|by Diana Aviv
President and CEO
Hiking often on the Billy Goat trail by the Potomac River, when not huffing and puffing, allows me to observe the wondrous natural habitat and the interdependencies among various species, a phenomenon naturalists call “mutualism”.
In the adjacent woods, a bee or butterfly may be seen pollinating a native aster while sipping its nectar. High above, protruding out of the big boulders by the edge of the water, are tufts of goldenrod that have survived many a flood. And making their home in the crevices are beautiful five lined skinks that depend on the protection of the rocks from flying predators. Thanks to the generous efforts of the trail stewards organized by the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Historic Park, newbie hikers are encouraged to leave no trace behind.
The prolific Nature magazine essayist Stephen Jay Gould once paraphrased 19th century Russian thinker Kropotkin: “the struggle for existence usually leads to mutual aid rather than combat as the chief criterion of evolutionary success.” The notion of interdependency has been the subject of much discussion during our gatherings across the country, as part of our sharing with 15 communities the trends that we believe are likely to affect their work long into the future. Often I am asked: “what have you found most surprising?”
It would not be accurate to suggest that the same content was discussed at each meeting. There are differences in emphasis, tone, and intensity even as similar subjects were discussed. But I have been surprised by the degree of shared common concern in most of the communities visited thus far. And in particular, at almost all the gatherings, participants lamented that the talk on collaboration was quite different from the walk. Some pointed to competition between organizations working on the same issues, others offered lack of resources and structures that make collaborative efforts succeed, or even just the will to put real ‘skin in the collaborative game’.
This feeling that we are missing out on the fruits of collaboration was also paired with a strongly expressed desire to find a way to better work with one another and a desire for working with other sectors as well. NY participants noted “the importance of working with business and government allies to achieve deeper impact.”
Some Threads participants complained of overlapping efforts borne of a tendency to create something new as opposed to working with what exists, of a failure to work across silos, and territorialism.
In Chicago, it was noted that collaborative relationships with national movements and organizations can yield benefits in strategy, capacity, and resources.
Our New York City and Miami Threads conversations brought forward the successful practices of the Organization for Black Struggle and Black Lives Matter to embrace organizations with similar objectives and use holistic approaches to help enact reform against prejudice. It was said that their “innovative organizing is connecting religions, established community-based organizations, organizers in Ferguson, MO, and in the broader #blacklivesmatter movement.”
These conversations themselves are a concrete form of “mutual aid” upon which we can build a more interdependent future. As I write, we have not yet concluded our conversations. The last conversation of the year will take place in Phoenix on August 27. And for more insights on what people are saying in cities across the US, I hope you will visit the Threads pages of our website and, if you have not already, join the dialogue.