Dragon Boats

GEO Nova Scotia got its start in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, aka the “City of Lakes”.

If you aren’t from Dartmouth, you might not know that rowing and paddling have a long history here, and are kind of a big deal. From recreational summer camps to hosting International Competitions to producing more than a dozen Olympians, Dartmouthians spend a lot of time on the lakes.

The annual Dragon Boat Festival on Lake Banook is a local favorite, as teams of twenty paddlers compete in the biggest boats on the water. It’s pretty awesome.

What does this have to do with the Collective Impact principles of Alignment and Backbone?

Imagine a full dragon boat but everyone paddling is working independently. Even if they think they’re trying to go in the same direction, it’s not going to be a good experience. People will get tired, banged up, burnt out, and they won’t get very far, very fast.

Now imagine people insisting the solution is to simply paddle harder, or add more paddlers! That is the state of affairs today as it relates to many complex social challenges.

People, organizations, and sectors are each paddling as fast and hard as they can to try to address complex social challenges. They are getting exhausted, and rightfully frustrated by the lack of sustained progress.

To do better, we need to work smarter, not harder: stick to what we’re each best at, and do it in a coordinated way with others who share the same goals.

Look at this Dragon Boat team in action.

Their powerful strokes are able to get that big boat moving because they are in alignment with each others’ position and movement. 

And did you notice there are people in the boat that aren’t paddling? Why would they weigh themselves down with people who are not helping to move the boat forward?

First, because of how important it is for the team to be coordinated. And second, because those roles can’t be effectively played by someone who is also trying to paddle themselves.

The goal is to maximize the collective impact of all the different paddlers (people, organizations, sectors) by using a backbone team to focus on their coordination (alignment) and keeping them pointed in the right direction (shared goals).