Top 100 Partners Exercise: Systematic & Strategic Engagement for Collective Impact

I have a passion for promoting breastfeeding in a bit of a non-traditional manner. Simply stated, I love community networking and my experience has shown me that the partnerships that come from developing connections with others are a valuable asset in our work and represent a strong vehicle for change. I see each person and organization I interact with as a potential partner. I am fascinated by the experience of building authentic relationships with people and organizations and following the natural pathways for collaboration and change that come from these connections. I am constantly surprised by what is possible when we simply focus our efforts on the process of relationship building and cooperation and trust it as it unfolds, seeing where the process will take us.

Being an employee for the Indiana Perinatal Network and a member of the Indiana Breastfeeding Coalition has afforded me lots of wonderful opportunities for collaboration with an array of community partners. I have been witness, many times over, to what can happen when a conversation leads to a point of intersection in our shared visions. It is at that intersection that the foundation for a community partnership is built. Those moments when partner conversations transform into ideas, that turn into collaborative projects are exciting and powerful moments. In fact, maybe because of the raw potential that they represent, they are truly the most powerful experiences that I have had in the three decades that I have worked in breastfeeding education and promotion.

This style of working in the community, for me and the Coalition, has always been very organic, unscripted and instinctual. We usually just sort of follow the” trail of bread crumbs”, with little anticipation of any particular outcome. Giving ourselves up to the process, seeing where it leads us, and very often being delighted at where we end up! To say it another way, this has not been, for us, an exact science.

A few months ago the USBC invited Coalitions to do The 100 Partners Exercise. You might recall seeing this invitation. We thought that because we were already doing this style of work it might be fun to see if we could do it in a more deliberate and organized way. We decided we had nothing to lose and took them up on their invitation. We were guided by USBC leadership though a very logical discussion as we mapped out on a spreadsheet of partnership opportunities, current and future. It turned out to be a very quick and simply process, actually surprisingly simple when you consider the end result.

Here is a quick overview of The 100 Partners Exercise. On your spreadsheet you have your possible community partners divided into 4 groups: Business/Private Sector, Community/Lived Experience, Government/Education, and Volunteer/Charitable. As a group or a Coalition you begin a discussion of whom you know and who has a shared or common interest and begin to list these people and groups under the appropriate category. The spreadsheet includes places to identify how you can engage each Partner and keep track of the status of the relationship as it develops, as well as projects and outcomes.

The 100 Partners Exercise is a game changer. It has given our Coalition a valuable tool for keeping track of our partners, progress and possibilities. It was actually pretty shocking to see the size of the relationship network we have already built and the body of work that we have created. Until we organized it with this exercise I don’t think we had a clear understanding of our current and potential impact. It gave us a new sense of direction and a much clearer idea how to better develop the relationship infrastructure we already have and where the obvious next steps for growth exist. Without a doubt, this is our new, best, working document. Thank you to USBC for bringing us this valuable tool and teaching us to use it.

If you are unsure about your ability to do relationship based community work and need a starting point The 100 Partner Exercise is for you and your Coalition. If you are looking for a way to help identify and organize opportunities for your Coalition, The 100 Partner Exercise is a perfect place to begin. If you want a tool to help you structure your Coalitions efforts, outreach and collaboration than, yes you guessed it, The 100 Partner Exercise is just what you are looking for l. I see it as an inventory of your community assets. Every Coalition should try The 100 Partner Exercise. Trust me; you will be glad that you did.    

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