Cross-Sectoralism--By Invitation Only?

Here’s an interesting dilemma: Let’s say you want to change the world. And, being the enlightened human being that you are, you understand that changing the world is not something you are going to be very successful doing on your own. So, you start to look for other people to help you--people from outside your circle, your geographic region, your particular philosophic bent, even. You need their ideas, their support, their money, their networks. Actually, you sound like a nonprofit, or one of the “new philanthropists” we like to talk about these days. But what happens if you find out that the people you need to work with in order to be successful are, well, rather undesirable?

Well, welcome to reality. While cross-sectoral approaches to social change are absolutely imperative, they can be humbling. They can make you have to talk to folks and organizations of which you might not really approve, or with which you would rather not be associated.

Let’s take the recent example of the alliance between Greenpeace and McDonald’s, for example. Unlikely bedfellows, for certain, but as it turns out, Greenpeace, which has been known to publicly berate McDonald’s for its business practices, realized that the best way to accomplish its goal of preventing deforestation of the Amazon region was to join forces with the mega-food retailer. As a Washington Post article on the partnership noted, “The tale of how the two heavyweights came together reflects the complexities, pressures and ironies of the globalized economy. It also illustrates how once-unthinkable partnerships can become forces for addressing environmental and social problems that governments cannot handle.”

Melinda Gates echoed this sentiment in her speech at the recent Annual Meeting of the Council on Foundations. She admitted that despite the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has more money than God, and is run by totally brilliant, powerful and networked individuals, they can’t change the world by themselves. She stated, “If we’re going to have a global impact, and do it over the long haul, then governments and businesses have to be involved. They’re central to what we all do…Our foundation has been blessed with significant resources, but by ourselves we can’t make a dent in any of the problems we focus on.”

If we have been paying attention, we would have noticed that this lesson is age-old. Even Jesus realized that successful solutions to social change required the participation of individuals from all walks of life--from the highest religious figures, to government agents, to ordinary citizens, and even those folks who exist on society's margins. Yes, people criticized him for working with prostitutes and tax collectors, but he knew that in order to accomplish his mission, to fulfill his passion, he must invite to the table those who collectively could get the job done.

The bottom line is that successful solutions to social change must have a place at the table for anyone who needs to be there, despite their past offenses or their political affiliations or the way they file with the IRS. The question is whether those of us who say we really want to change the world are ready to include in the conversation those who need to be there.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 6:00 AM, May 07, 2007 in Cross-Sectoral Strategies | Permalink | Comments (1)


As I read your article I thought "How would Jesus Blog?" :-)

Great article Caroline. I think the sector needs to seek out independent web-based platforms that will encourage cross/sector discussion on how to take on big issues. For example, lessons learned at the Public Health Track at the Seattle conference let me to the realization that we who follow the Education Tracks need to do a better job at supporting schools (teachers, administrators, students and their families) to address the chronic public health issues they confront every day. Philanthropy can go on and on about reforming public schools, but unless we work to figure out how to solve some of the chronic public health dis-eases these young people face, all the reform in the world won't matter one bit. Some interesting web-based platforms are being created to encourage such debate c.f., The sector should support more of these tools to convene cross sectoral conversations. A very interesting foray into this area is the Netsquared group and their website and conference found at Some really great foundations such as Surdna and others have provided the funds to get this group going.

Thanks for your posts...yours is a great site!

Posted by: John Mullaney