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Unexpected Partners


Natasha Rogers, Graduate Program Manager, describes the meaning and importance of working with unexpected partners and how that is incorporated to work at UCDS for the students, as well as in her personal volunteer work. -Ed.

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At the elementary level at UCDS, an unexpected partner is someone that you might not expect to work with, but then you choose to and you get to find out great things about each other. You are likely surprised by the assets you each bring to the work and how well you work together.

I volunteer with an organization called 501 Commons, which partners with local non-profit organizations to boost their capacity by providing consulting and outsourced services at an affordable cost. This work sometimes feels like an unexpected partnership. 501 Commons builds on the strengths of both the non-profits they serve and the professionals who volunteer in their service corps. 501 Commons believes, “that dialogue between nonprofits, philanthropy, government, and business is essential to tackling the serious problems that affect our people and our planet” (501 Commons Theory of Practice).

Indeed, my work with 501 Commons pulls me out of my comfort zone and allows me to collaborate with passionate people working in other sectors or just toward different missions. Getting to strategize with others about how to grow a program, attract more volunteers or other short-term projects is energizing. Part of the reason why I think this model adds so much value is the power of new eyes and perspectives. As the consultants, we often just shine a light on the best parts of an organization’s work. I think it is helpful to have someone else say, “Wow! Look at how effective this part of your organization is! Could you shift more resources into this work?” The best proposals take the form of a dialogue because we might make a suggestion and this sparks an idea that might have lain dormant in the organization and all of a sudden a new opportunity starts to form in the space between.

Entering a partnership like this can feel like a risk. It means showing each other our work and our expertise, being assessed and trying new things that might not work at first. Unexpected partners are different from friends because they don’t just confirm what we already think is great. They see things from a different angle and uncover possibilities we might not have seen on our own. As a result, the sum of these partnerships is greater than the individual parts.