How Pillar convenes cross-sector collaboration

At Pillar, a core component of our ethos is our belief in the need for collaboration amongst the three pillars – private, public and nonprofit – to achieve systems change. We play a neutral facilitator role in bringing community together to engage in dialogue about the issues facing our city. Whether through a conference, program, project or meeting, creating opportunities for partnerships amongst those in all three sectors is critical to building trust across industry lines. 

It’s important for us to learn about the opinions and experiences of our community so we can in turn act as a voice for change. We seek to empower community members to take ownership in contributing to action plans that will improve the future of our community. In addition to generating innovative ideas to solve our community’s problems, we believe in the power of connection to create a sense of belonging and reduce loneliness. The following initiatives showcase the various ways we continually engage our community to collaborate for good. 

Leadership London Conference

Pillar hosted a conference entitled “Building from Within” in 2004 for leaders across the three pillars. This event was the first of its kind in its efforts to facilitate cross-sector collaboration and build the profile of the nonprofit sector as an equal partner to the business and government sectors. The conference assembled local, national and international experts to help participants examine innovation, stewardship and how to use collaborative relationships as a way to engineer social change. London leaders had the opportunity to identify complex challenges facing our community and join their efforts in building an action plan for London’s future. 

Pillar Design Collective

Along with many other nonprofits and government agencies, in 2006 Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) agencies in the Southwestern Ontario region were facing budgetary challenges and looking for opportunities for efficiency. A group of 12 BBBS agencies decided to band together to evaluate how they could collaborate to make their resources go further. To take on this challenge, Pillar Design Collective (the Collective) was hired to help the various chapters of the organization to create process efficiencies and look for opportunities to share services across regions. 

The Collective brought together a group of five social innovators, community collaborators and creative catalysts who used their collective wisdom and experience with design thinking to help BBBS with their organizational transformation. In addition, the Collective leveraged their network at Innovation Works to harness their expertise and services to contribute to the problem solving process. Throughout this collaboration, the Collective ensured that all voices were taken into account thus easing fears and ensuring that the organizations were well positioned for future success. 

Collaborating for Community Impact Program

In 2012, London and communities around the world were feeling the effects of the challenging economic climate and austerity budgets from various levels of government. That year, Pillar was funded by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to conduct a three year program called Collaborating for Community Impact (CCI) with the goal to contribute towards a healthier, more vibrant community, by increasing the impact of nonprofit organizations – through cross-sector collaboration – to better serve mutual stakeholders. The multi-stage project began with research documenting existing London collaborations. In each of the three years of the program, Pillar hosted members of all sectors in at community collaboration forums to gauge the issues that were most important to the community. 

It’s important for us to learn about the opinions and experiences of our community so we can in turn act as a voice for change. We seek to empower community members to take ownership in contributing to action plans that will improve the future of our community.

With extensive community input, Pillar developed three key initiatives to achieve the goals of its CCI Program and acted as facilitator of these cross-sectorial project teams. The initiatives, as follows, were the catalyst for other community collaboration projects such as Innovation Works and CityStudio London:

  1. Transforming London with a social innovation shared space
  2. Addressing poverty through mental health as a barrier to employment
  3. Enhancing campus community collaboration to leverage social change
CityStudio London

A key outcome of our Collaborating for Community Impact Program was to enhance campus-community collaboration. Attraction and retention of youth is also an ongoing strategic priority of the City of London. In this climate, Pillar launched CityStudio London in September 2019. CityStudio is a proven model of experiential education and civic engagement – pioneered in Vancouver and adapted across Canada – that is helping to develop tomorrow’s leaders by turning the city into the classroom. 

CityStudio London is a collaboration between the City of London, Brescia University, Fanshawe College, Huron University, King’s University College, Western University, and Pillar Nonprofit Network. By furthering connections between City Hall, academic institutions, and local community, London’s post-secondary students have more meaningful opportunities to apply their skills, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit to real-world issues and challenges facing our community, and help shape a better and brighter future for all Londoners.

Community Action Forum 

The Community Action Forum: Creating inclusive & diverse nonprofit organizations took place in London, Ontario on October 28 & 29, 2008. The Forum was a joint project of Pillar Nonprofit Network, K-W Counselling Services, and United Way of Windsor-Essex County. It brought together 90 individuals from the three communities of London-Middlesex, Windsor-Essex and Kitchener-Waterloo. 

The purpose of the forum was to encourage dialogue and learning about the changing face of communities; board diversity; the benefits of cultural competency models; making a plan for organizational change; engagement strategies for ethno-cultural communities; implementing diversity in a unionized environment; building equitable leadership and partnerships; and recruitment and retention strategies. Through this form and along with our partners, we were able to examine barriers and gaps in engaging diverse communities and increase cultural competency amongst participants showing our commitment to inclusiveness. 

Keys to effective cross-sector collaboration 

Engaging a diverse cross-section of community members from all sectors is vital for making progress towards solving persistent community issues. Collective leadership from across sectors is especially important today as trust in traditional institutions wanes. Here are a few lessons about facilitation that we’ve learned along the way.

  1. Keep diversity and inclusion top of mind – Achieving equal representation on committees should always be a priority, and there is always more that can be done. 
  2. Use collective impact theory – This theory can provide a structured framework to guide your collaboration.
  3. Establish a steady pace – Collaboration must be well paced by the backbone organization. Contributors need enough time to understand one another and set goals while feeling there is a momentum to the project. 
  4. Define guidelines and agreements – Establishing clear ways of working and team agreements at the outset make the collaboration run more smoothly. 
  5. Acknowledge power dynamics – Open conversations about the power structures in collaboration can help to break down walls. 
  6. Distribute leadership and engagement – Leadership and team involvement must be equally distributed across partners to ensure all voices are equally valued.