Years ago, Boise State was involved in an aid project in Vietnam funded by the Swedish government. At one big ceremony, the Swedish ambassador spoke, with translation by a Vietnamese project leader. The ambassador talked about his government’s decision to work only in “catalyst countries,” ones where the small amount of aid money could make an impact. Places such as Vietnam, Zambia or Bangladesh. (Amusingly, the Vietnamese translator said the Swedes worked only in “Catholic countries,” which made for a very perplexed Vietnamese audience, since Vietnam professes no religion at all).
The point was that Sweden, with relatively small amounts of money, teamed up with other Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, Norway) to collaborate on projects in countries where they could make a difference. Their funds would be a tiny droplet in China or Egypt but could have an impact in Vietnam. And they have — in education, in forestry, in health care.
One of the strengths of nonprofits in the U.S. is that people who start and run them may choose areas of focus that complement their interests or concerns. The drawbacks are that resources may be spread thinly, organizations may work in similar or overlapping areas, and they may not leverage work that could be done jointly.
I wonder whether more of our own nonprofits could team up or focus on some area(s) that need help, rather than spreading the resources they have across many different areas. Could they choose specific areas of focus (e.g., the homeless, refugees) that several organizations can put combined resources into for a period of time (say 5-7 years) and then move on to other critical needs?
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I’ve been checking rescue-dog sites lately (and trying to resist) but find that I check four or five sites at a time. What if they were all coordinated in a single southern Idaho rescue animal site? Some megasites include some of the individual organizations but not all.
With tightening resources and greater needs, what would it take for us to collaborate more in new ways?
Nancy Napier is executive director of Boise State’s Centre for Creativity and Innovation. email@example.com