Collective Action - an Invincible Astra to Overcome Societal Challenges
The advances that our mankind has been able to make in the past 200 years are phenomenal. We now live in a relatively more peaceful, secure world where we live longer, travel further and consume the joys of life, better. We are now building frameworks and innovations that are addressing decades of climate change, protecting the most vulnerable, including other species and nudging the planet to move towards sustainability. The distribution of the benefits of these advances, however, has not been even across geographies and demographics. There are millions who still do not have access to water, healthcare, education, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, even security of life.
Similar to the speed of the advances across different spheres, the pace of growth of problems is fast too. The pandemic has put a strain on economic progress of nations and communities alike. The implications on health are still being discovered and there have been huge learning losses across the globe.
The governments, civil society and markets are trying to find solutions but we will never be able to catch up, if we continue to work in silos. We have to reconsider the approach and combine the forces, as the benefits of collective action are immense.
What is Collective Action?
We define it as ‘an action or a set of actions, by a group of people, aimed at achieving a common vision.’ These actions include, but are not limited to, co-creation and execution of systemic change programs, the group typically includes government, civil society organisations (CSOs) and market players and the common vision is to restore a life of dignity, choice and prosperity for the communities.
The practitioners of the Collective Action approach, across the world, understand that
- no single person or organisation can effectively tackle complex societal challenges alone
- the power and speed of collaboration, shared goals, and collective responsibility to create meaningful and sustainable outcomes is unparalleled
- amplification and scaling of impact is possible by leveraging each others’ strengths and creating transformative change that goes beyond individual efforts by pooling resources, knowledge, skills, and networks for co-creation exercise.
For me and my team at ShikshaLokam, this has come alive in different geographies across India and especially in the state of Punjab. We are incredibly proud of our contribution through Punjab Education Collective (PEC)’s work (of which ShikshaLokam is a part), to move the state’s ranking at the Performance Grading Index (instituted by DoSEL, Ministry of Education, India) from 13 in 2019 to number 1 in 2020 and in 2021. The state’s ranking in the National Achievement Survey (NAS) 2021 (again conducted by DoSEL) moved to the first position. The Collective’s work since 2019, has helped the state develop clarity and build shared understanding of the roles and contributions of different stakeholders and has since then influenced policy decisions and budget allocations for a slew of activities from infrastructure and teacher education to action research and exposure visits.
This was possible only through collective action by teams from Mantra4Change, Samarthya, Sanjhi Sikhiya and ShikshaLokam – along with Punjab State Education Department and philanthropic organisations like Ford Foundation, A.T.E. Chandra Foundation, Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives, United Way Delhi and market players like McKinsey.
How does Collective Action help?
Makes the mission a priority for all: Actors from all walks of life (government, civil society, markets) are energised and work on a mission we care about. There is a sense of community to build inclusive, lasting and equitable social change. The sense of ownership created can lead to increased accountability for results and can help to ensure sustained efforts towards transformation.
- Leverages diverse perspectives and expertise for co-creation: Diverse stakeholders, with their unique perspectives and expertise come together to address complex problems. This collaboration can lead to innovative solutions that may not have been possible through individual efforts.
- Mobilise resources: Through collective action, resources can be mobilised from different sources to address gaps and barriers in the ecosystem. This could include financial capital, innovative solutions, as well as networks and human resources such as volunteers, mentors, and experts.
- Amplifies impact (scaling): Collective action can amplify the impact of individual efforts by scaling up successful programs and initiatives easily across geographies. This helps to create a broader impact and ensure that more communities benefit from successful initiatives.
- Promotes sustainability and depth: Collective action can help to create sustainable change by building networks, capacity, and systems that can continue to support transformation efforts beyond the immediate project or program.
- Promote Reusability: Collective action can catalyse program design which enables +1 shifts in the system (instead of radical change) – building on what exists, rather than creating something new and having the stakeholders to restart.
This is the first piece in the three-part series on Collective Action. Watch out for the second one about lessons from orchestrating collective action here. And the last one which will cover the challenges in the process along with the role of facilitative leadership in orchestrating collective action.