Solving Complex Social Problems Through Collaboration
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Geneva Global, a tiny but mighty philanthropic consulting firm that specializes in international development, is helping to change the world from its small suburban corner of Wayne, Pa. With a team of just 52 staff members, they are quietly igniting social good on a global scale through the repetitive flexing of an approach called dumbbell collaboration.
“On one side of the dumbbell are donors, either private philanthropists or foundations, and on the other are nonprofits,” explains Ava Lala, a director atGeneva Global. “Both want to solve complex social problems, such as modern-day slavery, but the ambition of the donors often outweighs their resources, and the nonprofits often spend precious time trying to connect with donors. The solution, as we see it, is to group each of these ends together, to be the handle in the middle that connects the two.”
And it’s here why the dumbbell serves as the perfect metaphor. Geneva Global sees philanthropic consulting — its role as the humble handle connecting two larger sides — as both the immediate project in front of it and as a strength training session to prepare for future projects. It takes seriously this belief that the more it exercises building collaborative relationships the stronger it and its clients will become in battling some of the world’s most pressing issues. It’s an approach to collaboration that has proved successful in some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.
When creating philanthropic initiatives for its clients, Geneva Global first gathers insights about the client’s interests. For example, does the client want to address a pressing global health issue like Ebola or tackle an educational problem like out-of-school children? Geneva then typically seeks out indigenous, grassroots, and innovative nonprofits in developing countries who have a strong track record of success and who are willing to work together to build a program. The benefit of finding such partners is that the program can be tailored to the local context, encouraging buy-in from the community and local stakeholders and ultimately reaching more people. The challenge, however, is that these community-based organizations tend to be smaller nonprofits that lack sophisticated processes and often struggle to absorb a lot of funding.
In order to maximize the efficiency and sustainability of their client’s money, Geneva Global groups these nonprofits into a “community of practice.” In doing so, it has found that these smaller organizations make substantial improvements based on what they share with and learn from each other.