Nonprofit Voice | Working Together Must Work: Why Collaboration is Key to Success at Next Generation Men

October 09, 2015
| by Guest Contributor |

In the private sector, success is often defined by pure competition: beating your peers and gaining a greater market share. From a business perspective, this approach is logical and desirable. Your company and employees depend on your ability to sell something better than others in the marketplace: It’s as simple as that.

Ian Cohen, Executive Director, Next Generation Men:

However, in the nonprofit sector, we strive for a different kind of success. As mission-driven organizations, the foundation of our work must be the fulfillment of community need—not competing with our peers—or else we risk becoming part of the problem we are trying to solve.

That’s why it must work for us to work together. In the private sector, where profits come first, they collaborate only when necessary. In nonprofit organizations, where the mission comes first, and where resources are often limited, we should collaborate whenever possible if it means we will have a greater sustainable impact.

When we first began Next Generation Men (NGM) over a year ago, my co-founders and I committed to learning from and collaborating with whomever could provide our students with the greatest opportunities for success in high school, post-secondary education, and their lives beyond. But, I must admit, staying committed to this principle proved difficult at first. 

As a start-up nonprofit, resources can be scarce and competition for them is real. Within our first few months, we encountered the same set of social entrepreneurs at what seemed like every foundation, grant competition, and fellowship opportunity in Atlanta and the sector at large. It was hard to resist hoping our “competition” failed or faltered just enough to allow NGM to receive whatever it was we were going after.

But we must constantly remind ourselves that everyone in this space is passionate about solving an important problem, or supporting an underserved group, in our communities. Moreover, if carried out with fidelity, the competition amongst us should work as a vehicle to further refine and perfect our methods, not squash them.

At Next Generation Men, collaboration is built into our model. We provide yearlong programs that expose young men of color to different careers, while providing them with the support to be successful students and individuals—which we can only accomplish by working with teachers and local organizations. Visiting businesses in different industries and fulfilling new service opportunities every month (in addition to working weekly with their coaches), our students collaborate with businesses, nonprofits, community members, and their schools to reimagine their educational experience and develop their own path for the future.

At the same time, we are building a unique model for supporting young men of color that’s effective, affordable, and scalable—but only with the help of others. In less than a year, we have established 14 partnerships, and are now working with nearly 75 students from two schools in Atlanta, with plans to expand next year in both Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools.

The goal of every non-profit should be to fulfill its mission, regardless of whether that is best accomplished on its own, through partnerships, or through collective impact. Collaboration can mean a more efficient allocation of resources and improved methodology - and, as a result, a greater impact on the problem we set out to solve. 

Ian Cohen is Executive Director of Next Generation Men, with previous work experience in education policy and as a high school teacher and coach at Banneker High School in Fulton County.

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