The Westside Collaborative was birthed and reared throughout these turbulent times.
Bucking the trend of national collaborations, the Westside Collaborative rooted itself in geography and place-making. While communities across the area and state desperately tried to pull together affinity groups to approach issues wreaking havoc on the masses, the Westside Collaborative was, instead, slowly taking root on the sidewalks and streets and in the homes of neighbors and friends in West Grand Rapids.
Look for them anywhere. Any city. Any industry. Any age. You're sure to find these affinity groups continuing to evolve. They live on, sometimes in infamy, spawning new versions of themselves and struggling to break through their own perceived internal ceilings.
Possessing so much
potential, these groups could well catalyze changes in industry that would draw the line in the sand, creating the “before” and “after” these changes. But too often, the market drives affinity-based team members into niche geographies or niche sectors within their area of expertise.
If we want to resolve housing concerns, and we decide to pull all the housing people together, a couple of things will be true. Someone in that room is going to have a stake in the SE area. Others in the SW. Still others in NW. And so on, and so on. Additionally, each expert will have their sweet spots. They'll be the experts of some specific sub-sector of the industry itself. They won't only be divided by “place,” but also by “type.” There will be an apartment expert, a condo expert, senior housing, assisted housing, shared housing, new development, redevelopment, etc.
Unfortunately, while we may assume that these differences will allow for greater transparency and trust (given that they all have their own "thing"), inherently the group will experience at least SOME of the very opposite. These are competitors, after all. They’re trying to acquire land, change zoning, maximize labor and material costs, win federal, state, and local grants, while at the same time competing for talent, market-share, press, and investment. Are we to assume that these groups will lay their cards on the table, face-up, for the greater good?
We know better.
Now, shift the narrative to a geographic focus, and conversations will change as well. No longer will groups focus on (just) their “expertise,” per se. These leaders from varying sectors of a region will be focused on a people, on an area, on families, and on their “place.” HOME.
As Executive Director of the Westside Collaborative, I take NO credit for the amazing position I find myself in. Gaining trust, relational depth, systems awareness, and community engagement at rapid paces, our alliance of nonprofit organizations is tackling issues many people EVERYWHERE only talk about (assuming they get that far). I am so very humbled to witness neighbors, business owners, public schools, elected officials, law enforcement officers, service agencies, support programs, and families rally around one another in authentic, vulnerable, trusting, and cooperative ways.
Change the conversation from what to whom! This is an important detail that can go missed when groups consider imagining the work before them as a geographic effort. DO NOT shift the conversation from what to WHERE. These (focus on) "where" conversations perpetuate the same lackluster impacts the "what" efforts continually stumble through in communities everywhere, including yours.
It is not the house, street, building, or the park that people will rally around. Sure, there are exceptions. Always. But, it is WHOM that will create authentic engagement, trusted partnerships, and genuine collaboration. These can be the scariest steps most people ever take, both personally and professionally. Still, they WILL take them.
It is the people that live, work, play, worship, and serve in the community that will bring individuals and organizations together. These children, neighbors, families, employees, business owners, and leaders in the community make up the fabric of the place that connects with people in emotional and visceral ways. Only these types of connections will help individuals and groups invest themselves fully.
Turn your team’s efforts toward THEM; the WHOM. Be the leader that shifts the focus, changes the narrative, and established a shared vision. You'll almost immediately find yourself among partners, neighbors, and friends celebrating the impacts your team will soon be making.