Stronger Together in the Women’s Sector

We at the Women’s Resource Centre are committed to working with small, specialist women’s organisations and we are a loud and proud advocate for the need to preserve and promote women only spaces.

Our 2016 State of the Sector survey demonstrated that the sector believes that one of the keys to safeguarding women only spaces and the survival of women’s organisations that work with the most marginalised women is the development of women’s partnership and consortia. There was a genuine belief by those that participated in the survey that ‘we are stronger together’.

So often, in the women’s sector we talk about collaboration – but how committed are we to making this work and what stops us? The survey tells us that often it’s the fear of competition; we have to compete for funding, we have to compete with each other for contracts; we’re competing with each other to get heard; we’re competing for staff, volunteers, trustees, resources…..the list goes on. But that ‘competition’ is organisations who have similar aims and values; organisations who share the same fundamental reason for being – to make the lives of women better, fairer, safer and healthier.

But if our aims are the same, why don’t we then look at each other as potential collaborators rather than potential competition? Why aren’t we collaborating more with each other? The starting point has to be the willingness to open up and share; to trust each other; to start those difficult conversations; to work with organisations large and small – especially the small, specialist organisations providing niche services.

We can also go some way trying to change the culture of commissioning which has led us down this path but we have to accept and acknowledge that we need a way forward; we have to find a way of working together – women’s organisations across the sector large and small.

We don’t have to ‘over-share’, give away our ‘commercial secrets’, ‘knock out the competition’ – but we do need to have honest conversations with each other; we need to speak out about what challenges us, work out how we can work together; build and generate networks; be creative, talk about new and creative ideas that working together can make happen and take risks together to try new innovative ways of working.

We need a thriving and diverse women’s sector. If we lose the small, specialist organisations because we don’t recognise and respect the value of what they do or they’re not on our radar or we don’t find or make space for them to participate in collaborations and partnership working; we’re then not aspiring to our own organisations’ reason for being – making the lives of women better, fairer, safer and healthier. More importantly we’re letting down some of the hardest to reach and marginalised women.

The Women’s Resource Centre piloted a 3 year project funded by Esmée Fairbairn, the Women’s Commissioning Support Unit in Birmingham and the West Midlands, the North East, Cambridge and Greater Manchester. The project supported and facilitated women’s organisations to come together and build strategic partnerships, by developing capacity and skills offering training, one to one organisational support, tool-kits, resources and online guidance.

If you are interested in sharing your views and stories on collaboration and partnership working, finding out more about the Commissioning Unit, or would just like to be kept up to date on what the project is doing – please contact Dionne at WRC: dionne@wrc.org.uk

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