Written by Frances Kunreuther
In 2013 we released five mini-reports on 5% Shifts for service groups to engage in social change. We were able to draw on the work of organizations – large and small – that are figuring out how to integrate activities that build the voice and power of their clients. These groups are looking to identify systemic causes of individual problems. The reports profile several different approaches; from organizations building a sense of community among clients, to agencies with somewhat different missions working together to address community needs. Yet at the heart of each vision is a common theme – one that resonates across much of our other work as well – the power of building relationships.
What types of relationships are important? The relationships among staff, the relationships between different organizational leaders, the relationships between funders and nonprofits, the relationships between community members and decision-makers, and the relationships between the people we serve and those who are servers.
Relationships take time, they can include conflict, they establish confidence, they deepen, they are not easily transferred, they have to deal with power, they make us feel less alone and that we can do more together. In our high-paced, stressful work, it occurs to me how impressive it is that groups are trying to build new, more meaningful relationships that create a high level of impact. We call them networks or alliances or collective action; they extend beyond the formal organization and they are about the people we get to know and trust.
In a world where so many people are under attack and we all start to feel so vulnerable and isolated, it is relationships that connect us – some are deep and meaningful and some are shorter and more transactional. We can use relationships as cliques – to determine who is in and who is out – but we can also use them to continually widen our circle, to be more inclusive, breaking down the us/them, worker/supervisor, client/case worker, organization/donor divides. To be able to do that means acknowledging and understanding the differences among us – including power in its many forms – and our commonality.
Our 5% shifts focus on how service organizations are changing in small ways so they can do their work differently. They give us a place to start. And in each report we suggest people get together to discuss the concepts we introduce and the different examples of the work. After all, that is how relationships begin.