Here is an excerpt from an article co-authored by Mary Brainerd, Jim Campbell, and Richard Davis for the McKinsey Quarterly. As they explain, addressing community problems increasingly requires cooperation among the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. These three executives explain how a civic alliance in America’s Minneapolis–Saint Paul region may point toward an operating model.
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The vitality of our communities has always required the involvement of the private sector, not just governments or not-for-profit organizations. Unfortunately, despite business leaders’ best intentions, these collaborative efforts often founder, fueling skepticism about the private sector’s ability to contribute meaningfully to civic advancement.
Changing this equation is in the interest of corporate leaders, for whom the ability to work across sectors is becoming a business necessity.1 It’s in the interest of their companies, which require talented employees attracted to vibrant communities. And it’s in the interest of the world’s cities, which are confronting unprecedented challenges at a time when many national governments’ resources and support mechanisms are wobbling.
Our group, the Itasca Project, has been experimenting for more than a decade with fresh collaborative approaches aimed at boosting the economic and social health of the Minneapolis–Saint Paul region of the United States, America’s 16th-largest metropolitan area, with about 3.4 million people. If you’ve been to any meeting of your local Chamber of Commerce or Growth Association, you may think you know what a civic alliance such as Itasca does. Ten years ago, we would have thought so, too, because we and our companies had long been trying to work productively with governments and not-for-profit groups in the Twin Cities. But we would have been wrong. Although other organizations play a critical role in communities, Itasca is different. It’s an employer-led civic alliance with no individual members, no office, and no full-time staff. We are quite prepared to end Itasca the minute we feel it is no longer adding value. In fact, we debated that very issue—should we continue?—at our fifth birthday and again this year, at our tenth.
We keep going because of the opportunities we see to make a difference. In the past decade, Itasca has forged links between the business community and our region’s biggest university. It has improved the financial fitness of the region through educational programs and cast a national spotlight on growing socioeconomic disparities. Today, Itasca is working to improve higher education and generating quality-job growth, as well as advancing efforts to address transportation issues comprehensively.
We don’t claim to have cracked the code to successful trisector partnerships. But we do think our approach—how we’ve organized, focused our efforts, relied on hard facts, and involved, personally, our region’s key leaders—is different enough to spark useful ideas for corporate leaders in other communities. This article outlines that approach, which has not only made a difference in Minneapolis and Saint Paul but also been extraordinarily rewarding for us as individuals.
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To read the complete article and/or watch a video that provides information about the Itasca Project, please click here.
Mary Brainerd, president and chief executive officer of HealthPartners, was chair of Itasca from 2008 to 2012. Jim Campbell, a retired chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, was chair of Itasca from 2003 to 2008. Richard Davis is chairman, president, and chief executive officer of US Bancorp and Itasca’s current chair.
The authors wish to thank Tim Welsh, a director in McKinsey’s Minneapolis office, and colleagues Allison Barmann, Beth Kessler, Jennifer Ford Reedy, and Julia Silvis, for their collective contributions to the Itasca Project since 2003.
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