Stories from the Coast: Igniting the Fire of Collaboration

“Igniting the Fire of Collaboration Between Small Community Organisations”
By Natalie Alexander as told by Tracy Sharp 02/10/14

Equity Works is a small but rapidly growing community service organisation based on the Sunshine Coast.  The organisation commenced when parents from a local special school banded together and lobbied the local government for funding for a Respite house to support children with disability.

In 2001 the Brookes St Respite House was successfully funded and the organisation, formally known as Sunshine Coast Family Networks Association Inc., began to grow by providing a range of support services for families on the Sunshine Coast.

In 2013, the Senior Staff and Management Committee made a decision to change the name of the organisation, seeking a name which captured the essence of what the organisation stood for.  ‘Equity Works Assoc. Inc.’ was adopted as the new name for the organisation, reflecting an ongoing commitment to promote and value equity; founded in a human rights framework.

As a community organisation, Equity Works has a strong presence on the Sunshine Coast and has been working effectively despite the challenges of a changing community service sector. Although Equity Works is relatively small, its vision to provide a high quality service for people with disability has been a constant driver.  In light of an earnest commitment to support the community, Equity Works made a bold decision to apply for a state-wide tender released from Disability Services Qld  in December 2012, to deliver a ‘Respite Plus’ service for children and young adults with Rett Syndrome.

It was an ambitious decision to apply for the tender because the services of Equity Works existed only on the Sunshine Coast with no established partnerships across the state. This placed doubt on whether they would even be considered for the initiative. The ‘Respite Plus’ initiative was a key element of the Government’s tender to revitalise front-line services for families in Queensland who were caring for a child with Rett Syndrome.

The paramount challenge faced by Equity Works in applying for this tender was a lack of state-wide connections.  How could Equity Works possibly apply for the tender without these necessary and valuable connections? Thus began a pivotal decision by the organisation which ignited the fire of collaboration.

Driven by a strong desire to apply for the tender, and believing in a positive outcome, Tracy Sharp, manager of Equity Works, sought out Peter Farnham, manager of Inclusion Plus Family Support Inc., another small community organisation, to apply for the tender as joint partners. Knowing that both organisations firstly, have a good reputation for providing respite services and, secondly, were well known by Disability Services, gave both organisations the impetus to apply in partnership. Both organisations were equally positioned as strong local organisations but on their own, lacked the potential to be competitive, so it was a strategic decision to partner up.

However, an essential component of the Disability Services tender was a focus on families utilising the right tools to ‘plan’ for their children. In response to this, Equity Works and Inclusion Plus engaged Parent to Parent Association Inc., another community organisation funded specifically to plan with families, using a planning tool called a PATH (Planning Alternatives Tomorrow with Hope). At this point, Parent to Parent jumped on board and became an additional partner in the tender.

In spite of this progress, the organisations still faced the challenge of having limited connections in other parts of the State.  How could these small organisations successfully apply for a tender to deliver a state-wide service with minimal connections throughout Queensland?

Refusing to concede defeat, a strong theme began to emerge; ‘just because we’re small doesn’t mean we can’t deliver a quality state wide service, we just need stronger connections.’

Rising once again to the challenge to dream big and collaborate, Tracy contacted the managers of other community organisations across Queensland who were connected through the networking group called the ‘30 Mob’.

The 30 Mob is a state-wide networking group with a purpose to create an alliance of small to medium disability organisations that are committed to the development of strong, diverse, sustainable services for people.  After contacting members of the 30 Mob, a high number agreed to act as an advocate to oversee the quality service provision for the remote families under the proposed initiative to assist Equity Works and Inclusion Plus with their tender application.

As a result of this enormous collaborative effort, Equity Works and Inclusion Plus successfully submitted a joint tender to manage the state-wide ‘Respite Plus’ service.

This success was a direct result of the strong partnerships, which were formed amongst like-minded small community organisations. The glue which held these organisations together included a common set of values, as well as a drive to promote equity, empowerment and resilience for people with disability and their families in a blended community. Underpinning these commonalities was a drive to build capacity through the establishment of partnerships.
Despite having to compete against the big organisations who had either a state-wide or national presence, this story demonstrates the richness of strategic collaboration and a commitment to following the dream.

As the dream has now evolved, it can be celebrated that by ‘igniting the fire of collaboration’, 55 families across Queensland are now being supported.  This story is one of encouragement that demonstrates how small organisations can have a big impact when they work together.

Equity Works Path Planning2

PATH planning: working at the Board level across organisations to brainstorm strategies, strengths, barriers and direction.
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