THE BLOG
11/05/2014 12:56 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2015

How Nonprofits Can Collaborate Effectively With the Public and Private Sectors to Help the City's Working Poor

More than eight million people call New York City home. But nearly one in five of them -- or 1.4 million -- are food insecure, meaning they don't always know where their next meal is coming from. In a city of plenty, New York can feel very lonely and uncertain for many residents. But there is reason to be optimistic because I'm seeing a renewed focus on these issues and smart, strategic partnerships that strengthen the city's offerings to support the underserved.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the poverty rate in New York City remains stubbornly high -- a statistic that has certainly gotten the attention and action of both the public and private sectors. New York City is already taking action. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently signed an executive order that increased New York City's living wage to $13.13 from $11.90, and is seeking a higher minimum wage. Starbucks Coffee Company, which has nearly 300 stores across the city, announced a partnership with Arizona State University to enable all of its employees to complete bachelor's degrees.

The city's nonprofit sector is an important network that supplements public programming. From increasing access to affordable housing, higher education and healthy food, our organizations offer nearly every type of service to fulfill the needs of our neighbors. But what I've learned over my 21-year career leading and supporting nonprofits is that collaboration among like-minded organizations is crucial to increasing the speed, scale and efficiency of the services and resources we deliver to our community members.

For example, City Harvest has partnered with NYCHA for the last decade to increase access to quality food and fresh produce among the residents living in the housing authority's properties. The partnership is mutually beneficial for both organizations: Many NYCHA developments are located where affordable fruits and vegetables are scarce, and City Harvest is constantly looking for targeted ways to distribute healthy food and provide nutrition education to those who need it most. Specifically, NYCHA hosts our seven Mobile Markets, which are free, monthly farmer's market-style distributions in each borough that provide 220,000 pounds of fresh produce, accompanied by on-site cooking demonstrations. We are preparing to launch our eighth Mobile Market this month, our second on Staten Island, which we estimate will serve some 200 households.

This collaboration has provided some valuable lessons about optimizing resources and delivering stronger neighborhood outcomes, which I believe can be applied throughout the nonprofit community.

Speed to succeed: Partnerships offer access to a larger and more diverse pool of leaders, experts, technicians, and volunteers who can solve problems more effectively. They allow for responsibilities to be quickly divided to help more people, faster.

Scale to reach more: When we come together to serve a mutual audience, we can efficiently serve tens of thousands of people at a time who bring food home to their families and create a model that is replicable across neighborhoods. In the case of Mobile Markets, the convenience of bringing our services directly to NYCHA residents breaks down barriers of access that might otherwise exist, such as lack of transportation or an inability to travel. This concept is similar to United Way's model of bringing Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) services to community centers during tax season.

Respond to crises: Strong, established partnerships provide necessary infrastructure to immediately serve the community in times of emergency and crisis. After Hurricane Sandy, the entire city came together to mobilize resources and personnel to ensure that aid was provided where it was most needed. The Red Cross convened a Multi-Agency Feeding Task Force to coordinate resources and troubleshoot challenges, while we used our expertise in distributing food and organizing Mobile Market-style operations in outer boroughs to provide more than three million meals over 15 weeks to people affected by Sandy.

At City Harvest we focus on food insecurity issues, but we know that too many New Yorkers are more than just physically hungry. They are hungry for a better job, a more affordable roof over their heads, a better way of life. With a city of eight million people, surely we can come together -- as citizens, nonprofits and government agencies -- to help our friends and neighbors meet their very basic needs. No one can do it alone. Partnership is the only way.