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A call for collaborative solutions

Since 2007, The Home Depot Foundation has invested more than $3 million in 200 of Atlanta’s highest-performing nonprofits through its Building Community Network (BCN). Presented in partnership with GCN, the program strengthens organizations by building peer networks, providing information and resources on pertinent trends, and investing in vital operational support.

In 2014, BCN began a strategic shift towards nonprofit collaborations, aiming to amplify community impact by leveraging Design Thinking, a proven method for crafting creative solutions to difficult problems. This intensive process employs active exploration, ideation, prototyping, and testing. Critical to the process is distilling the challenge at hand into a single, provocative “How might we…?” design question that prompts out-of-the-box thinking and spurs innovation.

The BCN team began by asking its own design question: How might we catalyze collaborative action among Atlanta’s top nonprofit organizations? Last year, BCN piloted a collaborative design grant process in which the Foundation put forth nearly $300,000 to fund the initiatives of six nonprofit teams. The project has since expanded with a “speed dating” event to help nonprofits spark potential collaborative ideas, and a June Design Thinking workshop helping 40 new teams turn their ideas into solution prototypes. This fall, those teams will have the opportunity to compete for funding through The Home Depot Foundation’s 2016 Collaborative Design Challenge.

The team began by asking its own design question: How might we catalyze collaborative action among Atlanta’s top nonprofit organizations? 

At a May panel discussion, representatives from some of the six original collaborative teams reflected on the Design Thinking experience, reported on their progress in developing and structuring joint initiatives, and shared on-the-ground insight about the work of collaboration-building. “The Home Depot Foundation is proud to provide seed funding and the opportunity for these innovative collaborations to grow and thrive into epicenters of collective impact.” said Catherine Stodola, Atlanta Giving, The Home Depot Foundation. “We believe strongly in the collaborative atmosphere of Atlanta’s nonprofit community, and are honored to have hosted and partnered with the organizations in Building Community Network over the past decade.”

How might we…?

Six pairs of Building Community Network organizations have projects underway, with more to come. In brief, here are their design challenges, collaborative solutions, and some on-the-ground insight about the work involved in putting them together:

How might we fill gaps in sex trafficking services for LGBTQ youth? 

This collaborative solution pairs youthSpark’s new Youth Services Center with Georgia Equality’s Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth, using case management to connect sexually-exploited LGBTQ youth with a wide range of services, and training to teach service providers how to modify existing programs to meet these youths’ unique needs.

“Our partnership is founded on a shared vision—to enhance access to services for an oft-overlooked segment of trafficking victims. By keeping our focus on the outcomes associated with achieving that shared vision, we’re able to work as a single team despite being in different organizations.” —Alex Trouteaud, Ph.D., Executive Director, youthSpark

How might we increase employment opportunities for homeless individuals?

This collaborative solution led to a formal partnership between Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency and City of Refuge to enhance vocational training in culinary and auto tech fields with life skills instruction and hands-on experience.

“Both of our agencies share a mission of transformation and self-sufficiency for those who are homeless and living in poverty. Our partnership has worked well because it builds on the strengths of each agency and reduces the need to duplicate programs and services.” —Dana Johnson, President and CEO, Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency

How might we provide meaningful work for disabled adults?

Truly Living Well Center and the Frazer Center have designed a cooperative program, “Soul to Soil,” combining urban agriculture with pre-vocational training for adults with disabilities, aiming to plant hope, grow abilities, and harvest opportunity.” Training leads to employment and supports a social enterprise selling naturally- and organically-grown produce.

Gardening is a metaphor for building good partnerships. Breaking new ground to sow seed requires commitment and hard work. Each partner must invest time and resources to cultivate the relationship. In the end, the harvest yields far more than the seed.” —Carol Hunter, Chief Administrative Officer, Truly Living Well 

How might we enrich the summer camping experience of children with disabilities and health challenges through dance?

Camp Twin Lakes and Atlanta Ballet are collaborating to introduce a new dance program for the 2,500 campers served by Camp Twin Lakes at their Rutledge campsite. Debuting in summer 2016, a ballet instructor has joined specially-trained camp staff to create dance classes tailored to individual camper needs, based on their level of mobility and other differences. Campers are also educated in nutrition and healthy body-image awareness.

The art of dance provides something special, as a form of expression and as development for the mind and body. Even though camp has just begun, early indications show that this dance program is extremely beneficial to the students. Both partners have made a multi-year commitment in order to fully realize the potential and learn from the experience.” —Sharon Story, Centre for Dance Education Dean, Atlanta Ballet

How might we provide support to help overcome the trauma of homelessness?

To empower individuals with the hope they need to move forward in changing their circumstances, CHRIS Kids therapists offer individual counseling and a weekly support group for the residents of Rainbow Village, a transitional housing community for homeless families with children.

“Working together has enabled us to empower these individuals with the hope they need to move forward in changing their circumstances.” —Violetta Ardoin, Chief Programs Officer, Rainbow Village

How might we work together to improve the high school graduation rate for low-performing school clusters throughout Georgia?

Leveraging Future Foundation’s afterschool program and Communities In Schools of Atlanta’s case management expertise, this collaborative model was piloted in a south Atlanta community to target students in grades 8 to 12 at risk of dropping out, providing them with coordinated, comprehensive support to help them envision a successful future. Beginning engagement in middle school prevents students from dropping out in 9th grade, the most risky year, putting them on the path to graduate and matriculate to post-secondary education and employment.

“Creating system-level change takes time, in-depth evaluation of outcomes and operational process, and the development of a strong communication plan. Collaborative work pushes organizations to think through and evolve their models to better account for dynamic environmental factors.” —Brittany Gray, Director of Planning and Strategic Initiatives, Future Foundation

Betsy Reid is Vice President, Marketing and Comunications, at GCN.

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