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Why #roxtweet: Nathan Rothstein on Cross-Sector Collaboration and Partnership

By Nathan Rothstein, Co-Founder and Director of Community Engagement at Swellr

At a young age, we are told to share. We all want something, but don’t need everything. Over and over, we hear others telling us to share, but nobody tells us how to collaborate.

Despite our inability to formally teach this concept, partnerships have existed for a long time in cities. After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Boston’s Mayor at the time, Kevin White, asked members of Boston’s version of a secret society (The Vault) to subsidize the costs of broadcasting the James Brown show at the Boston Garden. This turned out to be a collaboration across different sectors. The music industry, government, and business community came together for public good. As riots tore up cities across the county, Boston remained relatively calm. Property damage was contained, public safety services were not overextended and citizens got to watch one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century in the comfort of their own home.

Partnerships work. Collaboration works. But we are rarely formally taught how to reach across the aisle and make agreements that are mutually beneficial. Here is one example that could be used as a case study in a future business school class title:  The Use of Partnerships To Strengthen Social Capital in Cities 101.


About a year ago, I returned from New Orleans, interested in understanding the unique Boston neighborhoods. I reached out to Bing Broderick, who I had met at a MLK event at the Heller School. Instead of simply sharing information about Haley House Bakery, he took me on a tour of the Dudley Square neighborhood so I could see the context in which Haley House operates. He shared insight into the new developments and shared detailed anecdotes on the history of a neighborhood that has for many years been cut off from the main transportation routes of the city. There is no better way to immerse yourself in a new place than to understand its neighborhoods.

A year later, as we put the finishing touches on getting ready for Swellr to launch, Bing invited me back to Dudley Square to brainstorm an idea for a new kind of event in Boston. This would be a different kind of  an event where—as Lisa Gross mentioned in her TEDxBoston talk—“cross-pollinates across different sectors.” Bing invited Derek Lumpkins from Discover Roxbury to the meeting, and we quickly agreed on what we wanted: a way for people who work towards social good to connect. Each group that we would recruit to be featured on the event would have a different network (with some overlap) that could mutually benefit from being introduced to a new crowd. It was easy to make this happen because there are many groups in the city who are invested in the greater good of the city, and understand the importance of cross-sector collaboration and partnership. Any skepticism can be negated with a look at the diversity of kind of groups that are co-sponsors.

While the online social networking often leads to weak bonds, an online connection that turns into offline quickly becomes a strong bond. Each group is willing to sacrifice sole attention for exposure to new members. Isn’t that what we all want? Partnerships that lead to new customers, volunteers, donors, or even facebook followers?

There is also significance to where this event is located. Roxbury is the geographic heart of Boston. Yet for many years, unfortunately, it has been a literal and figurative dumping ground. At one point in time commuters from the surrounding suburbs would dump their trash in the Dudley Square neighborhood on their way to work, and though there once was a major train station that connected Roxbury to the financial centers of the city, the Silver Line is still only what it is, a bus. While many of the young talented entrepreneurs stay across the Massachusetts Avenue divide, there is a cultural renaissance that is happening in the Roxbury neighborhood. We may live in Somerville, Cambridge and other parts of Boston, but we all benefit from the city of Boston as a whole. As we try to launch our ventures, whether in the private or nonprofit sector, it is important for us to show our support to a city that is made up of many different parts. Join us as we “cross-pollinate” over hash tagging (#roxtweet) and the best chocolate chip cookies in the city.

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