Three years in the making… creating a backbone

by | Sep 15, 2014 | Systemic change

Three years in the making… creating a backbone for systemic change. “What if we changed that model to one where every organization shares mutual goals, collects common data, and communicates collaboratively?” (Ed. Note – what a radical idea! No wonder it took three years!)

A closer look in their own words…

In 2010, following a Vincentian Family Gathering in Belleville, Illinois, people from 15 Vincentian-affiliated organizations in Germantown met to answer the question “so what now?” In the time since, a committed group of representatives from several of these organizations collected neighborhood demographic data for a needs assessment, conducted community interviews, and created a steering committee to identify potential areas for programming. The steering committee is currently composed of 7 representatives that work on a volunteer basis. This group decided there was a need to create a backbone organization to coordinate services among the member organizations in order to create collective impact and, ultimately, systemic change.

Germantown Systemic Change Initiative

What is GSCI?

The Germantown Systemic Change Initiative (GSCI) is a project aimed at improving the lives of the vulnerable citizens of Germantown and building meaningful collaboration among community-based organizations.

What is Collective Impact?

Many non-profit organizations attempt to influence a complex problem by addressing individual elements of the problem, like providing food, clothing, or shelter in order to make an impact on poverty. While this approach is a necessary part of impacting poverty, it is not the only approach needed. Other organizations may provide housing solutions, or job training or educational services. All are important and necessary. What if we changed that model to one where every organization shares mutual goals, collects common data, and communicates collaboratively? For a further explanation about collective impact please reference the following short video:

What is Systemic Change?

A system is a whole; a unified composite of things that work together. In order to change a system, we have to impact all of the different levels of the system in a coordinated, collaborative manner. Criteria for systemic change projects include sustainability, replicability and innovation.

Why Germantown?

Over 21,000 people in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood suffer from poverty. This new initiative seeks to enable these residents to move themselves beyond the structures that trap them in poverty’s extremely vicious cycle. We are building a system of collaboration and collective impact among service providers in the Germantown area in order to increase educational, housing, and employment opportunities. These organizations have signed memorandums of understanding to participate in the initiative.

Aren’t these organizations already doing this work?

Yes! Great works are being done in our community. But there are gaps in services and resources that can be shared to have greater impact. GSCI serves as a backbone structure to facilitate the common agenda, build a shared measurement system between organizations, promote mutually reinforcing activities, and provide continuous communication as we look to improve outcomes for everyone. Immediate assistance to the poor and systemic change projects are not either/or prospects – they must exist together to create change.

Why measure impact?

Along with creating an environment for collective impact in Germantown, GSCI works with individual organizations to create ways to measure their impact in the community and on the lives of their clients. Demonstrating performance and effectiveness is becoming necessary in the social sector to communicate to funders, stakeholders, beneficiaries, and the community at-large. GSCI helps organizations not only measure impact, but also create service-delivery models to replicate what is working.

Where do we go from here?

Unique to the GSCI collective impact model, efforts are focused on affecting systems at the resident, organizational, and community levels. Our goal is for 2,000 people in Germantown to move beyond the experience of poverty by 2020, changing the systems and structures in which they live.

GSCI is in the midst of a three-year startup phase, creating the necessary conditions for collective impact, building partnerships, and onboarding organizations to measure impact and performance. Michael Clark has been hired as the Executive Director and is moving the project forward. GSCI has been designed as a lean organization that provides extraordinary leverage of financial resources.