Creating partnerships for good

In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explores the biological wiring that helped drive humans to evolve and succeed over our long history. Humans learned to form groups to cooperate and support each other in confronting external threats together—whether saber-toothed tigers, scarce resources, or harsh weather.

What does that mean for teams in the modern world? Sinek says, “When we feel like we belong to the group and trust the people with whom we work, we naturally cooperate to face outside challenges and threats.”

Sinek argues that this is what distinguishes successful teams: Their members know their teammates—and their leaders—have their backs. This frees the team to focus outward and confront very modern challenges—whether fierce business competition, resource constraints, or climate change.

So the answer to the question, “Why should we work together?” is simply, we must. The challenges we face are too great.

Too often, however, when confronted with these types of threats, we compete with one another instead. We ask ourselves questions like, “How are we doing it better than others?” or “How can we grab our piece of the resource pie?”

Back in 2016 ScottsMiracle-Gro decided to take a different approach. We asked ourselves, “What if we brought people together to protect water resources?” Make no mistake; we knew we were facing a big threat. Water bodies in all 50 U.S. states were experiencing unprecedented algal bloom outbreaks, weakening and in some places cutting off people’s access to clean water. Several Western states, including California, were in the grip of extreme drought. Humans may have evolved in the past few millennia, but we still can’t live without access to water, and we still need to work together to confront big threats.

The National Partner Network, established in 2016, provides a safe place where our partners can share what they learn with each other, ask for advice, and explore ways to collaborate across organizations and geographical areas. Last April we gathered for our annual meeting, hosted this year by the North Shore Land Alliance. Thirty attendees representing fourteen organizations presented on a wide range of topics, including

  • Working with federal legislators to advance water policy
  • Leveraging Blue Carbon to secure support for wetlands
  • Incorporating water stewardship into consumer product designs
  • Building effective nonprofit-corporate partnerships
  • Learning to listen to marginalized communities about their water needs

In addition to formal presentations, partners engaged in frank discussions with one another, sharing in a safe and confidential environment about their challenges and lessons learned. We administered anonymous surveys of the attendees before and after the event. The results were encouraging: All attendees reported they found the content and networking valuable, and their expectations were exceeded across the board.

Restore America’s Estuaries is one of our most valued partners, not just because of the work it accomplishes, but because of how it goes about it. RAE exemplifies the virtue of working together to confront big threats in its own member network—and it showed in this year’s meeting. President and CEO Jeff Benoit garnered strong participation for his presentation on the power of convening, while Blue Carbon senior program manager Stefanie Simpson’s Blue Carbon presentation also sparked inspiration in other organizations looking to reenergize their own work.

The collaborative approach our foundation is taking with our partners points toward an effective way to confront the challenge of protecting our nation’s water resources—together. When asked what was most valuable in the National Partner Network meeting, one attendee summed it up well: “Learning how we all have very similar issues we face and how each organization directs their focus. There is so much opportunity to work together!”

Want to learn more about the National Partner Network? Check out this article about the most recent annual meeting.

Carol Nowlin is manager for Corporate Social Responsibility at ScottsMiracle-Gro.