My former mother-in-law had no problem going to scale. She was a brilliant micro-entrepreneur who raised six children while building a laundry service, taxi company, and swap meet. “Donde come uno comen cien,” she would say in Spanish that echoed her Veracruz roots. “If you can feed one you can feed one hundred.”
Of course she didn’t mean that scaling up was easy, nor that large operations require the same skills as smaller efforts. What she meant was that scale was important and valued and well … had to be done.
Kinda like the entrepreneurial spirit we’ve seen in alliance building over the past decade, with new organizations of organizations emerging in all kinds of areas from reproductive justice (Forward Together) to communications justice (Media Action Grassroots Network), as well as in regions, like the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network based in Georgia.
But like my suegra, social justice alliance builders are finding that starting alliances and keeping them going is its own unique art and a science. The culture that keeps the laundry service thriving is different when a dozen women are participating instead of one. Communications with swap meet vendors requires a particular approach; a whole other strategy is needed to ensure communication with all the vendors’ family members who work there.
I think my FMIL would be proud of Our Healthy Alliance, the new alliance assessment and visioning tool that I’ve had the pleasure of working on in a collaboration between MSC and RoadMap. Like my mother in law, Our Healthy Alliance values the heart, courage, and street smarts that keep us together and make us powerful.
What makes Our Healthy Alliance different is that it is the only assessment tool specifically tailored to alliances that want to make social change and build social change movements. It’s a tool that reflects the real-world experience of social justice alliance building. And not only does it help you see where you’re at (“We make assumptions but don’t really know the capacity and skills of groups within our alliance”) it helps you envision how you could be in the future (“We discuss capacity and accountability openly and have agreements that reflect what each group can realistically contribute”).
Our Healthy Alliance recognizes that when alliances come together around social justice goals they have a whole set of challenges, hopes, and questions that other kinds of alliances (say, those focused on better service coordination) might not even recognize. Our Healthy Alliance was designed by experienced alliance consultants – and tested by actual alliances– to help alliances increase their capacity to be strategic, effective, and sustainable. So you’ll find standard but important assessment areas like “Financial Systems” alongside less traditional topics like “Adaptive Capacity” and “Appreciation and Acknowledgment”.
If your alliances want to make deeper impacts at a larger scale, respond more effectively to a changing political landscape, and increase depth and power through a vibrant and trusting alliance culture, then Our Healthy Alliance is the tool for you.
Tell them my mother in law sent you.
Feature photo: Sra. Aurelia Martinez (1935-2010) with her granddaughter Alausí Quiroz Martinez