Last year I joined the Collective Impact Summit after completing a Masters in Africa and International Development from the University of Edinburgh. Having lived, studied and worked abroad on and off for the previous three years gaining insights and experience regarding international development initiatives within southern and eastern Africa, I came home feeling disappointed and disheartened by the track record of the field and lost by the complexities of the issues I had faced in both my practical work and my theoretical studies. Frustrations around top-down approaches to community development initiatives; the saturation and overlap of NGO’s working in silos on similar issues within the same regions; the neglect of context-specific, place-based solutions and the proliferation of silver-bullet ideas to ‘save the world’; the privilege and power of the western voice over the strength and wisdom of community actors. It felt as though one could not take a step forward in this field, without taking two steps back.
And then I was introduced to Collective Impact.
Attending the Collective Impact Summit opened my eyes to a way forward that is bathed in optimism and reliant on the mantra that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Collective Impact embraces chaos and complexity and pays respect to the need to include everyone in the process to create change. It beckons us to lead with questions, not answers, and to ready ourselves for the ‘snap-back’ that we will no doubt face when trying to make real, long-lasting change in our communities. The Collective Impact Summit put me in a room, for five days, with people from around the country who are dedicated to looking at social issues in a whole new way – a way that finds clarity in confusion and honesty in the sometimes ugly and messy processes that are needed to truly move the needle and create change.
The Collective Impact Summit washed away my doubts, lifted my pessimism, and left me feeling more inspired than ever to dedicate myself to this work. As my much missed mentor Brenda Zimmerman shared in her presentation at last year’s Summit: “Time is too short and things are too bad for pessimism.”
Here’s to Collective Impact Summit 2015. May it bring you the inspiration and hope that it brought me!