Never too Small: Collaborative Action

No business is too small to participate in a community-business partnership. Shops with only two or three staff members still manage to provide gifts in kind such as sausages for fund-raising barbeques or power tools to be raffled, and in return gain exposure for their business name or logo.

But for small businesses that want to participate in big change, collaborative action can be the answer.

Collaborative action sees organisations from one sector - particularly business - join together to form a partnership with a group or groups in another sector (for example, community groups, local government, etc).

Such cross-sector partnerships produce outcomes for the community as a whole, as well as for the individual businesses and community groups involved.

The benefits include:

  • Greater achievements than would be possible with one individual business partner
  • Improved inter-business relationships, with strengthened ability to unify in the face of future threats and opportunities
  • Better connections between business and the local community
  • New customers
  • New business investment as the area develops a reputation for being pro-active and community-friendly
Some examples:

The Toorak Village Traders Association - a cluster of businesses in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak - have cooperated since 2001 to sponsor and arrange a sculpture exhibition with a difference. Traders work with the local arts sector and other local businesses to show sculptures in shops and restaurants.

This has brought shoppers out in force to enjoy the artwork as well as shop locally, which has delighted local traders. The traders association's membership has risen sharply since the first exhibition, with reports Toorak Village's image and sense of community have strengthened. (Australian Business Arts Foundation newsletter, June 2003)

The Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative in Saint John is an award-winning collaboration between 100 businesses in New Brunswick, Canada. The businesses work in partnership with community groups to address poverty in the town of Saint John. The partnership concentrates on helping single parent families - found to be the largest group of people living in poverty - by meeting basic needs, removing barriers, building skills and creating economic opportunities.

With services like job preparation fairs, a youth resource centre, community academic services, teen pregnancy support and information services, a childhood development program and recreational opportunities for children, the initiative has helped break the poverty cycle in the town.

To develop collaborative action:

  • Consult other local businesses - they may be aware of existing collaborations;
  • Consult your local chamber of commerce or council about whether there is any collaborative action already under way;
  • Have a project in mind that is realistic, interesting and would benefit businesses, community groups and the wider neighbourhood;
  • Form a committee of interested businesses to drive the project and meet with the community group/s you wish to partner;
  • Be realistic about what your business and others can manage - you can always start small and build up to larger projects;
  • And be up-front with community groups about what the businesses can offer, remembering there is always room for negotiation once discussions begin.