
a timely, inspiring and important gathering. With such powerful and positive feedback, it
is very likely that greaterthan > will schedule one or more events over the year ahead and
dates are being explored for the second, annual greaterthan > conference, quite possibly
returning to the beautiful Coast of Maine.

Copyright 2009, greaterthan, llc