Community leaders come together to discuss power dynamics in collaborating for social impact

On the afternoon of June 14, the Vanderbilt Community Relations team hosted nearly 50 people from Nashville’s social impact sector, including leaders from nonprofit organizations, public service offices and Vanderbilt campus departments, for an afternoon of learning, networking and connection. The topic of the day was “The Power in Collaboration: Working Together for Social Impact.”  

After introductions and a networking exercise, the group gathered to hear Marcy Singer-Gabella, faculty in teaching and learning at Peabody College of education and human development, provide perspective on how to foster equity in partnerships and on the power dynamics of collaboration. Singer-Gabella is a professor of the practice of education at Peabody College and co-director for Nashville Partnership for Educational Equity Research, a collaborative effort between Peabody College and Metro Nashville Public Schools. The mission of Nashville PEER is to bring researchers and educators together as partners to understand and disrupt educational inequities so that every student thrives. 

Another highlight of the afternoon was a panel conversation moderated by Singer-Gabella. The panel consisted of leaders from various sectors, spanning long-standing collaborations to newly formed partnerships, as well as those who provide funding for such initiatives. Panel participants included Ron Johnson, director of community safety in the Nashville Mayor’s Office and co-founder of The Village; Erica Mitchell, vice president for community engagement with the United Way of Middle Tennessee; C.J. Sentell, CEO of the Nashville Food Project; and Ameshica Linsey, the associate executive director for the GOAL Collective (Tennessee College Access & Success Network). The panel spoke candidly about the opportunities and challenges in collaborating. 

Such challenges include building trust with partners, as well as with funders, when entering into collaborations. Sentell underscored the importance of building board-level buy-in for collaborative initiatives, and all panelists emphasized the importance of relationship building as a cornerstone of collaboration. 

Sandy Obodzinski of Humanities Tennessee shared this reflection after attending the event: “Yesterday’s session was invigorating, thought-provoking and the fastest 2-1/2 hour session I’ve attended, probably ever! … What a great example of excellent facilitation. I also really appreciated the amount of time at the beginning and end for all of us to network and connect with each other. There are several meaningful conversations to come in the future as a result of that networking time.”  

About Vanderbilt Community Relations: The Vanderbilt Community Relations team serves as a facilitator, connector, and convener for local external partners and Vanderbilt University students, staff, faculty, and resources. Community Relations supports nonprofit organizations financially and in partnership through the Community Impact Fund, convenes campus partners through the Vanderbilt University Community Engagement Collective, and facilitates collaborative programming with nonprofit partners.