Stone Soup

None of the complex social challenges we face today can be solved by one business, one organization, one government, or even one sector. 

We can succeed together when we apply our diverse experiences, abilities, and perspectives to accomplish our shared goals, creating something new that serves us all.

Collective Impact is a model of advanced collaboration, designed to support diverse stakeholders coming together to address complex challenges.

The story of Stone Soup captures the spirit of Collective Impact beautifully.

Stone Soup and the Together Magic  

by Matt Spurway

Based on the folk story “Stone Soup”

The small, isolated village in the hills wasn’t named Hunger, but it might as well have been.

Townsfolk worked hard and genuinely cared about each other, but years of poor harvests had left them starving and withdrawn. Each family focused on getting through the day, protecting what precious little they had, and waiting for something, somehow to change.

And so it was one bright summer morning when, as the sun was rising over the hills, two strangers walked into town. As they made their way into the village square, they smiled and nodded at everyone they passed.

People could usually tell what travellers wanted before they spoke. Some were merchants, carrying great bundles of trinkets and wares, while others carried a strong back and tools, offering their services to anyone who could pay.

These two, however, were clearly not labourers nor merchants. She was stout and aged, dressed in black, with a small velvet pouch hung over her shoulder. He was tall and slender, bald and bespeckled. His shoulders hunched under the weight of the large cast iron pot he carried on his back.

Beggars, thought the townsfolk who eyed them with suspicion.

The town’s once famous generosity had faded with its prosperity. This unfamiliar pair would surely move on when they realized how little there was to be had here. And after all, didn’t they look better fed than most in these parts?

The strangers, however, asked for nothing, and instead set about to work in the middle of the square. She drew water a pitcher at a time from the town well, slowly filling the cauldron. He went back and forth into the nearby wood, returning again and again with armloads of sticks to pile around it.

By noon they were done. The children, having finished their chores, had gathered around to watch. Some had even helped the man pick up sticks and one boy offered the use of his flint to spark the blaze that was soon heating the water.

Was she a witch? The children whispered.

“What are you doing?” a young girl finally asked the woman.

“Making dinner for the town,” she smiled, “with this.” She carefully unlaced the drawstring on the velvet pouch she wore. The girl watched in wonder as the mysterious woman reached in and carefully pulled out a small, smooth, grey stone.

“This is a magical stone” she said, holding it between her fingers for the children to see. “Add it to some boiling water and in a few hours, it will transform into the best meal you’ve eaten in years.”

The children’s eyes grew wide and their tummies grumbled as they watched her drop the small, smooth, grey stone into the water and began to stir.

“Too bad we don’t have any salt” said the man to himself as he tended the fire, just loud enough to be overheard.

The same young girl who spoke up ran off and returned quickly with her hands cupped together and filled with coarse salt, adding it to the water as the woman stirred and nodded.

“On the way into town I was keeping an eye out for some fresh parsley,” said the woman to no one in particular. “I love parsley in my stone soup.”

Minutes later, two boys stepped forward with fistfuls of green, leafy parsley, dropping it in as the water began to boil. The woman stirred and smiled.

“Remember that little carrot we put in the soup we made for the last town?” the man asked the woman as he poked at the fire.

“Mmmm,” said the woman, “it was heavenly.”

Three children disappeared from the small crowd, each coming back carrying a few small carrots. The woman beamed.

And so went the afternoon. One by one, ingredients were added to the soup. Onions, potatoes, peas, beans, garlic, cabbage, turnips, sage, thyme, rosemary, some scraps of meat, and even a few peppercorns.

By evening, small contributions from every home in the village had blended into a rich, thick medley of aroma and flavours that brought everyone out into the square.

That night the town enjoyed a feast together like they had not done in years, eating and singing and laughing late into the night.

For as surely as each home had too few ingredients to make a nutritious meal for themselves, when they all came together, there was enough for everyone to eat well.

In the morning, as the two strangers prepared to leave town, the people cried out. “Please” they said, “let us buy your magical stone so we may nourish ourselves and prosper once more! We are poor but we will give you anything, for that magic will save us from certain ruin.”

“We came here,” said the woman in black, “because the Together Magic in this stone belongs in this town. It belongs to you.”

She handed the small, smooth, grey stone to the young girl.  “Treasure it.”

And with that, the two visitors left as quietly as they had arrived.

At the edge of town, just before the couple slipped back into the wilderness, the woman stopped and looked at the ground.

She bent down and picked up a small, smooth, grey stone, slipped it into her velvet pouch, and smiled.

It is an eternal truth that when we come together, we can make something from nothing. 

We can turn small things into big things.

We can transform what we have into what we need. 

It is magic, and it is real.

The only way to go from here, is together.