How and Why Seattle’s Do-Gooders are Working to Create a Collaborative Community

“I believe in synergy, the power of collaboration.” These are the words of Bill Clapp, active Seattle philanthropist fighting global poverty, who encourages collaboration between isolated social entrepreneurs so that they may improve the effectiveness and sustainability of their efforts.

On July 27, 2011, Tom Paulson published the first in a series of three articles addressing the opportunities and dangers in Seattle’s burgeoning humanitarian sector on Humanosphere, an online news source focused on the intertwining issues of global health and poverty.

In one article Tom Paulson looks at the influential role Bill Clapp has played in forming and supporting Seattle’s community of people focused on social change. Bill and Paula Clapp have launched or helped to launch several initiatives to promote and support this collaborative humanitarian community – the Seattle International Foundation, Global Washington, and the Initiative for Global Development. Tom Paulson points out that, while these organizations vary in their specific focuses, they all share the central goal of “bringing people together to figure out how to make the world a better place.”

Bill Clapp states that, while much of congress does not realize the practical importance of international development “to our country, to our business community and to improving all aspects of our society,” the Seattle community seems to have strongly grasped this. Over the past decade, this internationally orientated community has dramatically expanded, leading to the creation of hundreds of small organizations focused on global development. While this growing humanitarian sector means greater job opportunities and chances to “do well by doing good,” it also poses the issues of “a plethora of good (or maybe not-so-good) causes competing for funding,… redundancy, lack of clarity as to what really constitutes a “social enterprise,” lack of criteria for measuring success (or failure) and, overall,… not making the most of this opportunity due to lack of collaboration, of community.”

In another of Tom Paulson’s articles, he focuses on the recent collaborative efforts of the Seattle International Foundation, an organization that supports global poverty alleviation through grant-making, and Jolkona, a recent start-up that connects funders with small organizations engaging in meaningful causes. Using the online “deal of the day” website, Groupon, Jolkona fundraised $5,000, which the Seattle International Foundation matched, for iLEAP, an organization working on women’s empowerment. With this money, iLEAP was able to fund a fellowship for a woman working on social change. According to Maurico Vivero, executive director at Seattle International Foundation, “supporting women leaders working on issues of poverty and social empowerment is proven to be one of the most effective means for affecting change in power, or any, communities.” Through effective collaboration, the Seattle International Foundation, Jolkona, and iLEAP were able to quickly raise enough money to fund a fellowship for a woman leader creating positive social change.

The Seattle International Foundation awards grants to many other organizations like iLEAP, yet they are also forced to decline many other requests for support. While, in this region, there exist numerous good intentions to better the world, an effective, sustainable approach is not always taken. In keeping with Bill Clapp’s aim, Vivero says, “we want to bring all these people, and their causes, together and see what happens.”

In Tom Paulson’s last article, he looks at how a sense of community and collaboration between isolated individuals can be enhanced through the creation of a space where these individuals can convene. This is where The Hub comes in. The Hub says on its website:

“We believe that there is no absence of good ideas in the world.  The problem is a crisis of access, scale, resources and impact. So it felt vital to create places around the world for accessing space, resources, connections, knowledge, experience and investment.”

Beginning in British Columbia and Europe, there are now currently three branches of The Hub in the U.S., two in San Francisco and one in Atlanta, and large support for the launch of The Hub here in Seattle. In addition to the efforts of Global Washington, the Seattle International Foundation, and the Initiative for Global Development to bring people together, The Hub may be able to further the creation of a community and its ability to collaborate.

As Seattle continues to grow as a center for international development work, organizations such as Global Washington, the Seattle International Foundation, and the Initiative for Global Development are “increasing accountability and improving effectiveness by building community,” establishing Seattle as a center for sustainable and meaningful international development work.