Wednesday, March 12

Blurring the Lines

This week, I had the great opportunity to do a workshop and book signing with leaders from the Maryland suburbs of DC.  The group was a delightful, inquisitive, experienced mix of about 30 leaders from the private sector, government and nonprofits, with a good dash of consultants thrown in for spice.  I was asked what the greatest change is that I’ve seen in nonprofits in my years of helping them perform.  
My response was that thirty or even twenty years ago, the private sector was focused on the bottom line while nonprofits addressed the “gap” needs of various groups in society that were unmet by government and corporations.  The divide between the two sectors was deep and clear cut.  Over the years, I’ve watched the lines get blurred.  Public-private-government partnerships are no longer the exception—they are the norm today, thanks to trailblazers like Shirley Sagawa, the first Executive Director of the Corporation for National Service, home of AmeriCorps.  Corporations are leaders in environmental conservation, social services, and the arts.  Nonprofits are entrepreneurial.  It’s common for a nonprofit to have a for-profit arm or vice-versa.  Philanthropists who make their fortune in the private sector turn around and use their fortunes to address AIDS, childhood obesity, human trafficking, or energy alternatives.
This shift and blurring of lines among sectors was underscored by the participants in the workshop, who represented organizations of every size and from every sector, yet shared a commitment to working collaboratively to make this a better world.  All were involved in more than one sector in one way or another. Some were using the arts to help at-risk kids.  Some were coaching bureaucratic government agencies to become more responsive to the needs of their constituents.  Others were on boards of nonprofits, working to set strategic direction and keep staff engaged in spite of dwindling resources.
Success today requires drawing connections among people and organizations that, on the surface, may not seem to have common interests.  It takes challenging our assumptions and stereotypes, looking through unfamiliar lenses, and being flexible and open.  Our work to build more connective cultures, more connective leaders, and more connective organizational structures results in greater purpose and harmony—often among people and groups who wouldn’t have imagined joining forces.

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