Collaboration vs Competition


As I look towards the year ahead it is with both excitement and not a little trepidation -particularly with regard to funding. As I watch my twitter feed it seems like every day another federally funded Not for Profit initiative is being axed to meet our current government’s bottom line. And it is making me sadly curious about the future of both our work and our sector more generally (at least in the short term).

It seems to me that, while collaboration is the buzz word; competition is the name of the game in the community sector right now.

In many ways we’ve been set up by those who fund us (most notably the government stakeholders) who demand demonstration of collaboration when applying for funding; but who then pit agency against agency to fight over the scraps of money available. The less funding in the bucket the worse this competition is.

When I first entered agency-world (bright eyed and bushy tailed) I was thrilled to hear all this talk about collaboration:

Oh sure we would LOVE to collaborate with you on that project. You need a grant support letter? Consider it done!

…But I became a little jaded when so much of this “collaboration” became little more than lip service in the pitch for funding and, in the fray of tendering processes, less consideration seem to be placed on what significant cross agency collaboration could actually do for the community.

“We would love to collaborate on this …but actually we want all the money for ourselves.”

This is not to lay blame on any agency- it is a systemic problem (as I discussed in my earlier post about grants). I would like to think that if we all decided to play differently then we could fight the system at its own game… but I know (and have experienced first hand) that someone will always be willing to play that game.

I’ve been reading Brene Browns book Daring Greatly and I think that some of this competition comes from what she calls our “culture of scarcity”. Scarcity is the “never enough” problem- none of us individually or as agencies or Churches have enough to fix the complex problems that we’re facing (no matter how well we refer) and so we’ve become guarded with what we have; and hungry for what we need; and wary of those who might take it from us.

But we worship a God of whole-hearted abundance not scarcity; of community not of any individual brand.

Perhaps as Churches we could offer a slither of true collaboration in this competitive agency-eat-agency world? It would require us to be one our best ecumenical behaviour, require less vested interest and less brand protection, as well as greater financial risk. Could we model true collaboration? What would that look like?

A big part (I think) would be laying down our claim on getting the credit.
As I quoted in a previous post:

“There is no end to the amount of good one person can do as long as they don’t mind who take the credit.” -Robert Schuller

As a young woman I find this quote incredibly (almost impossibly) challenging. What if some middle aged white man was to take my ideas and hard work and to succeed in my place?

As churches this question could be: what if some other agency or flavour of Church (or worse: some non-churched group or group of another faith) were to get the credit for our hard work and ideas? Until we deal with this question I don’t think we can truly do real collaboration.

Could true collaboration be our resolution for 2014?

What might TRUE collaboration look like in your setting? Hit me up in the comment box below…

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