Creating a meaningful third sector collaboration


Ewan Aitken on a new collaboration between the Cyrenians and Columba 1400, which aims to transform how both organisations work.

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5th May 2016 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Columba1400 and Cyrenians are two organisation which have a lot in common yet two distinctive identities.

Columba14000 focus on leadership from within and creating opportunities of transformation for young people from tough realities is mirrored by Cyrenians’ commitment to supporting people excluded from family, home, work or community on their life journey. Yet what we do is also very different. Neither is right or wrong. They are simply different.

It was the space between similarity and difference where the conversation between the two organisations began to explore a collaboration. The conversation began when Columba1400s development officer Marie-Claire Drummond attended and Cyrenians breakfast event in October 2014 where I laid out Cyrenians’ strategy for the next five years.

Marie-Claire said she could see real areas where, by working together, both organisations could do some new things really well and make better use of what they already did.

I already knew Columba1400 and readily agreed to meet, especially as I’d set a target of three new collaborations with third sector organisations over the next five years in the speech I’d just finished!

We looked at the things we do well, the things we could improve on and the places where we could create synergies by working together.

Ewan Aitken

Ewan Aitken

We are very excited about this opportunity and very keen to learn for it so we are both better able to journey beside those we serve

For example. Columba1400 took young people to a very different place in their journey but knew they needed to offer something beyond the Columba1400 experience.

Cyrenians have a great deal of experience in talking young people into work, training and education. Cyrenians is a values-led organisation with a commitment to invest in its staff as part of its growth strategy but needed a way of building in opportunities for staff to have values based reflection on their work in the organisation. Values based conversation and reflection is core to the Columba1400 way of working.

From the word go there was a commitment to make the partnership deliberate and accountable.

We agreed we needed to know what we set out to do together and how we would hold each other to account in achieving those goals. This came from experience of third sector organisations talking about how good it would be to work together but either never getting round to doing so or doing a few things together piecemeal but with no real sense of a deeper relationship.

Collaborations have to be about core tasks, helping those involved achieve their mission, not add-ons to the day job. We also knew of partnerships formed in the heat of tendering which later falter because of culture clash, not enough time spent on exploring expectations the deeper impact on the organisations involved.

There is often talk about the need for collaboration but not as much thought as to why it’s a good idea. A lot revolves round the drivers for working together.

There are some excellent examples of collaborative work from which we all can learn but a great deal of collaboration is driven by those holding the purse strings, often so they don’t have to deal with more than one organisation and they assume it’s simply a task of dividing up some tasks afterwards.

We wanted to collaborate for different reasons. For us, this needed to be about something more than accessing money, something deeper than simply sharing resources. We want not simply to play to our strengths, we want to be changed as organisations by the journey.

We’ve set out to do seven things together over the next three years.

We want to build a Columba1400 experience into the work delivered to young people and their families and carers by Cyrenians Conflict Resolution Services, including both a families and parenting programme.

Develop shared capacity to support some of the young people who go through Columba14000, Cyrenians Communities and Key to Potential to become mentors for others coming through the programmes

Take all Cyrenians staff through a Columa1400 values reflection experience

Cyrenians to train Columba1400 staff in conflict resolution skills via the Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution.

Create an integrated cross referral process between the organisations

Cyrenians to provide bespoke training for accessing employment, education and training for Columba1400 Youth Forum members

Some of this will be funded internally, some will involve joint applications, some of it will be provided to each other in kind rather than cash.

We know it will be an iterative process where the journey will be as significant as the destination.

It’s about strengthening each organisations identity rather than a prelude to merger. And it’s going to take us to unexpected places within each organisation as well as together as the ethos of both impact on the other and we need each to be open to the change that will bring.

We are very excited about this opportunity and very keen to learn for it so we are both better able to journey beside those we serve.

Ewan Aitken is chief executive of the Cyrenians.