Bringing 45 youth charities together to talk about the highs and lows of collaboration merely demonstrates there are 45 ways of ‘doing’ collaboration. That is because we are all human and unique, and true collaboration has humanity at its heart.
Being collaborative is one of Blagrave’s values and we ensure our funding centres the humans who make collaborations tick.
I saw the importance of this clearly this week as we hosted our regional partners day, a day dedicated to offering our regional partners a space to connect, collaborate, showcase their work and learn from each other.
Our theme was collaboration. At a time of increased demand on frontline services, when contract value has not been increased in line with cost of living, partners are telling us that it’s only through collaboration they will be able to meet the needs of those we want to help.
As a funder we are also facing scarcity as demand rises, and we too seek to work collaboratively with other funders. One example was the Listening Fund, which we ran with Esmee Fairbairn and Tudor Trust. We learned from this 3 year project that relationships involving kindness and trust are pre-requisites for successful partnerships.
Hidden power dynamics
At our partners day, Baljeet Sandhu, a UK human rights lawyer, educator and pioneer of the global ‘knowledge equity’ movement, shared her experience of working in collaboration with organisations where there are hidden power dynamics at play. The Challenge and Change funding programme was a partnership between Blagrave and the Centre for Knowledge Equity, where Baljeet is Founder CEO. Challenge and Change was launched at pace in response to urgent needs of those facing oppression at a time of the resurgence Black Lives Matter and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the needs were urgent Baljeet shared that pace and equity aren’t always neat bedfellows and there were some real challenges in achieving shared goals.
Becca Bunce, disability justice advocate, trustee and consultant responded with agreement that collaboration falters when the human is lost. She shared her experience that as a disabled person collaborations she has been involved in have broken down when she did not prioritise herself, her health and wellbeing. Many others in the room agreed on the importance of protecting ourselves and maintaining boundaries in order to avoid burnout and isolation.
Even if boundaries are in place, Becca didn’t say collaboration was all rosy. She reflected that some just won’t work: truthful collaboration allows for relationships to ‘rupture, repair and move on..’
Lived, learned and practiced experience
Both our panellists had questions about lived experience, with Baljeet reflecting that many funders romanticise the notion of lived experience. There is some expectation that people who may share an aspect of their identity are all the same. Both panellists agreed, we are all human with our own ‘lived experience’ to bring. Baljeet reflected that the best collaborations she has been involved in were those between lived, learned and practiced experience.
Centring kindness was a theme explored also by Anne Marie Douglas, CEO of Peer Power Youth, a youth empathy charity. Anne Marie shared the links between empathy and kindness and why the human must be at the centre of relationships. As a new CEO working in a stressful role she talked about the support of her co-workers and Trustees being fundamental to her wellbeing.
Demetri Addison of youth charity The Formula agreed that empathy and equity are at the heart of work with young people. Spending time building a rapport with young people means you can have the hard conversations when you need to, and this includes setting boundaries.
These themes echoed through the day, with partners from many organisations sharing their stories of collaboration and a desire to do more of it – when done with equity and respect.
You can only build at the speed of trust
With so many in the sector working at breakneck speed, we all acknowledged that time and resources need to be intentionally driven towards collaboration. Reflection and learning is essential, and as Becca said You can only build at the speed of trust.
The biggest challenge participants shared in achieving this is resource. We left the day with partners calling for funders to understand the need to resource collaborative work to centre the human in the process. We must reach an understanding that collaboration doesn’t look just one way. Work to build collaboration can’t often be measured but is of inestimable value.
Blagrave will hold space for collaboration
Blagrave commits to holding space for collaboration, for offering forums for collaboration, for sharing resources and knowledge back out to those who need it. We commit to learning from partners about what true collaboration needs to be successful and centring the humans – and humanity – that makes it work.
Tessa Hibbert October 2023