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  • Writer's pictureJosé Joaquín Campos Arce

Diversity and partnerships will drive collaborative intelligence for transformational impact

Here’s why we are committed to both


Producers gathered around a table working with documents
A farm management workshop with producers in the Costa Rican Osa Peninsula.

Over 20 years ago, I began speculating that when well-designed, the collective intelligence of multiple individuals must be greater than the sum of their individual intelligences.


At the time, I described this as the intelligence of a group of people guided by a shared vision and purpose, whether they make up an organization or a shared territory. I thought that this intelligence could be enhanced, if given the proper conditions, by a careful design with that purpose in mind. The diversity of backgrounds and perspectives brought to the table to collaborate on advancing towards a common vision can only strengthen the collective intelligence.


Back then, topics regarding organizational leadership and territorial approaches were my professional priorities, both intrinsically dependent on the collective action of groups of people. The writings of Prof. Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate in Economics, were my inspiration: she developed the theory of collective action, which states that local communities are the best at managing common natural resources, given that they are the ones who depend on them.


However, I thought collective action would need to develop collaborative and effective governance mechanisms to deal with multiple, and sometimes, conflicting interests.

At a previous organization, I persuaded an interdisciplinary team of collaborators to integrate this theory into an innovative landscape management framework, aiming at enhancing collective impact in such complex contexts. We called this model “adaptive co-management of watersheds,” and received a USD 7 million grant from the Swedish government, and later evolved into the concept of “climate-smart territories,” which received a USD 20 million grant from the government of Norway.


Both donors valued these innovative approaches and supported its piloting in Central America between 2003 and 2016.


I fell in love with the concept of collaborating for leadership or territorial management success, and by 2014, I came across the book “Collaborative Intelligence” by Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur, which made me realized that other people had been developing this topic. Three years before, in 2011, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published its article “Collective Impact,” which reinforced the same ideas of combining individual knowledges and capacities to reap the benefits of the synergies these create when employed collaboratively.


By the time I joined the Sustainable Agriculture Network in 2019, I was already looking to continue positioning this theme as a strategic element that an organization could rely on to tackle the most pressing issues humanity faces today: climate change, poverty, and biodiversity loss. These challenges required a network-style organization with a need for global collaboration, which perfectly describes the SAN model and philosophy.


Stepping into our role as collective impact orchestrators

As an organization, we have adopted collaboration and appreciation for diversity as fundamental factors to achieve the transformational impact demanded by the triple crisis which threatens our life and survival.


SAN member organizations embody the appreciation for diversity we aim to foster day by day. Inclusion is part of their DNA, working diligently on gender issues, with youth groups, indigenous communities, and improving the livelihoods of the underprivileged.

Our members are the heart and soul of the Network, and they create a wonderful mix of geographies, cultures and expertise that share a common mission to make agriculture regenerative, that is amplified by their differences. And that is what impact networks are all about: working together across boundaries for a shared purpose towards systemic change.


In the last four years, with the support of carefully selected coaches and consultants, we have made considerable progress including collaboration and appreciation in our institutional values, strategy, and programs.


We have embarked in the redesign of the team of collaborators, and in engaging new collaborators with the right fit, in ways to foster trust and respect as the cornerstone of collaborative intelligence, and appreciation of diversity as a strength.


We have moved from making collaboration and appreciation part of our aspiration and daily narrative, to walking the talk by living them on the day-to-day work.



Community members of Gaitania, Colombia, with the TerraViva Consortium, led by SAN.

In recent years, we have made progress integrating complementing approaches, such as appreciative inquiry that focuses on the assets, developing the CliftonStrengths for each collaborator, including the development of partnerships based on those strengths, commitment to transform SAN into an impact network, defining our secretariat role as consortia orchestrators in programs and projects, and serving as a backbone organization that supports rural communities develop their common territorial agendas, their shared vision.


These deliberate and aligned efforts are aimed at growing SAN into a global collaborative impact network to transform agriculture to secure a sustainable future for food, nature, and rural communities, which is our guiding vision.


Growing our collaborative intelligence

I am excited to see that we are increasing our CQ, collaborative intelligence, and what we are doing is evidence that the organization’s CQ can and must be increased for the benefit of better organizational climate, staff satisfaction, and high performance and impact. In this way, a virtuous circle can be created; one that enhances the CQ, creating at the same time the enabling conditions for continuous CQ growth.


Nevertheless, this requires proper intent, commitment, and conscientious design, as described above.


I am convinced that this is the main driver for SAN's effectiveness as the secretariat of a global network of organizations that believe in collective impact, and that the secretariat’s role is to be a collective impact orchestrator.


We are committed to bringing passionate, talented, and knowledgeable collaborators, and to support them with an enabling environment for trust, creativity, and innovation, in ways that foster the organizational CQ; the same is true when engaging new member organizations.


Collaborative intelligence is the next evolution of human and organizational intelligence, and at SAN we are geared to take full advantage of this coming reality for the sake of nature and humanity.

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