The power of personal relationships
As one example, I spoke yesterday with two partnership leaders about a strong and growing chamber-led mentoring program. The program was based on sound thinking – mentoring has a strong body of research proving its value – but without a strong community network, the program would never have grown beyond a single mentoring relationship.
The program was created after a local business leader, one with a long history of supporting local schools, began mentoring a few high school students. Convinced of the many benefits of mentoring, both for students and for businesspeople/mentors, this banker approached the chamber about spearheading a larger-scale program. His standing in the community put weight behind his proposal, and they got behind it. Over the past few years the program has taken root and grown, with many area businesspeople signing on for a three-year mentoring commitment, and many others offering to host tours and mentoring sessions at their businesses.
This program succeeded thanks to the willingness of a handful of people to tap their personal relationships. After the chamber adopted this program, the founding businessperson went to his Rolodex and enlisted his personal contacts – other area business leaders – to participate. The district’s partnership office supported this outside program by promoting it through their channels and by encouraging school-level officials to identify students and make it easy for them to participate. Interestingly, one of the district’s partnership staff members ended up joining the chamber to run the program, further strengthening the ties between the chamber and district in ways that will undoubtedly help in the program’s growth.
Over the course of writing several case studies and talking with many more people, it’s become ever clearer that establishing and leveraging personal and professional relationships is a critical success factor in program development. They may not be a key component in the success of every partnership, but it’s evident that they can make your work significantly easier, and that the prospects for the success and growth of your program are much greater if you have internal and external supporters willing to commit to your work.