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How Connectivity has helped me

This is a guest blog from a participant on the BAME Connectivity Programme
 
We all like to make New Year’s resolutions, right?
 

Mine for 2019: Enhance leadership skills and effectiveness in my organisation.

At first glance, this commitment to self is no show stopper and has the sound of: “Really? Really? Is that what you are going to concentrate your efforts on this whole year? You don’t need a new gym membership? Pay rise? How about going vegan, or trading your car for an electric model as an environmentally friendly pledge to the planet?”

Well, six months before, I had promised myself, as well as the Director of my charity, that this academic year would be my final one as a full-time secondary school teacher. I was ready to take on the challenge of growing our charity - Centre of Change: Counselling, Mentoring and Tutoring Service - to a place where it became financially robust and self-sustaining: building capacity, as the jargon would have it.

When I took on this challenge in the summer of 2018, I soon recognised that Collaboration was the buzzword bouncing around among service providers, local government and others in the community network. In many meetings and conferences I attended in those months, ‘collaboration’ was dutifully chanted by those in the know.

Up to this point, collaboration had not been a strong point of our charity. On two occasions in our 11-year existence, we had tried collaboration. We had tried to join forces to work with others and the result was ideas were snapped up by larger, better-established organisations and touted as their own, whilst we had to sit by, unable to do anything about it. From then on, our motto was: ‘Twice bitten, forever shy’. So, when I joined the BTEG introductory meeting, led by Simone Williams, in January to find out what ‘Connectivity’ could mean for my charity, it is a real understatement to say that I was extremely wary.

Fortunately, I went into the programme with an open, though somewhat cautious, mind. Early on I understood that collaboration could be successful, if managed well. There was the recognition that some people in life would lack integrity and therefore naivety could be disastrous, so a degree of shrewdness was needed. Simone’s facilitation of discussions around responsibilities and boundaries were particularly resonant with me during this stage.

Delegates all had something in common: a desire to enhance the lived experience and life chances of disadvantaged or marginalised people. It soon became clear that holding a common interest or goal is enough to find ground to form partnerships. But it is imperative to know and understand each individual’s contribution to the project and how each part would fit together. Communication was another component that needed to be water-tight if projects were to float. Trust was essential and something that has to grow and develop over time within the agreement of a piece of work. I didn’t actually form a collaboration within this forum but the principles were clear.

In practice, over the past ten months the concept of connectivity has helped me, in my capacity of Assistant Director of my charity, to build and work within a number of collaborative relationships. A few months ago, four educators (including myself), representing four organisations were able to come together with our respective experience and skills and put on an educational event for parents and carers of BAME children. It helped them better understand the education system and provided insight into how to help their young people navigate the system successfully. It was well attended by parents, interested individuals and organisations, and educators.

On a side note, in the week of actually putting this blog post together, a very attractive prospect has arisen off the back of the education collaborative event. It requires four education specialists to be trained to deliver in-school training. The opportunity was immediately attractive to all four parties involved in the previous piece of work. Although we each have our distinct organisations, we have seen the success of working together, the power of pooling our resources and how we complement and support each other, and realised that the whole is actually greater than each of us as individual parts.

Connectivity has not only given me the confidence to work with others who are in similar and complementary organisations but also the knowledge and capabilities of defining, agreeing and understanding roles and boundaries within these relationships. The concept allows for a high level of accountability which in itself helps to drive productivity and thus success.

I am currently planning a large community event; I have never attempted to lead anything anywhere near this scale before. The concept of connectivity has been fundamental in helping me to develop this project, as it has allowed me to approach and engage other organisations in an open and honest way whilst still maintaining ownership of this piece of work. Our Christmas event will be a whole community affair, involving commitments from at least three groups other than Centre of Change. It brings us into collaboration with local government, a faith group, a small but extremely influential community group, as well as a range of groups and individuals with lesser involvement. This collaboration has generated ideas and resources beyond what I could imagine when I first put the idea forward to my board of trustees.

We’ve almost come full circle from that resolution made last December and committed to in January with the start of the BTEG Connectivity Programme. It’s fitting, I think, that the year should culminate with a display of what collaboration can look like in real terms.

I know the event will not be perfect. I know I will take away a handful of ‘even better ifs’. But, more to the point, I know it will be fun, well-attended and a great success.

Diane Rouillon
 

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