Helen Keller once said, ‘alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’ Indeed, to make the greatest possible difference in society, organisations must ensure that they are collaborating, not just through formal agreements, but in everyday life and practice. It makes perfect sense, as in all aspects of a market economy, to share expertise, people and ideas to increase social impact, achieve wider goals, allow the sector to grow and ensure the greatest amount of people are impacted positively.
Problems cannot be solved by working in isolation. When organisations work together, collective impact can be maximised and the broader aims of the sector can be met more successfully. Perhaps more pertinently, when organisations do not work together or form divisions, aims of the sector are undermined, opportunities for impact and development are missed, the well-being of beneficiaries is neglected and they are left disempowered and potentially at risk.
After seeing the disturbing effects of ruthless and unfounded competition first hand at an event in Waltham Forest some weeks ago in June, we could not help but think how much more progress could be made if organisations could see the benefits of working together and allow this to shape their practice. We were invited to speak at an event about the importance of mothers safeguarding their children. However, because we were viewed as competition, we were aggressively restricted from speaking by another organisation which caters for Asian women. This organisation, based in Waltham Forest (and has a refuge), projected it’s highly unprofessional manner onto around 50 beneficiaries as well as local authority representatives. The name of the organisation ironically means ‘ray of light’ in Hindi. Unfortunately, users were left very much in the dark.
It was extremely concerning for us that, although the overall stated aim of the organisation is to ‘protect and empower women’, users were deprived and ultimately left disempowered. By viewing us as a ‘rival’ organisation and acting in such a disgraceful manner, they created divides and set an exceptionally negative and dangerous example to their service users.
The safety and welfare of service users should never be compromised because of the perception of competition with another organisation or considerations about funding.
Although a certain amount of competition is healthy and can evidently drive success, a line must be drawn before competition transforms the voluntary sector into a combative zero sum game. In some cases, self-interest is preventing cooperation between organisations and vital work, which would be highly valuable for beneficiaries, from being completed. This is not only counter-productive for the sector as a whole, but hypocritical when considering the aims of the charity in question – integration, cohesion and welfare of beneficiaries.
In the current economic situation, charities are facing a double whammy to their services; with funding opportunities decreasing and cuts and demand from service users increasing, it would be easy for the environment to become ruthless. However, in order to maximise resources, use time wisely in order to reach the greatest number of beneficiaries and to ensure the well-being of the community, this is exactly why it’s all the more important to work together.
In all aspects of work and life, we should practice what we preach. Communities are stronger when they are integrated, when people embrace diversity, learn from each other and work together. Indeed, there is strength in unity.