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Save the World With Collaborative Leadership

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Tue Mar 12 2013

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(From Huffington Post)—Want to save the world? One way to do it is to learn how to collaborate.

Last June, the president of the University of Virginia, Terry Sullivan, was fired. It was a big mistake -- a decision made in haste by some trustees who failed to think through the consequences of their action. Many of us who love UVA were appalled. We could have just stood by, complaining to one another. Instead, we took action. Thousands of students, alumni, faculty, administration, and staff stood up together and sent a single, clear message: "Bring her back!"

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Ten days later, Dr. Sullivan was returned to office. Today UVA is healthier than ever before, with an unprecedented array of constituents working together to mold a new and even more vibrant institution. That's the power of collaboration.

For decades, well-meaning people and organizations struggled to solve the problem of malaria in Africa, which killed more than a million people a year, half of them children under the age of five. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent without much to show for it. Then a group led by several key parties, including Ray Chambers, the UN Secretary General's Malaria Envoy, pulled together a coalition of businesses, local governments, multi-lateral organizations, universities, UN agencies, foundations, non-profits, and individuals to lead the effort. Now malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa have fallen from 1.2 million a year to approximately 550,000, with the goal of zero deaths by 2015 realistically within reach. Collaboration made it happen.

Are these success stories one-offs, unique and impossible to duplicate? Not necessarily. Today the art of collaboration is being studied by a number of universities as well advisors such as the consulting firm FSG \[http://www.fsg.org\\\]. They're discovering that "large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations." In other words, collaboration may be the key to making the world a better place.

Even more important, successful collaboration isn't just a happy accident. It's the result of specific factors that can be recognized and duplicated. They include:

1. Agreement on a simple, measureable goal that everyone can understand and rally around. The global malaria initiative, for example, rallied supporters around the goal of "cutting deaths from malaria through the use of insecticide-treated bed nets." By contrast, some of those concerned about global warming have succeeded only in scaring millions of people without providing them with clear, actionable steps to take.

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2. Leadership from an honest broker. In the malaria case, it was Ray Chambers, a trusted individual known and respected throughout the world health community. The role of honest broker requires someone with a managed ego, good listening skills, passion for the cause, a large network, and a history of collaborative successes. Business leaders in search of a second career are often great candidates, while politicians, academics, and physicians rarely qualify

3. Commitment from a small number of key organizations. Other organizations will fall in line once the coalition has five or six credible participants.

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