Building resilience: Strength in numbers

Cathy MacLellan

The strength of collaboration is often shown to children using a pile of sticks. A single stick is handed out to each person and they are instructed to break it in half—an easy task. Then a bundle of sticks that are held together are passed around and the same instructions are given. No one is able to break the bundle because a group of sticks is highly resilient; it will bend but not break. The message is clear: together we are stronger.

In Waterloo Region we are learning how true this is. As challenging as it may be, Waterloo, Cambridge, and Kitchener (and the surrounding townships) are stronger together than as individual cities. Competing with each other will weaken our ability to face severe economic and environmental challenges. Collaboration builds social capital and by investing in each other, we build a resilient community.

Artists and entrepreneurs are highly driven to see their ideas come to fruition. While collaboration is arguably the only way to achieve any measure of success, many are highly individualistic, and it takes some maturity and wisdom to recognize that they need others to achieve success. Author Patricia Pitcher wrote an excellent book called Artists, Craftsman, and Technocrats that argues that the collaboration of these three types, though difficult, is fundamental to the success and resilience of a business.

Locally, the collaboration of Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis transformed RIM from a struggling start-up to a top company.

Corporations suffer the most from structures that limit collaboration. To make up for this inherent weakness, boards are expected to act as a foil to a toxic hierarchy. However, boards, also structured hierarchically, can rarely make a corporation act collaboratively, and many private companies operate without a board. Most of us know of companies that either languished or went under when a hierarchical leader left. An individual cannot be solely responsible for building a resilient and sustainable organization.

Much of Waterloo Region is under tremendous pressure and strain due to recent developments in the urban cores – now is the time to put those stick-grouping, camp lessons of old to practice. While many are in favour of this progress, collaboration is vital in ensuring needs and concerns of our neighbourhood are not ignored. Conserve our Residential Environment (CORE) is a collaborative effort by local residents to protect the rights and voice concerns of all who live in the core. CORE acts as an exemplar of a community of people with shared concerns building and defending a resilient neighbourhood.

Echoed in Dan Herman’s column last month, this kind of innovation is prevalent in WR’s history. By taking note of the sites of resilience we’ve seen in private sector corporations, in neighbourhoods looking to uphold community (or in our earliest lessons of collaboration from camp), this narrative can be a part of WR’s future, too.

Cathy MacLellan is the co-founder and VP of Ubiquity Solar, a mom to three millenials and an urban homesteader.