StriveTogether: what can they teach the rest of us?

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This is an organization that I have known about and been impressed with for 15 years, but I don’t cross their path enough to really get how they work. I’m thinking maybe I should.

StriveTogether is a nonprofit foundation focused on “Cradle to Career” opportunities for disadvantaged people, spanning early childhood education to workforce development. Good stuff, but not really my lane.

But what caught my eye on a recent review of their work is the combination of network-building and very deep community engagement that drives their work. They take both the building and activating national networks work, and the community decision-making work, to a level that I don’t see in many efforts nationwide.

The difference, from what I can see at the moment, between StriveTogether and most conventional nonprofits is that the organization’s efforts seem to be focused on building and activating a nationwide network of people working on these issues, and then gleaning what can be learned from their experiences and creating broader access to those insights for everyone.

StriveTogether home page

This approach seems to me like a way to address one of the big challenges in community work that I have been trying to grapple with recently. Our typical models seem to fall into one of two buckets. We have national or regional organizations that might bring people together, but they don’t do much to help the participants intentionally learn from each other, or share those learnings with others. Your typical conference and newsletter do a little bit of that, but it’s scratching the surface of the potential you might achieve if folks from different places could really, deeply co-create solutions — and share those with others in a well-documented manner.

The other bucket is what many of us end up doing — fighting local fights, day after day, with an occasional touch of insight from a newsletter or white paper and a trip every so often to a conference where we try to glean that kind of insight, despite droning speakers and dense Power Points and uncomfortable chairs. But mostly figuring it out by ourselves, and sharing what we’ve learned piecemeal, with whoever typically crosses our path. In both cases, we need a live, active, responsive and heavily interactive network, like a bee hive or a neural pathway, but what we end up buiding are more like telegraph wires.

I’d appreciate it if you could take a look at and tell me what you think. It’s a well-endowed organization, and that allows them to generate a prodigious amount of reports and insights and analysis. The sheer volume and detail can get overwhelming, which is where I think I have tended to stop paying attention over the years. But I’m wondering if there might be something we can glean from their approach to accelerate our local and national work on the places that we care about.

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