Breaking news on a host of problems including gun violence, climate-related disasters, sexual harassment, systemic racism and political propaganda nearly every day is overwhelming and can leave us feeling hopeless. It challenges our ability to cultivate a sense of gratitude during this time of Thanksgiving. We need to look beyond the news and headlines to find reasons for gratitude and hope. And there are many reasons.
People are coming together to probe the underlying causes of these problems, find common ground and make a positive difference. Although these intensifying problems may never be fully solved, we can make significant progress by working together over time to counter their negative influence.
Finding Common Ground
I am grateful to work with the following clients who are building partnerships to improve education, the well-being of children and our ability to be effective stewards of our natural environment. The San Francisco Children and Nature/Cities Connecting Children to Nature collaborative has brought together government agencies and non-profit organizations across the fields of parks and recreation, public health, urban planning, formal education, youth development and environmental education to pursue the mission of equitably improving nature connection for children and youth in San Francisco. California’s Environmental Literacy Steering Committee, working with Ten Strands and regional organizations such as ChangeScale, is supporting school district partnerships that bring together local education agencies, environmental education providers, community-based organizations, expanded learning programs, and governmental agencies to build and implement pathways of local, environment-based learning experiences for K-12 students.
I am inspired by the diverse, cross-sector organizations and agencies finding common ground in these partnerships. As Jason Morris, Senior Program Officer at the Pisces Foundation, has articulated environmental education and nature connection have the potential to “improve conservation, education, health and wellness, social equity, and youth development programs.” Systemic work in these areas has the power to change lives and enable individuals and communities to collectively address underlying causes of pervasive social and environmental problems.
Strategic partnerships such as San Francisco Children and Nature and District Partnership Initiatives, supported by the Environmental Literacy Steering Committee and ChangeScale, have grown in scope, reach and impact. This is due to multiple factors but chief among them is funding for backbone support. Bringing together diverse organizations and agencies to engage in coordinated planning and activities and measure their collective impact is complex work and requires a network-minded leader and sometimes additional staff to make it happen. ChangeScale, led by Director Kirk Anne Taylor since 2012, provides backbone support for its many school district partnership initiatives in the Bay Area. Ten Strands, with a grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, provides funding to organizations such as Tree People to serve as backbone support, led by their Director of Environmental Education Candice Russell, to a growing number of district partnership initiatives in Los Angeles County. And here in San Francisco with funding from the City of San Francisco through the Recreation and Parks Department, a new full-time coordinator position for San Francisco Children and Nature has been posted. Please help us recruit great candidates for this exciting, dynamic position!
National Collective Impact Convening, April 2018
Many cross-sector partnerships addressing social problems- often at the intersection of multiple issues- have adopted the Collective Impact approach. I’m pleased to co-lead a session at the national Collective Impact Convening next year in Austin, TX on Building a Local, Cross-Sector Collaborative: Structure and Processes for Equity, Engagement and Impact that profiles San Francisco Children and Nature. With Laura Rodriguez, Steering Committee member and Director of Programs at Youth Outside, I will share the collective work of the many leaders and stakeholders who are building and growing this collaborative. I was also honored to recently present this collaborative work to the Bayview Alliance, a roundtable of local leaders who have been coming together since 2011 to identify opportunities for collective impact in the Bayview community of San Francisco.
Connected to Place