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February 28, 2014

Last month Ian Gordon, director of the San Diego Youth Development Office—which is supported by the San Diego Workforce Partnership—participated in the Champions for Change: Leading a Backbone Organization for Collective Impact workshop in San Francisco.

The event was hosted by the Collective Impact Forum, an initiative of FSG, the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, and the Tamarack Institute. 

“Collective impact” results when actors from different sectors commit to a common agenda for solving a complex social issue. Backbone Organizations play a complex, behind-the-scenes role in the success of these collective impact initiatives.

The multi-day, interactive workshop was specifically for members of Leadership Roundtables, Coordinating Committees and Backbone Organizations, and provided a learning opportunity to develop their capacity as collaborative leaders. 

The event was filled with insightful presentations, panels and peer learning about collective impact. The opening session featured a panel discussion on the six core functions of Backbone Organizations, common misperceptions of these organizations and the common characteristics of effective Backbone Leaders. 

Gordon shared his experience as a Backbone Leader, specifically, the core components of his role, how his role has changed over time and the skills/competencies needed to succeed as a Backbone Leader.

Gordon is also the site leader of PATHWAYS, a three-year pilot initiative to address the growing number of youth in San Diego who are disconnected from education, training and employment (also referred to as Opportunity Youth). “There aren’t many opportunities for those of us engaged in collective impact work to learn from, and offer support, to each other,” he said. “This was a great opportunity to do so.”

Other topics at the event included: 

• Evaluating collective impact efforts

• How collective impact creates the conditions that enable solutions to complex problems to emerge

• How to map and connect existing organizations for social change in communities

• Effective collaborative governance to situations from the field

• Examples of sustained funding 

The San Diego Youth Development Office (YDO) supports positive youth development strategies that improve outcomes by connecting, convening, and engaging stakeholders and their resources to advance the health and economic well being of San Diego’s Youth. YDO is funded by The California Endowment, the SDWP, and the Aspen Institute. For more information, visit

For more information on FSG, the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, and the Tamarack Institute, see below:

• FSG –

• The Tamarack Institute –

• The Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions –

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