In assessing how to strengthen our communities, collaboration is a frequently raised topic—most commonly relative to its current insufficiency. Local stakeholders may bemoan the lack of cohesiveness, overlapping or unclear missions, competition, and siloing that keeps ideas and action from collective generation. In Southwest Florida, Future Ready Collier is an example of collective action happening in real time, to real effect.
What is Future Ready Collier?
Established as a network of more than 60 Collier County-based nonprofits, businesses, and civic organizations with direct interests in the education sector, Future Ready Collier intends to facilitate a pipeline of success from kindergarten to career. The challenges are significant. The population of Collier County is highly diverse. The expansive geography of the region is factor. There are language and other barriers to access. There is widespread disparity in prevalence of services relative to concentration of need.
A unifying point is that each of the organizations involved in Future Ready Collier has a stipulated commitment to improving the lives of young people through collective action. And, while still in its early stages, there is no doubt that real movement is observable. Examples include introduction of a local affiliate of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, creation of Parent Café gatherings to encourage better parent-to-parent engagement, action plans to increase rates and timeliness of FAFSA completion among high school seniors, formal support for early childhood learning providers to complete necessary credentials, and more.
Working Together for Change
Palpable among participating groups is a sincere commitment to working together, and to establishing meaningful and bidirectional trust-based relationships. Stakeholders consistently report the collaborative characteristic as significant. While collective impact models are broadly attempted, the sheer number and diversity of organizations involved with Future Ready Collier, and the real co-reliance and buy-in that has developed, is noteworthy. Essential to this process is the structured examination of Future Ready Collier’s mission as a network, and what and how each partner contributes. Future Ready Collier members include social services nonprofits, businesses, and healthcare providers, alongside educators. There is an acknowledgement that this is a community-wide question, requiring a community-wide effort.
Workgroups meet regularly in service of specific objectives, aligned around sub-categories within the larger interests of early childhood learning, and college and career readiness. The entire workgroups convene periodically to share progress, explore connection points, and reset objectives. Additionally, Future Ready Collier is proactively bringing together nonprofit leaders, including board representation, to foster dialogue around shared goals as well as obstacles. Communication, respect, understanding, and action naturally derive from these gatherings.
With only approximately half of children entering kindergarten deemed ready, and over 60% of Collier County working adults lacking a degree or credential, the scope of the work can appear daunting when considered from an individual perspective. The inherent promise of a network like Future Ready Collier is that, collectively, impact is within reach.
Prepared by Caroline Ridgway of C1B1 Communications.