Scoop on Sustainability: Isolated efforts, isolated impact

By Megan Barry
On February 15, 2013

  • Kaitlyn Bassett holds several bouquets ready for delivery.

UNH has an extraordinary number of student organizations on campus. Many of them aim to address pressing social issues that threaten human rights and the environment, an admirable goal where these groups find common ground. Whether it's the Peace and Justice League, Net Impact, Student Environmental Action Coalition, OxFam or Slow Food, these ambitious groups are dealing with issues that are birthed from complex social, economic, and political processes interacting in a way we can only try to understand. 

While on the surface each group may have a particular cause that they advocate for, there is value in acknowledging the underlying and overlapping factors at play, like climate change, social inequality, food scarcity, and economic disparity for which our organizations exist. These systems are bigger than we are, and it will take a diverse set of skills and passions to set them right. 

Bridging these efforts requires a process currently being explored called collective impact.  Collective impact requires two important things, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The first is mutually reinforcing activities, which means that our diverse groups collaborate, not by doing the same things, but by providing encouragement to take actions that that are coordinated with actions of others, thereby reinforcing the overall vision. Each group's efforts work into a greater plan for the sake of issues that cannot be addressed in isolation. 

The second stipulation is continuous communication, creating trust and the realization that we do have common motivations. With this comes the knowledge that one's opinions and passions are respected. It also develops a sort of "checks and balances," ensuring that the priorities of a single group are not overtaking the mission of the whole. This process does require the dedication of time, but the value in these relationships is immeasurable.  

In intensifying times of impending momentous change, we have to ask ourselves why we dedicate our time to these causes. Is it for recognition? Because no one group can single-handedly tackle these massive and important problems, it is egotistical and frankly endangering to the greater movement to work for the sake of seeing your or your group's name in a headline. For example, the Sustainability Institute operates as a collaborative, interacting with a number of other entities on and off-campus that all have something to contribute. 

At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with logos or names, but about what we can accomplish together. We are cogs in a great wheel of social change. Ideally, a day will come when these problems are solved and our groups no longer need to exist. With this in mind, it is a greater movement to which we must dedicate ourselves. Emphasizing our differences disintegrates and undermines our efforts.  Different approaches and values do not make enemies; they give our movement strength. The recognition that we have a common vision for change does not mean anything is ceded or lost.  If we want to have an amazing and lasting impact, collaboration is essential. If the efforts are isolated, the impact will be, too, existing in a contained space and for a limited time. 


Megan Barry is a senior anthropology student also completing a self-designed sustainability major. She currently interns at the Sustainability Institute. 

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