The Power of Coalitions: Catalysts for Change
December 6, 2022
Originally published by O’Dwyer’s on December 5, 2022.
Nobody should work alone. It takes a village. Put your heads together.
By nature, we’re not solitary creatures. We seek belonging, and a group of like-minded individuals who inspire, empower, educate, and safeguard us. It’s been verified by millennia of evolution and learned experience, born out of necessity, but developing into a decided advantage in virtually every aspect of life.
Why then, is a particular brand of rugged individualism the norm in the business world? Competition trumps collaboration at nearly every turn, and to a certain extent, it’s understandable. For some, business is a zero-sum game and there’s a limited market of customers or clients to entice. It’s about crushing the competition and winning, achieving higher levels of financial success at breakneck speed. In a capitalist system we’ve come to accept that it’s about survival of the fittest.
But what about when the goal isn’t necessarily immediate profit or customer retention, but rather bolstering corporate reputation and making a difference in communities that your organization touches? This is when forming a team to tackle complex issues can be the most advantageous and meaningful.
Particularly for some of the clients I serve in the nonprofit realm, I’ve seen firsthand how powerful coalition building can be.
Nearly ten years ago, FINN Partners aligned with corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies to create NO MORE, the first unifying symbol for domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention. NO MORE was not a formalized organization—it was a grassroots effort to support the life-changing, and in many cases lifesaving, work being done in the field. Only through a chorus of powerful voices could we begin to normalize conversations about issues that had been taboo topics for way too long. Today, this effort is now the NO MORE Foundation, a global movement encouraging people worldwide to be part of the solution to ending domestic violence and sexual assault.
If you’re a nonprofit or a business outside the Fortune 500, the reality is that even if your social issue is worthy, your strategy is rock solid, and your commitment is genuine, you may not be able to effectively move the needle without a coalition of like-minded partners mobilized to combine forces. Sometimes the biggest problems require the most creative solutions and building a coalition—though potentially counterintuitive in a business environment that preaches “if you’re not first, you’re last”—might be just what you need to make an impact while effectively raising your profile.
The size of the coalition you build depends largely on the magnitude and scope of the problem you want to solve. If it’s a hyper-local community effort, then it’s only natural that you’d tap organizations in and around your own geographic footprint. Typically, the impact can be greater if you find partners that are truly invested and have a local interest in driving positive change.
In our experience, we have seen too many coalitions start out strong but lose momentum because there is no quantifiable goal. It’s essential to work with coalition partners to develop clear goals and objectives that lead to real-world impact, and then track against the goals.
FINN has been fortunate to work with NPower, a leading nonprofit that helps individuals from under-resourced communities and veterans achieve greater economic mobility through tech jobs. They retained us almost three years ago to help create and launch a coalition focused on increasing representation of women of color in the U.S. tech sector, Command Shift: Accelerating More Women of Color in Tech. An in-depth research project, The Equation for Equality: Women of Color in Tech, informed the coalition’s goals and unveiled new strategies to achieve the coalition’s mission.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is get started, one way or another. Identify an issue where you can move the needle, then begin to think about what steps need to be taken to reach a solution that’s meaningful. Consider then whether taking those steps will be easier and more impactful solo, or with a team behind you.
The answer is often self-evident.