The power of the collective: Anchor collaboratives

(If you’re new to the idea of Anchor organisations, take a look at this blog for a quick introduction to the idea)

I’m now back in the UK after seven brilliant weeks in North America, interviewing and meeting with over 40 organisations working on community wealth building, and the role of Anchor organisations in tackling inequalities and promoting opportunities in the towns, cities and regions they’re based in.

One of the big areas of learning was about the power of collective action, and the benefits that can be achieved when Anchor organisations come together and collaborate. These so called Anchor ‘collaboratives’ are place based partnerships which have developed in towns, cities and regions across North America, to enable collaboration between the Anchor institutions in that place. For example, the Newark Anchor Collaborative has been established by the Newark Alliance, which brings together city government, universities and colleges, health providers, arts centres, charitable foundations and corporate partners who are all committed to improving life for people living in Newark.

Anchor collaboratives can take many forms, from those which are formal with explicit governance arrangements and funded facilitation, to those which are more informal and focus more on supporting peer learning. Crucially, they share a common geography, and have clearly defined and shared objectives that guide their work. They are often supported by a trusted independent organisation that helps to facilitate the work, and this role is typically funded by a philanthropic partner.

The potential benefits of such collaboration are substantial. Some of the most common strategies that Anchor organisations use to build wealth in the local area (such as hiring and procurement) have much greater potential to benefit that community when deployed at scale. For example, Anchor organisations may identify a gap in local service provision – such as sustainable food suppliers: one solution may be to incubate and support a local employee owned supplier to develop – but this is much more likely to succeed if the supplier can secure contract with a range of Anchor institutions, rather than just one.  In Cleveland, Ohio, a group of Anchor organisations have collectively invested in funding and contracting a worker owned co-operative – Evergreen co-ops – which is now supplying a range of services, including laundry and solar, to Anchors in Cleveland. One Anchor alone wouldn’t have benefited from this investment, but collectively their support for Evergreen means they now have a locally owned, environmentally sustainable, laundry service as part of their local supplier base.  

Anchor organisations can also benefit from ‘doing things once’ in a place, rather than duplicating efforts, if they work together. For example, gathering data about a local area or engaging the community to develop a collective vision about priority projects that Anchor organisations might pursue. Last but not least, peer learning is an incredibly effective tool for ongoing innovation and improvement, and collaboratives provide an opportunity for Anchor organisations to test and learn together.

Strong relationships, shared objectives and trust are the cornerstones of effective Anchor collaboratives. Across the UK many areas already have these foundations, though their genesis in different policies mean the partners haven’t always come together around a shared identity as Anchors, with the focus of their work as community wealth building.  

For example, Local Industrial strategies, which are led by Mayoral Combined authorities or local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), are one vehicle that should already have engaged the major Anchor institutions across England, although their focus is more on inward investment and innovation.

In the world of higher education, the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission has recommended establishing Civic University Agreements to re-establish Universities as a significant place based actor, and to develop these agreements in partnership with other local Anchor organisations. The recommendation has been co-signed by over 50 of the UK’s Universities so far.

The re-structure of the health sector has created new structures and partnerships, bringing local authorities, health and social care organisations and some civil society groups together in integrated care systems. These systems have an explicit focus on place, and many have already started a conversation about shared priorities, which is a crucial starting point for Anchor collaboratives.

Originating in the charitable space, there are also a growing number of Place Based Giving Schemes (the first one being Islington Giving) which engage a wide variety of local institutions, communities, charitable foundations and businesses to focus on how to increase giving (of time, money etc) in a place. The focus of these initiatives is on ‘giving’ – but they have served to bring together some unlikely partners and often have strong roots into the community.

There are also a multitude of other local initiatives that bring together key Anchor organisations – and others – with a focus on place based change and some local areas – such as Preston and Dudley – have already begun.

 These new structures and partnerships mean that many of the conversations and relationships which have enabled Anchor organisations to collaborate in North America are already happening in the UK. The foundations are in place, but now the focus of the conversation must shift towards how these organisations can better align their resources to improve the outcomes of the communities they are anchored in.

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