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Collaboration Is The New Black

3765555_300Talia Milgrom-Elcott, Carnegie Corporation of New York… “In the last eleven months, Harvard Business Review has featured a special collection on collaboration, with more than two dozen articles, published a book with the ten top “must-reads” on the subject, and highlighted the topic in at least three other posts and articles. Fast Company just posted a piece entitled “Is Competition Killing Your Productivity?” And Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) has published more articles on collaboration than can be listed here.” Read on, however, to discover a case for collaboration as much more than the fashion of the day; it’s a force for deliberate, large-scale action.

As a funder, I can say with humility that, though our sector talks a good game about promoting collaboration, almost all of the incentives run against it. To get funding, you are routinely asked to explain how your program has led to specific, measurable outcomes—and more power to you if you have a randomized control trial that isolates your intervention as the single reason for the results. Attribution, not contribution, is the coin of the realm. Dollars follow it, as do press and praise.

I’ve been thinking a lot about collaboration lately. As part of my portfolio at Carnegie Corporation of New York, I am leading an effort that’s taking a page from collective impact and experimenting with how to deliver on the promise of collaboration. Called 100Kin10, it’s a networked response to President Obama’s State of the Union call to recruit 100,000 excellent science, technology, engineering, and math teachers over the decade beginning in 2011.

100Kin10 is a vehicle for organizations to take action on this challenge based on their unique assets and resources, collaborate so that they could do more and better than what they could have done alone, and jointly contribute to an effort that would require all of their individual contributions to succeed. It now includes more than 150 organizations, each one vetted for the quality and boldness of its commitment to action and the leadership and organizational capacity it will devote to the cause. Partners include corporations, school districts, universities, museums, nonprofits, federal agencies, governors, and others. Included in those are 26 funders who have together pledged more than $52 million to support one or more of the partner organizations for their STEM teaching work.

Focusing the country on a big challenge and inspiring diverse organizations to make discrete commitments to solving it is a big part of 100Kin10’s purpose. But the greatest strength in the design of the network lies in the opportunities for collaboration: Alongside the grants from funders, 100Kin10 offers quick, small grants to cover travel and related costs so that partners can visit each other and learn from successes and failures. When we host events, we couple them with “open labs,” opportunities for partners to throw open the doors of their classrooms, laboratories, exhibits or boardrooms to each other for learning and sparking connections.

If, as a result of this, two or more partners want to bite off and collaboratively solve a shared problem, we make slightly larger pots of cash available. These all together have cost less than $100,000 this past year, but they have yielded dividends of more than $1 million in support from other funders. And most recently, 100Kin10 has started to identify shared problems and bring partners together to co-design and procure solutions, creating mini-economies of scale for common problems. In the first such experiment, more than 40 partners helped craft a request to creative agencies to create materials and strategy to recruit more STEM undergraduates into teaching. Alongside this, we’ve invested mightily in R&D to benefit both individual organizations and the field, most recently with the co-design of shared measures that will enable confidential data collection and spur learning.

100Kin10 is still a fledgling effort, barely two years in existence. Despite these early successes, whether it can continue to motivate organizations to hitch their wagons to its call and do their work differently is still to be proven. What do you think it will take to succeed, and what, aside from 100,000 new, excellent STEM teachers, do you think success should look like?

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