16 November 2015

Collective Impact – Together we can achieve much more than any of us can alone

Floodings. Social exclusion. Pollution. Poverty. Lack of resources. What unites these societal challenges, which I believe we all can relate to?

They are characteristics of the world today. They are complex. And they cannot be tackled by one person, organisation, state unit or local community alone – no matter how strong they might be. In other words, these kinds of challenges call for strong, focused and farsighted cross-sector cooperation.

At Realdania our motto is “Quality of life for all through the built environment”. We want to initiate and promote ideas and practical solutions in the built environment that have the capacity to drive development and change. Our projects reach beyond “bricks and mortar” to create positive change for people. We embrace our social responsibility with a proactive and agenda-setting approach. We are a change agent and we take on this role with a strong sense of responsibility and humbleness.

We believe that we need each other’s strengths and resources if we want to move the needle dealing with the present day’s core challenges. The time has run out for more meetings where each of us serve our own interests.

That is why – as the first Danish philanthropic organisation to do so – we work systematically according to the principles of “Collective Impact”. Collective Impact as a concept was born in the US and is about:

  • Setting common and measurable goals in relation to what you want to achieve or change, and with a long-term perspective in mind
  • Finding mutual common agreement as to how to gauge the means by which you will create change and on a joint monitoring system to ensure progress and learning
  • Establishing a common and binding plan of action which means that the parties prioritise the investment of resources to achieve the common goal in their daily work

If you agree to be part of a Collective Impact programme, you are indeed entering into a rather demanding and committed form of partnership. What you win, though, are results in areas where it is usually incredibly difficult to achieve successful change at society level.

We are talking about measurable results in areas such as the reduction of child obesity, helping mentally vulnerable or disabled people to become part of the labour market, better grades and educational statistics among youngsters across social environments. These examples are mainly from the US, but are also beginning to appear in other countries around the world. Likewise, organisations like the UN are achieving good results. So there is good reason for the buzz about Collective Impact in circles that are affected by the ambition and expectation of actually trying to solve some of the Gordian knots that society presents.


How Realdania engages in Collective Impact

At Realdania we want to contribute to solving complex societal problems. We ask questions about how to secure and bring life to the built heritage, how to increase social inclusion, and how to secure our cities in times of climate change. As a modern philanthropic organisation we seek close collaboration with other civil society organisations and NGOs as well as key players within the public and private sector in construction and architecture. This gives us the knowledge and the capacity to identify essential challenges in society and to respond with projects that create long-term solutions.

We should all know that there is no simple recipe when it comes to complex, large-scale problems. Each situation is unique and has its own context, stakeholders, and concerns. However, let me repeat: Answers and solutions to such questions can only be found if we join forces and work together towards common goals.

Collective Impact has recently arrived in Denmark, with a few organisations already working systematically with this form of collaboration. At Realdania, we launched three independently run Collective Impact groups last year and created a working platform for each of the three groups. Each group will each have its own secretarial department to support the work by completing such tasks as collecting and producing relevant data, which is another key feature of Collective Impact. But this doesn’t make these groups into think tanks. On the contrary – knowledge is the basis for action. Therefore, it is the decision makers who are also seated at the table, so they can act in unison, with a focus on common goals.

Realdania is funding the working platform, but is otherwise engaged as an equal partner among the range of other stakeholders in the groups. This arm’s-length approach is important. The parties must set aside their own exclusive agendas for the benefit of going for a common goal. An independent chairman for each Collective Impact Group is in charge of the joint tasks which deal with subjects concerning 1) the living built heritage in rural areas, 2) the potential of outlying rural areas and open land, and 3) social issues in relation to the built environment.

At a time when there is noticeable pressure that is the result of complex challenges to society, the demand for new ways of thinking and a public economic framework that is in decline, Collective Impact is perfectly timed as a working form.

Whether we are able to translate this working method into actual results in a Danish context remains to be seen, but is definitely worth a try. The world is calling for new, cross-sector forms of cooperation that make a difference in real life. It is our responsibility to the world constantly to try new ways of cooperation in order to tackle the challenges of today.


Jesper Nygård 

CEO, Realdania