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What’s Collective Impact all about?

Have you heard the term Collective Impact lately? Are you wondering what it is and whether it can help advance your mission? Here’s a quick summary and links to the latest articles so that you’re in the know.

Collective Impact (CI) is a formal approach to cross-sector collaboration to solve complex social issues (e.g. poverty, youth unemployment, climate change). CI initiatives coordinate mutually reinforcing activities of a range of partners, which could include nonprofits, governments, philanthropic organizations, business, community groups or community members. Partners work together under a common vision, action plan and shared measures.

Although the collaborative approaches embedded in CI are not new, CI places renewed emphasis on building structures to support work across sectors, integrating expertise from a range of partners by breaking down hierarchies and locating an organization’s role within the broader task of systemic change.

To date, CI has not been widely implemented in Canada for a number of reasons:

– One challenge is accessing funding for the coordinating infrastructure (also called the ‘backbone organization’) and partnership work needed to implement CI.

– Another is finding funders committed to a long-term vision and investment in social change; it can take five years or more to fully develop CI initiatives and to begin showing concrete results.

– As an emerging field, the evidence base for CI is still limited, although there are promising examples of collaboration in several areas (e.g. education, early childhood development, poverty reduction).

In 2011, John Kania and Mark Kramer (FSG Social Impact Consultants) wrote the first article on CI in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. It’s a great primer on the conditions required for CI to succeed.

For more insight into CI in the Canadian context, check out a recent edition of The Philanthropist. And if you are interested in implementing CI, Tamarack has created an online learning community with tools and resources at 

Whether organizations embrace CI depends on the goals, finding solutions to some of the challenges and additional evidence of its impact. From an advocacy perspective, it’s encouraging that CI is raising the profile of cross-sectoral collaboration and the impact of investments in structures and partnerships for social change.

How have you experienced or put collective impact into action? What were the results? Share your feedback with sarah@theonn.ca.


About the author

Ginelle Augustin-Lesmond is a Master’s student of Social Work studies at York University, who has worked in the public sector as a social policy analyst, at both the federal and provincial levels. During her placement at ONN, she applied a critical social work lens to the practice of government relations and policymaking at the sector level (with a helpful government-sector resource coming soon!).


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