In nearly every facet of our lives — from our workplaces to our homes — we work with others to achieve common goals. So when our neighbors, communities and region face challenges, it only makes sense that we unite to resolve them together.

In the world of service providers, this is known as “collective impact.” At United Way of Metro Chicago, we created the Neighborhood Network Initiative to unite residents, government leaders, social service organizations and others in 10 neighborhoods to tackle problems they identify. José Rico, our Senior Vice President of Community Impact, sat down with Carley Mossbrook, our Digital Content & Communications Specialist, at the 2019 Collective Impact Convening in Chicago last week to better understand the power of this work.

CM: “Collective impact” is one of those jargon-y terms that we, in the social service sector, use pretty often. But for others, it can sound a bit wonky or mystifying. Can you tell us what exactly “collective impact” is?

JR: Collective impact is when neighbors come together to make a change. That’s really what it is. There’s obviously a lot of flow charts and theory, but it’s about people who feel invested in something together, whether its their neighborhoods or an issue they care about. They know that there are other people who have an interest in doing it and find ways to work together to accomplish something they can’t do on their own.

 

CM: From what I hear, it’s a very effective way to drive large-scale change. But how is collective impact specifically serving communities here in Chicago?

JR: It’s powerful because of how Chicago is organized — it’s a city of 77 neighborhoods. People see what the challenges are in our city through the lens of the neighborhood they live in. Collective impact is a way for people to organize and change the problems they’re facing at this local level. Residents are involved with their school council, in their church and through neighborhood associations.

 

CM: As one of the largest health and human services providers in the state, how does United Way of Metro Chicago practice and facilitate collective impact?

JR: Six years ago, United Way began supporting Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), a neighborhood group that organizes residents around policy issues, provides social services and creates connections between residents and local institutions. We’ve provided financial and technical support to help this organization and others in the area work better together. Since, we’ve created similar networks in nine other neighborhoods. They lead the work, but we provide resources so they can grow and tackle more problems and serve more people.

 

CM: How do the non-profits and social service agencies who serve individuals and families in these neighborhoods benefit from participating in these networks?

JR: Through the Neighborhood Networks, our partners tell us they’re now able to work with more neighbors and institutions in the neighborhood to make the changes they want to see. Folks who are in the neighborhoods learn what problems other organizations are tackling and the work they’re doing, and align their programs to meet those needs and fill any gaps.