Collective Impact in Action

Six program participants have turned their chairs into a circle and are sharing their stories
July 23, 2018
Gayathri Jai

When my friends asked what I would be doing this summer and where I would be, their initial reactions were-- “But why Buffalo?” And to be frank, I did not exactly have a good answer for them. All I knew was that Buffalo would be a new city for me (Through first-hand experience, I now know that there are plenty of local markets, food, festivals, concerts, and sites to explore). As far as a typical internship goes, I did not want to spend my summer sitting at a desk from 9 to 5, and then go home and not have to think critically about my work. I knew I wanted to engage with a non-profit advocacy organization and get involved in a community on a grassroots level. The immersive and intensive educational experience drew me to The High Road program. So far, Buffalo has provided me that and more. I have been especially impressed with the work Cornell in Buffalo does in regards to bringing various parts of the community together, as well as forging valuable partnerships with important stakeholders, local leaders, and organizations in the area for the purpose of advancing and promoting the public good. This summer I am working for the Western New York Women’s Foundation (WNYWF). This non-profit organization plays an important role in Buffalo-- not only for women and girls, but for everyone trying to live, grow, and thrive in the community. Essentially, the foundation strives to “Lead, Advocate, Convene, Research & Educate, Invest, and Empower.” Women’s economic, reproductive, social and cultural rights have always been a priority of mine in terms of what I value and support on a personal level. Working for WNYWF has therefore been and continues to be extremely rewarding to me on a daily basis. Poverty, public health, childcare reform, economic justice, pay equity, and domestic violence are just some of the issues I am preparing to tackle as a fellow here.


Advocacy agendas, however, mean nothing without building the necessary civic engagement and civic capacity. That is why my work at the foundation will focus on mobilizing and educating voters for the upcoming election cycle. In the 2016 general election, New York State was the 41st in the country for voter turnout! It is our duty and opportunity to enable and empower the people in our circles of influence to make their voices heard on the elections and policies that will undoubtedly affect them and their families. However, it is important to recognize the barriers to voting--how to register, how to get to the polls, where and when to vote, and who to vote for are some questions that need to be answered in an accessible and public way.


Rooted in the notion that information is power, my project consists of three parts: creating a 2018 Voter Education Guide, writing up and sending a state and local candidate survey, and coordinating a large scale community voter mobilization campaign that I am especially excited to see come into fruition. The idea of a collective impact model is a unique approach to collaboration. Attempting to inform, register, and educate every eligible voter in Western New York is a huge undertaking. In order to be even marginally successful, it is crucial that the WNYWF gather as many women’s organizations and other community based groups as possible to commit to and rally under this one mission. A few of the groups we are partnering with are League of Women Voters, Commission on the Status of Women, Parent Network, Jericho Road, Haven House, Say Yes Buffalo, Open Buffalo, and ACCESS WNY. Through collaborative meetings, open communication, shared resources/materials, a united vision, and input from people with various backgrounds, contacts, and skills, this initiative may not only become a success, but also a precedent for what we can accomplish together in the future.


I am beginning to fully understand the strength and power of coalition building in order to effectively reach different populations, zip codes, and demographics. It specifically allows for promoting intersectionality and understanding that we as human beings are shaped by the interaction of our own different social locations (i.e., race, sexuality, class, age, disability/ability, gender, etc.). I am excited to see the collective impact framework in action in the Buffalo/Niagara region. The power of bringing people and organizations together is in my opinion, severely underrated and underutilized in the social sector. Personally, I have found myself learning from my peers and building off their work, ideas, and experiences as well. Succeeding in whatever you do or believe in really does require a team effort---I am starting to think that we do not take the high road individually, but rather we are a part of it.