Cities and Social Entrepreneurs

A Playbook for Catalytic Collaboration

Cities are increasingly the places where ‘the rubber meets the road’, as experts would say. What they mean is that local government leaders -- be they Mayors, Chief Executives or City Managers -- are increasingly doing more than just delivering local services. They have begun to solve problems that are bigger than their community and tackling issues that regional and national governments have proven incapable of solving on their own. Together, local governments, social entrepreneurs and the communities they serve (and empower!) can have an immediate and sustained impact.

Herein lies the opportunity we share in this playbook for collaboration.

The stories in this report carry a profound message: From Lima to Nashville to Liverpool to Mumbai, by working together, cities and social entrepreneurs have collaborated successfully on solutions that have scaled across the country. They have shown they can do more than simply service problems, and instead aim to solve them for good. This approach is called systems change, meaning a holistic approach in which multiple stakeholders and beneficiaries work together to do something in a fundamentally different way to achieve a truly transformative result.

Cities and Social Entrepreneurs

Key Takeaways

In our research, we found eight practices that were the basis for successful collaboration between municipalities, social entrepreneurs and communities.

🚀 View Beneficiaries as Changemakers

Beneficiaries as part of the planning process or the actual solutions is important. Additionally to the degree of power that is extended to each individual as a changemaker, what stands out as important is the degree to which these ‘experts at their own lives’ are empowered to learn the skills of planning, negotiation and reviewing evidence. Receiving training and organizational support to navigate complex systems is valuable.

🌱 Shared Agency

All stories present examples of a clear and intentional division of labor on the one hand, and a shared exploration of what works on the other. Unlike traditional municipal contracts with suppliers, these collaborations look and feel more like partnerships among equals, seeing eye to eye.

↔️ Build Bridges between stakeholders

There is a notable absence of passing around blame in these stories. common thread is the desire to lay the ground and build trust for what is to come. As a result, the partners withstand the temptation to pass blame around or use negative pressure to force a quick win. All this is in stark contrast to how many other actors play out their roles.

💡 Always a Lab/ Continuous innovation

Collaboration seems to thrive in an environment where no party is hung up on a particular solution or way for solving a problem. It is evident that a form of agile practice has emerged, organized around evidence or progress toward the shared mission. Research is another common feature, and all stories point to how new ideas can be incubated as bold experiments. It is noted that interventions move at different speeds: progress in Built for Zero communities is measured weekly, while United for Brownsville starts up at a slower pace, appropriate for building trust.

🔧 Use all tools and options

“Always a Lab”, especially in collaboration, is a new reading of what scaling a solution looks like. Many social entrepreneurs, for example, traditionally expect to follow a path where they invent a solution and then seek to partner with government to scale it. Here, the Lab is a form of collaboration that is agnostic to given solutions and instead a collaborative practice that puts the outcome first.

👁️ Take the long view

Social change is a slow process, always at the risk of either being too incremental to be transformative, or being too bold to be achievable. The stories reveal a valuable narrative about how visions for the endgame emerge out of day-to-day practice, helping the collaboration align around a shared mission. Hence, it is important for all partners to accept the true rate of change as a basis for the partnership.

⏰ Avoid setting grand expectations early on

We highlighted that false expectations are the #1 reason why so many social entrepreneurs fail to partner with municipal governments. It is therefore no coincidence that the stories of success presented in this report all lack a grand promise of success early on. Instead, the better promise implied here seems to be that all parties understand that they are at the beginning of a shared journey that will take time. Here, the expectation changes to the confidence that despite the urgency, everyone will do what can be done. It is important for all sides to be upfront about the asymmetry of resourcing and make the sustainability of the partnership a shared concern.

❤️ Values

The stories reveal shared values not just around the mission, but the way collaboration is practiced in all the above practices. Listening, trust building, shared problem-solving, respect for data and evidence, a sense of the long-haul. It seems that in particular a shared focus on outcomes, on the beneficiaries and their needs is the most basic principle of these stories.