Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Collaboration – The Real Meaning

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on November 6, 2013

CollaborationWe can’t end drowning without effective collaboration.

Collaboration was a recurring theme at the recent World Conference on Drowning Prevention, with the head of almost every major organization talking about how they are embracing collaboration.  I think this is an enormously promising development, but as with many things, effective implementation is critical to success.

Collaboration is a popular concept right now, and it’s easy to latch on the latest, newest, hottest trend, and say the words without understanding the dynamics or being willing to commit to the real change that is necessary to make the change occur. Too often leaders and organizations give lip-service to the latest buzzword and when it doesn’t work, blame it on the concept, not the execution. Even more frequently, they say the words to sound innovative, but they aren’t really 100% in, they don’t really want that level of change to occur. This can’t be the case in drowning prevention. We have too much to lose. Too many children dying.

Today I’m going to dissect what ‘collaboration’ really means, what it looks like when it works, what we haven’t done, and talk about why including women in the collaboration formula is key.

Collaboration is defined as: “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor” and “to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected.” Those are the words, but the spirit is far more important. Collaboration is mutual respect. It is acceptance that others, either organizations or individuals, have different experiences and ideas that are of value. It is being truly open to change. Collaboration is being willing to challenge your own status quo, and the status quo of the entire field, believing that there is a better way.

We have some notable success stories already. At it’s best, the cooperation between organizations is currently demonstrated by the informal but highly effective collaboration between Nile Swimmers, Lifeguards Without Borders, and now, ISLA, where they are exchanging ideas and best practices.  I’ve also seen outstanding collaboration in the UK among all their organizations with resources and information, so kudos to RNLI, RoSPA, RLSS UK and others, particularly evidenced in their campaign to end tombstoning (with 44,000 plus YouTube views!).

There are many ways of collaborating, it needs to happen not just between countries and organizations, but also between individuals. If you haven’t joined the Global Drowning Prevention Forum on LinkedIn, I encourage you to check out the spirited and wide-ranging discussions. Or visit the Jabari blog to learn about how organizations, individuals and products around the world are making a difference and look for collaboration opportunities.

What we haven’t done as successfully is reach across the borders and partner more with organizations outside the drowning prevention field. If they can do it successfully with sharks, certainly we can do it with drowning prevention!  Or watch this video to see an outstanding example of a successful collaboration between corporate interests and public health concerns, not to mention a brilliant marketing campaign.YouTube Preview Image

And could I just say, we pretty much stink at sharing data. I asked about sharing data among organizations at one of the break-out sessions at the conference and was given an unequivocal ‘no’. That issue will be addressed in a future blog, namely established organizations aren’t understanding the power of grass roots efforts and are still thinking they control data. My money is on Global Drowning Tracker to become the Twitter of data collection.

Finally, gender. Diversity in gender, specifically including women in key management and decision roles is critical in achieving success. Many studies have shown that organizations with women represented at the top perform better competitively, yielding a 35% higher Return on Equity and do significantly better in terms of ethical conduct.  According to Forbes, “More than 90% of companies that focus on tackling social problems have at least one woman on their leadership team”.  To collaborate effectively we must intentionally seek out and include women in the discussions and in the solutions.

It is happening. Pärla Salomaa’s gave a brilliant overview of how the Nordic countries are working together and sharing information. When I looked at the photos in her presentation I was struck by the overwhelming number of women around the table and the man sitting next to me leaned over and said ‘that is why they are collaborating effectively’. Of course!  Collaboration is one of the skills that is commonly associated with women. Pärla referenced the role in gender equality in the Nordic countries as contributing to the culture of collaboration, an area where these countries rank top in the world.  The Sri Lanka Women’s Swimming Project is also doing a brilliant job at collaborating with the local community to empower women, provide them with a means for economic independence, and to make them safer around water. But we need more, we need to continue to push for women in leadership positions in drowning prevention.

Collaboration takes all of us, by definition. I look forward to collaborating with all of you to end drowning in one generation.

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