Community-Driven Innovation with Collective Impact | Kevin Sweeney | TEDxWPI

welcome everybody my my name is Kevin Sweeney and I'm gonna be talking a little bit today about hopefully an intersection for a lot of you because many of you are thinking about the projects that you're going to be working on if you've already worked on projects or you're thinking about projects at WPI and I want to talk to you a little bit about it in the context of a broader change and broader impact we use that word a lot the word impact to try to describe where we might go in terms of impacting lives impacting communities and today I want to talk to you about how you as as students actually have probably the most original and exciting opportunity to impact people's lives through the project learning model that we use here at WPI but in a way that I think is going to be very unique in the context of a larger movement to affect what's called collective impact so I'm going to talk to you first of all what is collective impact Collective impact is a concept that's actually not a new one in terms of action but it's a new one in terms of the way it's been defined collective impact is something that mark Kramer and John Kenya both wrote about in 2011 in an article called Collective impact in which they described what is really one of the challenges of making things happen relative to the most pressing social issues of the day and that is trying to get the private sector the public sector the for-profits and the nonprofits to actually get together in a unified way to solve problems that we challenge that challenge us every day and the view of collective impact is much like these light bulbs the notion that many people many organizations many individuals work on their individual areas in their own individual silos to try to find innovative ways to solve problems but sometimes what happens is that they because they're so focused on their own solutions aren't able to figure out how to solve the bigger problems together and what I've observed here at WPI and have really had the pleasure of seeing in action is that our project-based learning to some degree may be the magic bullet that allows us to as individuals and in us students to really help those organizations that often struggle to figure out how to solve problems help them solve problems not just on your individual projects but in terms of solving project problems that are that are community-wide worldwide and global there are actually five conditions to what we mean to successful collective impact so canny and Kramer talked about these I and they really do make sense when you hear them and they're sort of intuitive and what I'm going to be doing is just try to describe how they come together and how they fit with you the first is common agenda now that's that seems kind of obvious yeah if I'm going to work on a project if I'm going to make something happen if I want to be able to do for example the things that we do here at WPI like bring mentorship programs to the orphans in Morocco or to bring sustainable innovations to communities in shanty towns in Cape Town or if we want to think about the kinds of projects that we work on throughout the community worldwide we recognize we need to know how to do it and we need to do it all with a common vision but the problem that you run into in terms of a common agenda is that typically what we end up with is governmental entities have a particular way of doing things for-profit organizations have a particular way of doing things individual community members have a particular way that they want to see things happen and what you end up struggling with is a community where sometimes we go off in our own different directions what I've observed in terms of students and projects and I'm gonna give you some tangible examples is that what you do as students and we've heard this theme today several times as part of a project-based learning as you ask questions instead of talking you think instead of reacting you become part of the conversation not by saying this is the way it ought to be done but by trying to figure out how it ought to be done with the people in the community and to me that is what allows people to have a conversation about what is it we really believe is our common agenda what are we trying to accomplish together so the first phase the first piece we need to think about is this common agenda the second is and this is going to start and I am a business professor I'm actually a finance professor so I think in terms of numbers but numbers ultimately come from the basis of measuring things collectively and I think as as a university dedicated to stem a University where we have scientists who think in terms of measurement we understand that an agenda without outcomes is no more than an agenda or a strategy without execution and so the next critical phase in terms of getting these varied constituencies together to think about a complex solution to a problem say the use of water worldwide or to fight hunger worldwide or to deal with sustainable environmental issues is to make sure that we not only know that we're on the same page in terms of what we want to do but we're on the same page in terms of how we've how we value and measure our effectiveness and in in getting those things done so Kenya and Kramer definitely emphasize that that is an absolutely important activity what it does is that allows you to have a conversation a dialogue in which you actually are able to say to one another a we know what we're about and B we know what we want to achieve but more important we weren't going to get in each other's way either so the third condition that's very important in terms of the concept of collective impact is mutually reinforcing activities the notion that if I do something I have to recognize there are things that are important to you so if I'm part of a nonprofit organization and I want to be able to support my constituents and my nonprofit organization I have to be aware that maybe us students have some different needs some different expectations or you as business people have different needs or different expectations and I have to figure out where we can be helpful and reinforce success for each of our respective sets of needs so mutually reinforcing activities is important and then continuous communication this isn't something you start with on day one and then say here's our agenda here's how we're gonna measure and we don't continue the discussion you figure out how we can continue to work together and then finally and perhaps most important and where I see project-based education playing the most critical role is you need backbone organizations backbone organizations in terms of social change in terms of social impact our organizations that don't have a single agenda they have the agenda of the group as a whole together so in the theory in the sort of published theory the idea is we should have somebody who's essentially a neutral player sitting at the table asking good questions making sure we're measuring making sure we on stand with the agenda is and making sure people are essentially playing together well working together thinking about those mutually reinforcing activities I believe that fundamentally whoops and I've just shut out I think fundamentally that the idea of collective impact actually does work and I'm going to give you a case study one that I actually had an opportunity to live and then I'm going to give you a case study that involves students here today working on a problem the first of the examples I'm going to give you is one that involves a tornado that hit this region in 2011 on June 1st 2011 in western Massachusetts that started in western Massachusetts out in West Springfield Massachusetts a tornado traveled 39 miles out to South Bridge now first of all you have to understand that in Massachusetts the notion of a tornado is kind of a foreign concept yes we all know from this winter that blizzards are a regular part of life maybe even hurricanes but the notion of a tornado that actually is devastating is a completely different concept this tornado the hit took four lives and it destroyed countless communities between West Springfield and Southbridge and specifically impacted a large city west of here which is very much like Worcester Springfield Massachusetts Springfield is about the same population and we've heard today about a lot of the challenges associated with Worcester plus the opportunities in Worcester and in Springfield there was a challenge of a tornado that touched down in the heart of the downtown I actually happened to have been there when it touched down I was sitting about a block away from the tornado had a bottled water that had I had just drunk that proceeded to shrink inward in my car because you could feel the pressure drop you had this sense that the world was changing very drastically in fact it did in the city of Springfield we lost what was essentially an entire portion of the downtown entire buildings were destroyed and then it continued on it hit months and it hit where it hit through into Sturbridge and and Brimfield and then came out to South Bridge the city of Springfield like Worcester is a city that has its challenges it had its challenges before there was a tornado and in fact has had challenges since it had an explosion quite a year later after the tornado that blew up another part of the city because of a gas leak not the best luck in the world but what happened coming out of the tornado is one of two things could have happened a city that struggled could have continued to struggle a city that struggled could have just seen another area sort of plowed under but this time by nature or the community could have come together and this is where the difference occurred in the city of Springfield the community came together and said we will apply the principles that are essentially what I just described in terms of collective impact first they went out and realized that there are a lots of people lots of organizations lots of constituencies who come together whenever you have a catastrophe like this so there's the federal government there's the state government there's local government they realized that there were communities of nonprofits who were impacted in fact square one which provides some of the primary day-to-day pre-kindergarten support for children in the in the city of Springfield particularly poor children had lost its entire headquarters and lost all of its capacity to support the children in the community they knew that there was going to be impact in terms of communities in the neighborhoods and in fact whole streets were ripped up there's an area called central street where every home on the street was gone and so what they did is they recognized that the only way you could make something better was not just to say how do we rebuild but how do we revitalize so rebuild Springfield the concept which was to bring people together to think about how do you revitalize the city that has has it has had its series of challenges became a new mission for not only the city but the people in the city of Springfield 3,000 people came together in different working groups 3,000 people started brainstorming about what could the city of Springfield look like after the tornado not look like in terms of just getting it back to where it was before the tornado but get it to a place that's special unique exciting in many of the ways that the challenges that Worcester and many cities in New England wrestle with and so what they did is they pulled together all of the key constituencies they developed a common agenda around what will and what won't work and then they developed a set of measurements to figure out what would and wouldn't happen in terms of both the dollars that were needed but time frames the skills needed to actually rebuild the community and more important they had to be sure that the diverse populations in the city of Springfield which is a diverse city a city that is comprised of of many different cultures a large Latino population a large african-american population a large Vietnamese population make sure that the the cultures were fully respected as the process continued and so from that I was able to actually for a period work closely with an organization called develop Springfield develop Springfield is a nonprofit organization that develops properties in a way that other organizations that are trying to make money can't or won't because they can't make the kinds of returns they would expect and develop Springfield's became the backbone organization for getting this done and so as a model we've seen just west of here by 40 miles an operation that actually worked in terms of implementing the concept of of collective impact and we are we've seen new buildings new neighborhoods Central Street has actually fully developed itself out to new homes so I've seen in sort of working scenarios where this happens well what does that have to do with project-based learning project-based learning by definition is the place where I think universities like WPI and students like you can have an enormous impact on operations like rebuild Springfield essentially if you think about the five conditions and you think about the need for communication you the need for an agenda the need for reinforcing activities and most important when you think about the idea of backbone you have to think about what can we do to have an impact to students as members of this academic community in a state where interestingly the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a state were the only state in the United States where we have a constitution that says education is not only a right but it's part of what makes society work and we've proven that here W at WPI Laurie lechon the president of WPI has said that she wants to see a global reach and impact an impact that's the critical word in communities locally nationally and worldwide coming from the activities that we undertake in on the project base on a project basis but there's something very special about projects something very unique about the project model at WPI at WPI whether you're doing an IQ P an M Q P all of the different qualifying projects it's that there are students who take the lead faculty our role is just to sort of sit back and let you be successful your job is to actually make things happen and I think to some degree we see that again and again from project to project students making a difference students asking the right questions students doing the right things to figure out solutions to problems whether they're problems here in our own backyard in western Massachusetts central Massachusetts or in Boston or whether we're talking about problems in Africa in Asia problems in Europe problems elsewhere in North America so the the the interesting element that I have observed and I'm now going to share with you and sort of close with this is that students do something that nobody else can do I said that in collective impact we talked about the idea that there needs to be this notion of a backbone somebody who is willing to listen someone who is willing to be neutral and not be affected by the politics of the community and I've been able to see it in action here in this school in a cross cross school collaboration on a project that I'm very excited about in the Pioneer Valley so develop Springfield the organization that I talked to you about before now that they're getting out of the issue of dealing with the tornado they're thinking about other problems that exist in Springfield and Springfield is a poor community Springfield has its challenges and one of its challenges is that it has a food desert and for those of you who may not know what a food desert is a food desert is an area often in urban communities where people do not have access to healthy foods largely because supermarkets are unable to be profitable in those communities they cannot sustain themselves so when we come back to some of the conversations earlier today about sustainable business practices super Marcus can't survive and so develop Springfield has begun a process of trying to and has worked with the community in a collective impact approach in which they are going to build a supermarket in the Mason Square area of Springfield in order to have a supermarket that's walkable for people who where a population is 45 to 50 percent dependent on public transportation and they're going to build a supermarket that will provide full service healthy foods that meet the cultural needs of the population that diverse population I talked about that that's interesting I could just stop there and say there's a great example of collective impact but what really makes it interesting is that they were ready to go they had the land they had all of the financial resources the capital everything they needed including an operator who was going to run the market and then the operator and sort of at the very last minute said I'm not sure if I'm interested this particular firm said we're rethinking our commitment we're gonna walk away that resulted in loss of capital that real assaulted and all kinds of challenges for develop Springfield and they needed in order to get the capital back to get an application posted for what are called new market tax credits financing tools by this coming late spring we were able to assemble through an iqp project team a group of independent graduate students here and a group of Springfield Technical Community College students sophomore honors students a collective team that's actually developing an operating model for the supermarket they're exploring three options they're exploring whether they're going to run a branded distribution model whether they're gonna run a co-op which is a which is you know a by definition a very sustainable and community based model or whether they're going to think about actually running an independent model in addition they are asking all the right questions they're asking questions about environmental sustainability about the food choices that the community would want about the nature of what will work in this community and they're they're bringing together not only the business needs the business challenges but they're bringing together a collection of students who are asking questions that matter and thinking about the community and add to it they're working across College cross university basis so you have community college students graduate students in our School of Business and students that include mechanical engineering ECE and computer science students along with business students who are undergraduates all trying to solve a problem together and they're able to ask questions so we we had meetings recently with all of the key sponsors they're able to ask the city questions asked to develop Springfield questions ask members of the community questions that ordinarily are very difficult for the rest of us to ask when you're sitting in a meeting trying to push someone to think about what might be doable might not be doable so with that as an example what I would encourage you to think about think about collective impact think about the tools that I've described in terms of collective impact and then think about how you might be able to turn a project that you're working on how many of you in here have either a project soon or a project next year coming up soon I my guess is a lot of hands are gonna go up and you know for every one of you I'm gonna ask you to think about this and think not just as this is a project for me to get done in this semester but I'm in this term or this semester but think about it as a way that you may be the one who is the catalyst for an implementing collective impact that's what I'd hope you to think you'll think about and that's what I hope you will drive for thank you for all your time


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