THE BLOG
03/10/2014 03:27 pm ET Updated May 10, 2014

The THREE P's: Public Private Partnerships in Action Sustaining Community Programs and Services

Social innovators, legislators and even the President of the United States are increasingly looking to the power of collaboration between the public and private sectors for innovative ways to achieve tangible and sustainable progress in service to communities. Public-private partnerships (PPP) are one such alliance. By collaborating with the private, for profit and nonprofit sectors, doors are opened for innovative opportunities and collective action to advance and improve specific populations, the community and society as a whole.

One such partnership opportunity was introduced to Wheelock College in 2010 by the City of Boston, under the leadership of its former Mayor, Thomas Menino. The Mayor asked Wheelock College along with other institutions to help sustain and maintain twelve community based programs that were to be eliminated due to fiscal constraints. After much consideration, Wheelock College decided to embark on a bold and innovative effort for an institution of higher education. We decided to take over a community center located in one of the most underserved areas of Boston. Inspired by our mission to improve the lives of children and families, Wheelock engages in scholarship and service that enhances the vitality of families, communities and societies. Because service is woven into our institutional and educational fabric and is strongly supported by faculty, administration, trustees, and students, the Mattahunt Community Center partnership became an extension of the college.

The Mattahunt is a long-time cornerstone of the Mattapan neighborhood in Boston; it has the largest Haitian population in Massachusetts and is also largely made up of African Americans and immigrants from other Caribbean countries. In response to the urgent need created by the Center's consolidation, Wheelock College, the City of Boston, Boston Centers for Youth and Families, Boston Public Schools, past and present elected officials, Mattapan youth and residents, formed the Mattahunt Wheelock Partnership to create opportunities for children, youth and families in Mattapan.

The Mattahunt Wheelock Partnership builds upon the community's strengths, supplements gaps in services, and increases the capacity and sustainability of and technical support for the Community Center. Through an extensive community engagement process, we learned that academics were the highest priority need in Mattapan, which thus drove our program development.

Under the stewardship of the Mattahunt Wheelock Partnership, Wheelock College has established a working partnership with the leadership of Mattapan to bring attention to the concerns and needs of that neighborhood as well as the critical importance of preserving the Center as a hub where all residents can engage in order to improve quality of life. As the community continues to change and evolve, we are working with the Community Advisory Board, the Mattahunt Elementary School, and Wheelock faculty and staff to create solutions that benefit the children, youth and families of Mattapan. Together we are building programs and services such as a drop-in after school program offering academic assistance, technology, and drama activities. This program, called the PUSH Academy, currently serves 12 students from the Mattapan community. The Partnership does not seek to replicate programming that already occurs within or outside of the community. Instead, we collaborate with other community-based organizations to bring those programs and services to Mattapan as needed.

When assessing success, measurable outcomes should be a primary focus--good intentions and effort are no longer sufficient. The Mattahunt Community Center continues to be driven by the priorities, ongoing needs and voices of Mattapan residents. The Partnership currently serves 130 children, youth and families per day; engages 30 partner organizations who deliver programs at the Center and is currently raising funds and identifying corporate collaborators to meet operational demands. As we move forward, the Mattahunt Wheelock Partnership seeks additional ways to draw from the College's expertise in human services and academic instruction, such as housing social work interns on-site, and to continuously draw on the talents and assets in Mattapan. The partnership, now in its third year, has begun conversations focused on management transition and sustainability, which can support long-term growth of partners and leadership development in Mattapan.

At Wheelock, we believe that institutions of higher education, government, schools and communities can mutually benefit from deep collaboration on many levels. Over the past three years, we have greatly benefited from the community and our engagement process. Based on our experience leading the Mattahunt Wheelock Partnership, below are eight best practice approaches to employ when developing community-based collaborations:

• Mutual respect: Let the community's voice and priorities drive the efforts.
• Clarity: Clearly and repeatedly articulate the nature, duration and intended outcomes of the partnership.
• Leadership: Set well-defined, shared leadership roles with clear expectations.
• Communication: Create open, honest dialogues with well-defined accountability and responsibility.
• Celebration: Acknowledge and celebrate successes in the community and on-campus often.
• Assessment: Regularly assess partnership and community needs.
• Innovation: Be socially innovative and entrepreneurial.
• Planning: Plan for sustainability.

At Wheelock College, we are constantly learning. I am interested to hear best practices and learnings from others who have engaged in Public-Private Partnerships and community engagement. I encourage you to share below or to email me.