Collective capacity building
In 2014 and 2015, the Foundation convened a group of eight industry networks, who collectively represent thousands of local businesses, for an intensive 14-month capacity building program.
What are industry networks? These organizations represent important sectors of Rhode Island’s economy. They provide critical services to help businesses start and grow – including business and workforce development programs, industry assessment and analytics, technical assistance, mentorship, and marketing. As intermediaries, they make valuable linkages for their members with other industries, entities in the broader Rhode Island business ecosystem, and regional/national opportunities.
Participating were DESIGNxRI, EdTechRI, MedMates, Tech Collective, Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association, Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, and SENEDIA.
Many of the organizations face similar challenges around basic organizational infrastructure, membership development, and financial sustainability. Over the course of the program, participants received training, technical assistance, funding, and peer support to tackle these challenges.
There were two explicit goals for the program: to strengthen each individual organization’s ability to serve its members and industry and to strengthen the network that exists between the organizations.
At the conclusion of the program, all the organizations looked very different from where they had started. Some had secured significant new grants and funding; others had grown their membership. Many had physically moved into larger office spaces to accommodate their growth and newly-focused ambitions. In every case, the program enabled the organizations to ask important questions of themselves, and to examine their own abilities to achieve their stated goals.
These organizations were selected to participate because they each operated at the intersections of important industries and areas. They spoke of the value of getting to know each other – as individual leaders and as organizations. Linkages between organizations were strengthened and deepened, and introductions to new industries were made.
Importantly, this cohort will continue to meet – through the Foundation, as we continue to provide opportunities to identify common challenges and develop collaborative strategies – as well as informally, as leaders in their industries.
This program model relied on both externally-validated best practices in nonprofit management, and on participant-led discussions and real-time feedback. The ongoing commitment of the organizations, and their engaged participation enabled us to learn a great deal about how we can continue to build collective capacity in our sectors.