What happens when 4 CEO’s collaborate?

by | Aug 27, 2014 | Poverty: Analysis and Responses, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

featured-image-generic-svdpWhat happens when 4 CEO’s collaborate? The following piece from the Frederick eGazette by the CEO of the Society of of Vincent dePaul offers a nuanced answer. Not much much…and yet so much!

From Your Servant Leader (David  Barringer)- August 21, 2014

Something special happens when a meeting is held in person. Today we can communicate by mail, phone, emails, Twitter, you name it. But to me nothing matches the opportunities that come about when we sit down face to face. It scares me that so many young people think they have friends in people they have never met but believe they know because of social
media. You can’t unplug real friends.

Recently four of us national CEOs met from our Society of St. Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army, Goodwill industries International and Volunteers of America. We came together originally to discuss a common threat (I’ll get to it in a moment) but spent much of our time on building relationships and looking ahead to how we might work together.

What do the four organizations have in common? All four were founded by people of faith, for one thing. (Goodwill was founded by Methodist minister Edgar Helms in Boston.) All have thrift stores in some of their locations. All accept automobile donations.

And all four of us serve the poor. Regrettably, that was not the reason we came together. We met instead because of a perceived threat of more donation boxes popping up all over the country. These boxes are often placed either by for-profit thrift operators and their charity “partners,” or by for-profit recyclers taking advantage of a weak dollar internationally and emerging market demands for clothing. To me, this threat is the same one I have heard since 1993, but I suppose it is new when it comes into your neighborhood or threatens your business.

So we talked about it. I don’t expect any changes. Attempted government laws and regulations, and anti-box marketing, simply don’t work. The only proven way to combat these boxes is to do a better job oneself to collect the goods.

It really didn’t matter why we came together. What’s important is that we now have new relationships. We can each pick up the phone more easily now to commiserate, to complain to and about each other as we see fit, and most especially to look at common objectives and how we might work together. Sure, we compete against each other with our stores and for material donors, and likely we compete for financial donors, too. But more importantly we have some of
the same goals.

We understood quickly that we serve some of the same people. A person in need may come to a Society food bank, for example, then also go the food banks of the Salvation Army and the job training center at Goodwill and the shelter run by Volunteers of America. This means that at 2 least four great organizations encounter that person in poverty, and yet he remains in poverty.

We must do better. We must act differently. And maybe we need to act together.

I’d love to relate to you that we “solved poverty” or that we solved anything that day. We didn’t.

But we began a conversation, and that’s a good start. One I promise to work on in the future on your behalf.

You no doubt have some of these relationships in your community. Yet while we may have a good history of interacting with other groups, clearly we need to do something differently. This, by the way, is part of systemic change – changing our own systems and relationships! All too often what we think of as collaboration is really each agency telling the others what they do independently, sharing some knowledge and maybe even working on a program together while protecting one’s turf. It’s a good start, but numbers are proving that this by itself isn’t working.

The lines for our services are only getting longer. By organizational nature we protect our interests, especially our donors, and we want to protect our staff and volunteers and “our”programs. We now must ask, quite unpopularly I admit, if it isn’t “our” friends who are suffering from our selfishness?

A true systems approach to poverty eradication is more likely to happen on a smaller unit scale such as a community rather than regionally or nationally. Talking past each other in community reports or in public meetings won’t help get this done. We need to be in the same room, talking, sharing, debating, and putting aside personal pet projects for truly effective, systemic community solutions.

The Lord our God could have simply bellowed to everyone from Heaven with thunder and lightning and earthquakes. He, of all, could have acted alone. He instead humbled Himself and came to Earth in the form of Christ Jesus. He then met with others and shared the information that would ultimately save us. He even died for the sake of us all. Certainly through his example we can open our meager hearts and doors to others in mutual service to the poor, and walk our
paths together.

Yours in Christ,
Dave

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