By Jerry Ring
I would like to share my research, insight and encouragement for the Northwest Community Development Coalition announced recently by Dave Mengebier, president and CEO, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation. For the past two years, the Community Foundation has worked alongside two dozen government, nonprofit, business and philanthropic leaders to drive positive change in some of the region’s greatest challenges and opportunities. The intent of the Coalition is to use a cross sector leadership approach and framework to collaboratively drive economic, social, and environmental improvements for the communities of our region. https://nwmicommunitydevelopment.org/
In my view, the work of the Coalition sets the Grand Traverse region apart from other communities because it is a unique experiment in resolving key community quality of life issues. The framework for the Coalition’s work is borrowed from the Triple Bottom Line of sustainable development. It embraces the notion that the economic, social and environmental sectors of a community are inseparable. What makes the work of the Coalition unique is acceptance of the assertion that key, unresolved community issues such as affordable housing, living wage jobs, water quality are all interrelated economically, socially and environmentally. When these issues are addressed by people from these three sectors around the same table, decisions are more holistic and therefore more likely to achieve better outcomes than the more traditional single sector approach.
My dissertation research supported the validity of the multisector approach and framework in use by the Coalition as an emerging approach for achieving better outcomes when addressing community quality of life issues. Moreover, the following factors facilitated the ability of participants to work together. First, agreement that community quality of life issues have economic, social, and environmental implications. Second, acceptance of the multisector approach. Third, a willingness to share responsibility for resolving issues. Fourth, participation in a learning environment that facilitates collaboration, trust and sense of place.
Of course, there are challenges. According to my study data, four factors potentially impeded work using the multisector framework. First, a lack of understanding of the multisector approach. Second, the level of participant commitment to the work of the coalition. Third, difficulty in finding solutions that reflect often competing economic, social and environmental interests. Fourth, the lack of established relationships among participants. Fifth, a lack capacity such as human and financial resources.
On balance, however, according to my research, improved outcomes were achieved using the multisector approach versus the more traditional single sector approach because of an enhanced ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, agreement that resolution of complex issues is a shared responsibility and the likelihood of collaborative dialogue to resolve competing interests.
Once again, the Northwest Community Development Coalition is a unique experiment for which there is little precedent in addressing community quality of life issues. In my experience, it is an example of the innovative leadership style that is typical of many area leaders.
There is hard work ahead for the Coalition and its success is not assured. However, my research strongly suggests a favorable outcome.
About the author: Jerry Ring is the former director of Global Contributions and Community Programs for The Dow Chemical Company in Midland. He is a board member of the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, Inland Seas Education Association and the Discovery Center and Pier. Ring holds a doctorate degree in management and organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix.