The Exchange: a collaborative approach to building community

by Monty Laskin, Caledon Community Services

A Priest, Rabbi and Imam walk into a bar, each orders a different alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink and the conversation flows about one thing or another.

Google it. There’s endless variations, each one funnier than the other. They remind us that a good mix produces a less traditional result and a result that is often innovative and successful.

So it was last Saturday morning when representatives of 13 Caledon community organizations came together in the Exchange for breakfast and the second of three workshops aimed at creating a shared vision for “Caledon building”. These people, all Board members of a Caledon agency that is a partner of the Exchange, met in much greater numbers in September. Back then the Boards of the Exchange partners gathered at Mars Canada’s headquarters for dinner and a workshop about collective impact. It’s an approach to getting things done in a community that mobilizes many organizations on a common cause.

Boards of Directors of Caledon’s Community Services share things in common. They are fiercely committed to the organization they serve; they volunteer their time in the service of their organization; and they invest their energy and resources to keep it healthy. Above all, they love this community. Gathering these boards of directors together to talk about a common vision generated ideas about the opportunities available through collective impact. This approach is central to the Exchange and it’s pretty straightforward: Generate momentum collectively and address something that no one organization can tackle on its own. The idea is to move a particular issue from a place where we all buy in to an even better place where we all take ownership. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and does something collectively.

It’s not easy work. Mayor Allan Thompson welcomed the boards at the first workshop and encouraged the partnerships that are emerging through the Exchange. He urged everyone to find common ground. It’s not so straightforward. Board of directors have a duty towards the organization they serve. They have different mandates to address and different resources to deploy. At the core of collective impact, though, is a shared vision. So at last week’s workshop, representatives of all the Exchange partners talked about how their organization benefits from the Exchange and uses it to serve the community. The boards have one more workshop in November where they will try to create a common agenda that will target a shared community challenge. It’s exciting stuff that requires cooperation, trust and goodwill.

The Exchange’s partner organizations include Bethell Hospice, Bolton Alliance Church, Brampton Caledon Community Living, Caledon Parent Child Centre, Caledon Public Library, Canadian Mental Health Association, Fame, Peace Ranch, Rapport Youth and Family Services, The Town of Caledon, Volunteer MBC and the Women’s Leadership Network. Caledon Community Services, also a partner, is the backbone organization providing the infrastructure to maintain the facility.

“The Exchange is a fabulous space on Healey Road in Bolton but we want it to be much more than just an address,” noted Pastor Jeff Enns, chair of the Exchange’s Leadership Team. “We want its impact to go beyond four walls. We’re pursuing a collective impact by working together on a common agenda. We’re engaging all the boards of directors who are on board with this exciting collaborative work. Bringing them together is fantastic, it’s bringing together like-minded people with a common desire to meet our community’s needs”.

Drop in to the Exchange. Bring your family and your friends. You’ll be amazed at how quickly it will present opportunities for you to get involved in Caledon.

Monty Laskin is the Chief Execuive Officer of Caledon Community Services

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