Expanding Leadership Beyond Your Walls

By: Sydney Rogers, Executive Director of Alignment Nashville

Sydney Rogers is the founding executive director of Alignment Nashville; the organization’s purpose is to strategically and systemically align community organizations in support of public education and children’s health. Rogers is currently developing Alignment USA, a national network of collective impact organizations.

Sydney Rogers

Someone has to be looking at the big picture. For non-profits to make a positive impact on difficult community problems, the work of our community agencies must be viewed through the lens of the system in which they work.


Community organizations do great work and each – including our schools – often become very focused on achieving organizational excellence. Indeed, nonprofits have – for good reason – been tasked to prove their individual worth throughout the years.  As a result, that is the lens through which we often view and tackle our most complex societal problems. Most of the many initiatives or efforts in a community stand alone as remarkably effective – for what they are focused to achieve. When we look at the individual results for each effort the following question emerges; how do those individual outcomes fit into the overall vision we want for a community?

As an example, for an organization whose mission is to be sure that all children have shoes to wear, if they achieve that outcome – that all children have shoes to wear, that is a great impact. And another organization whose mission is to be sure all children have glasses to see, and if they achieve that outcome – that all children have glasses to see, that is a great impact, also. And what about the organization that ensures that all children have food to eat on the weekend? And, there are those who ensure that all children are reading by third grade – more great impacts. And if all of these things are happening in a community, year after year, then why do we still see the same problems? And, what can we do to make the results better in our community?

To answer that big question, we need to ask and to answer some bigger questions; what is the long-term outcome we want for our children? How does each of these efforts fit into that long-term outcome? How do they work together and complement each other? How will we know if we are making progress toward those outcomes? Where are the holes in the ways we are working together and as a community, where the children are falling through? Some advocate that we should view the holes in the system through each individual child collectively. A different perspective might ask – where is our system faulty?

As an example, if our hopes and dreams for our children and our community are that all children prosper and contribute to society, then where do each of the efforts in our community fit in the journey we are taking to get there?

What are ways each of these efforts can change so that they positively impact all kids across the board and also ensure that the society we have built is structurally sound and has no weak links?

Who is studying the data to know if we are focusing too much or too little effort in one area? Are there underutilized resources in our community that can be brought to light?

In communities all across the country, the need to view the system and the collective outcomes is emerging as a prominent conversation. In these places, very thoughtful and collaborative work is resulting in innovative, disruptive and positive impact for children, education, safety, nutrition, health and many other sectors. Collective impact is a term that has been used to describe these efforts.

High school graduation rates are rising, students are engaged, teen pregnancy rates are decreasing, crime rates are down and community prosperity is on the rise. These results are only early indicators though. More time is required and more work needs to be done.

To prepare for my upcoming visit to Greenville, I have spoken with some local community leaders and I know that a very thoughtful conversation is beginning here. Join me in a discussion about collaborative leadership on September 9 at Shine the Light’s Expanding Leadership Beyond Your Walls at the Kroc Center from 8 am – noon. Now in its fifth year, DNA Creative Communications’ Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums is a training series developed in partnership with United Way of Greenville County, the Community Foundation of Greenville and the Hollingsworth Funds.

Achieving community-wide success requires leadership and tenacity, a broad community vision and a shift in perspective. Each organization and person can bring something to the leadership and to the effort. I look forward to watching your progress, Greenville.

Publication by: The Greenville Journal


Posted September 08, 2014 in: Blog, Speakers by Debbie Nelson

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