vol.41:1 winter 2017 pages 20-21

“The Darker Side of Collaborations: 12 Common Mistakes” By Bernard L. Simonin Professor of Marketing and International Business The Fletcher School at Tufts University

The case of EMPath, a Boston based nonprofit, is illustrative of the power of learning in collaborations. EMPath offers new pathways to economic independence for low income women and their families through a learning-centric, collaborative model that combines direct service, research and policy advocacy. President and CEO Elizabeth Babcock observes, “Every intervention we make has an eye to figuring out how to improve outcomes through data collection, and then sharing the resulting knowledge with others.” EMPath was inundated with requests for help from other organizations and responded by developing shared learning groups with over 130 members.

While other organizations might instinctively protect their signature programs for organizational survival, EMPath openly shares its programs, including its signature Mobility Mentoring model, through the Economic Independence Exchange—a growing network of 50+ organizations applying EMPath tools to systematically disrupt poverty. This work has yielded exceptional results, helping beneficiaries increase their income by over 70 percent. The driver is not to grow EMPath as an organization but “scale the learning for the sector as a whole…to deliver a better product to as many families as possible.”

Rather than only engaging in learning activities for reporting out its own impact metrics, EMPath leads with open, collaborative learning for greater impact for its entire field. By sharing its models and real-time learning with partners nationwide and encouraging others to share their own lessons, EMPath and its network are now poised to help lift over a quarter of a million women out of poverty. A strong learning orientation is one of the pillars of catalytic collaborations.