About the Collaboratory

The Social Change Collaboratory promotes organizational structures, education, and actions that strengthen the capacity of small grassroots local-global partnerships working to address our world’s most pressing challenges.  The principles that guide the Collaboratory are represented in its name: collaboration, working together across cultures, and laboratory, a place defined by practice over theory, exploration, and the testing of boundaries.

Imagine the progress our world would make if we reframed efforts to end poverty as efforts instead to begin poverty’s opposite.  Indeed, the opposite of a society limited by poverty is an open society marked by fairness, equality, and achievement of rights which allow all citizens to participate in a vibrant democracy.  Local organizations further these open society goals, often in partnership with international organizations that provide funding and programmatic support.  We could make substantial progress in addressing the world’s most pressing problems if we could shift from fighting against something negative to working for something positive.

The Collaboratory has three main goals: Connection, Tools, and Education.

Connection: While there exists a growing consensus that small, locally-driven organizations lie at the heart of “good development,” only a minority of “international development” organizations are founded on the principle of locally-driven decision-making.  Those that do often work in isolation as they navigate the implementation of their social change work, and they lack opportunities to share strategies with other like-minded groups.  Effective organizations that have international funding often become leaders within their communities, advising or supporting other grassroots organizations. The Collaboratory seeks to build a working group of small, locally-driven social change partnerships from which to learn and with whom to pilot new strategies for cross-cultural project management.

Tools: International partnerships between small local organizations and outside funders often operate without a road map.  Top-down public management tools often do not translate across cultures, and  bottom-up activist energy does not satisfy calls for proof that the activism is having a long term impact.  Leaders of these partnerships spend extensive effort modifying existing tools or simply foregoing opportunities to secure larger grants because they lack the capacity to manage them.  International partnerships tend to grow apart, sometimes undermining their founding principles of local determination because they lack basic communication and strategic planning systems that keep decision-makers aligned in their work. Based on the experiences of partnerships within its network, the Collaboratory seeks to create the Collaboratory Handbook of basic NGO management resources, including cross-cultural strategic planning, communication systems, financial management, and evaluation models, in order to support idea exchange between partnerships.

Education: Local NGOs are not alone in the need to build capacity.  Equality-based leadership requires a new management model that forces traditional “charity” organizations to become active learning communities in which concepts of power and risk are addressed within an infrastructure that allows for collective planning, shared accountability, and open communication. The Collaboratory seeks to educate other organizations, grantmakers, and leaders about effective strategies for supporting locally-driven social change.

The Collaboratory is a learning community founded on principles of mutual respect, curiosity, and long term engagement.  Join us!