As one of the founding financial partners behind Future Ready Collier, the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation has a uniquely empirical perspective on collective impact at work, as well as deep community connections that both speak to and evolve from such strategic, networked energetic investment. At the outset of the conversations that gave rise to Future Ready Collier, the Schulze Family Foundation, long led locally by Mary Beth Geier, saw the value of collaborative conversation, whereby each participant can openly say what they know that’s helpful, balanced by what they don’t know that they need help with. Coming together, sharing knowledge, and moving along a coordinated, forward-looking path are key characteristics of Future Ready Collier’s origins and ongoing success.
Future Ready Collier: The Making of a Collective Impact Network
There wasn’t a lot of hands-on experience among Future Ready Collier’s founders in collective impact. Some, but more indirect than direct, and not proximate to Southwest Florida. What there was, however, was a lot of energy and heart, backed by research and good ideas. Throughout Southwest Florida, conversations around education and workforce were starting to formalize, notably through establishment of the FutureMakers Coalition, a 5-county consortium based in Lee County. As Collier County leaders further coalesced around a nascent mission—creating a more effective pipeline for students from early childhood through to college and career choices—you could almost feel the change in the air.
In talking about the pervasive trust within the Future Ready Collier network, Geier notes, “there was always respect” but the early partners were initially “a bit reserved; being able to have this shared conversation developed this innate sense of trust, and it didn’t take much time.” Through its history to date, Future Ready Collier has begun the long process towards incremental, large-scale change, recording some tangible ‘wins’ along with refinement of mission, better reach to key stakeholders, and increasing public awareness. Those, Geier is keen to observe, are on their own merits worthy achievements.
Engagement and Innovation Equal Impact
For the Schulze Family Foundation, engagement with Future Ready Collier provides a useful barometer and touch point within the region. Education is one of the Foundation’s primary target areas. Communications with partners and grantees, both current and prospective, are a good lens into understanding what’s happening locally, assessing whether organizations are aware of Future Ready Collier, how effectively are on-the-ground efforts being deployed, and how can we ensure the right voices are always being represented. Without Future Ready Collier, Geier believes the community as a whole would be at a disadvantage, losing access to shared data and strategic relationships. As a leadership coalition, and a central resource, Future Ready Collier serves multiple audiences and purposes.
Going forward, how can Future Ready Collier continue to create and optimize opportunities for social invention? This is a big and complex question, requiring out-of-the-box thinking. That is one of Future Ready Collier’s primary benefits—since no one person or entity has all the answers, there’s terrific power in joined purpose. As Future Ready Collier evolves, Geier would like to see greater innovation, and perhaps adoption of a more formalized structure. As a true collective, lacking its own independent legal standing, Future Ready Collier cannot apply for its own grants, and operates through the administrative backing of an area nonprofit, along with monetary contributions from its central cohort. Geier sees Future Ready Collier’s potential role as encouragingly substantial, overlaying education interests with business and social services, setting a real basis for change.
Leading Through Teamwork
With a culture grounded in teamwork, Future Ready Collier has already done what many collective impact models don’t: simply survive, never mind grow to maturity. What’s more, with sustained involvement and investment—in all applicable senses—from the community, Future Ready Collier is equipped to move towards and ultimately even achieve some of those big goals.
Prepared by Caroline Ridgway of C1B1 Communications.