Alexandria in Action: Making a collective difference

Alexandria in Action: Making a collective difference

By John Porter

“Large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations,” said a Foundation Strategy Group piece on collective impact featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. This certainly makes sense, as most of us learned early in our lives that “two heads are better than one” and how we now find new models of working together in both the education and business worlds. It is
easy to understand how working together on a common goal makes much more sense and generally results in a better final product.

In recent years, Alexandria increasingly has seen the value of working together on important issues to increase the impact for the community. Most recently, leaders from the city’s publicly funded preschool providers — Alexandria City Public Schools, ALIVE!, The Campagna Center, Child & Family Network Centers and Creative Play School — along with local funders, created the Quality Collaborative to support a best-practice professional development pilot program for early childhood classrooms serving low-income families.

While the effort is just beginning, the collaboration among providers has been amazing. They are coordinating their staff training, utilizing a common assessment instrument that focuses on teacher-child interactions, and creating professional learning communities for teachers across all programs. It’s a step forward in making sure that children enrolled in publicly supported preschool education programs are receiving a high quality education based on research and best practices.

Another example of effective collaboration is through the city’s Hunger Free Alexandria effort. In July 2014, the Alexandria Childhood Obesity Action Network, a working group of the Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria, released a study: “Toward an End to Hunger in Alexandria.” The report, which can be found on the group’s website:, highlights concerns regarding food access challenges in the city. It notes that “as many as one in five Alexandrians, disproportionately children, are living in households struggling to make ends meet,” which puts them “at risk for the harms associated with ‘food hardship’— that is, irregular access to affordable, healthy meals.”

As a result of this report’s findings and recommendations, a number of members of the clergy and nonprofit leaders joined together to create the Hunger Free Alexandria initiative to help combat this persistent issue. The results in just over a year have been promising. They hosted the Hunger Free Alexandria weekend in September 2014 to raise awareness of the issue, created the Hunger Free Fund at ACT for Alexandria to raise financial support to address it, and worked collectively with the city to bring together emergency food providers at the new Alexandria Food Center which is scheduled for dedication on October 16, 2015, National Hunger Day.

Hunger Free Alexandria and the Quality Collaborative are only two of the more recent collaborative efforts in our community. Many other nonprofits are finding ways to reach more people, address more issues, and have more of an impact by working cooperatively with other nonprofits, government officials and school leaders. This is increasingly important in today’s world of shrinking budgets, increased need for services and more awareness of the problems many of our neighbors are facing on a daily basis.

So, while there are some who will contend the best way to get the job done is to do it yourself, there is growing evidence that a collective approach works to have a larger, more lasting impact for those in need of services in our community. And isn’t that what being a part of a community is — helping others when it’s most needed and in the most effective and efficient way?

The writer is the president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.