Cleveland, OH: Making the Case for Collaboration

cleveland_rocks 640x480Collaboration is a buzz-word in the non-profit world, but as we all know, it is “easier said than done.” There are many factors in our work that make collaboration tricky, and at times it doesn’t seem worth the effort. Before you give up on collaboration, however, consider this example from Cleveland, OH.

The Refugee Services Collaborative (RSC) of Greater Cleveland is a group of organizations (14 in total!) that have been working together since 2011 to better serve the rising numbers of refugees resettling in Northeast Ohio. The RSC includes three refugee resettlement agencies, area school systems, healthcare providers, and community and faith-based organizations.

In order to get a little insight on what collaboration has looked like in Cleveland, Higher spoke to Janus Small, president of Janus Small Associates and the Facilitator of the RSC:

How and why did the RSC get started?

The purpose of the RSC is to make Cleveland the best place in the country for refugees to be resettled and to make the individual organizations that serve refugees successful in the work that they do.

We got started when a group of refugee service providers came together back in 2010-2011 to inventory what services were being provided, what services were being duplicated, and also to identify gaps that existed.

We started with a survey of 14 organizations and had such a positive experience that we decided to formalize the collaboration, and in January of 2013, after receiving a generous grant from the Cleveland Foundation, launched a full calendar of joint activities.

 What does the collaboration actually look like?

The RSC meets on a monthly basis. We have task forces that are working on different projects.

For example, one group recently worked on a public awareness campaign which commissioned 5 local film makers to make short documentaries on refugee families. These films were shown as part of our World Refugee Day celebration and have also been screened and discussed in local “town hall meetings.”

At each RSC meeting we have someone from an outside organization present information that will be relevant for RSC members. We also host quarterly professional development workshops that help service organizations refine their skills (e.g. workshops on data management, developing excellent volunteer programs, board development, community outreach, and strategic development).

Collaboration is not easy to pull off in the non-profit world. Why has it worked in Cleveland?

One thing that has really worked for us is to have a neutral, objective, 3rd party facilitator that is not on staff at one of the refugee service organizations.

Additionally, there is not a lot of money involved, and the money that is involved is a result of multiple RSC organizations working together on certain grants.

For example, we collaborated on a grant that allowed us to do an economic impact study that helps document all the ways that refugees and immigrants contribute in Cleveland.

What are some concrete ways that you have seen refugees better served as a result of the RSC?

We’ve formed a refugee advisory council that meets monthly. This was important to us because we wanted to make sure that we are not only serving the refugee service organizations, but also the refugees themselves.

We’ve also worked together as a collaborative to build relationships with employers and landlords so that there will be more employment and housing opportunities for refugees in Cleveland.

Many thanks to Janus Small for sharing this collaboration success story. Keep up the good work Cleveland!

For another example of successful collaboration check out this 2013 Higher post about the Refugee Employment Coalition in Kent, WA: http://www.higheradvantage.org/refugee-employment-summit-in-kent-wa-increases-collaboration-among-all-stakeholders/.

We’d also love to hear about your successes and challenges in developing collaborative partnerships related to refugee employment. Let us know at information@higheradvantage.com!

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