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Is it possible to solve a social problem? Two cities just did.

By Sara Brenner

Over the holiday season, one city’s bold goal captured the press spotlight: the mayor of Phoenix announced on December 18 that the city had ended veteran’s homelessness. And then on January 6, Salt Lake City announced that they also had ended homelessness among military veterans. Both announcements reflect the power of setting bold goals and mobilizing cross-sector collaboration in pursuit of such goals

Both cities’ efforts were inspired by a goal set in 2010 by the Obama Administration: end veteran’s homelessness by 2015. In fact, the goal set off a healthy race between the two cities, each striving to become the first city to achieve the goal.

In Phoenix, the United Way of Sun Valley, other area nonprofits, the Mayor, local business leaders, and the federal government collaborated together to eliminate veterans’ homelessness. Early this December, they realized they were just 56 people away from their goal, and they were able to rally the community and secure the last $100,000 to permanently house those individuals. This accomplishment made national headlines, fueled Salt Lake City’s success just a few weeks later, and is starting to inspire other cities – like DC and Philadelphia – to replicate Phoenix’s model.

Speaking on the Rachel Maddow show in late December, the Mayor of Phoenix remarked, “Prioritization and teamwork [were the most important factors to getting this done]… We had to find the right partners: the federal government… the city council… the business community… and the United Way… You would come to a meeting … and you didn’t know who was a government official, you didn’t know who was a business leader, you didn’t know who was a nonprofit or foundation leader. We were all on the same team saying we’re gonna get the job done… It’s a story of leadership and teamwork.” The Mayor’s observation serves as a helpful reminder that intentionally building culture in which diverse stakeholders have equal voice can create a robust foundation for collaborative results.

Maddow started the segment by suggesting that trying to end homelessness sounds akin to achieving world peace. She went on to joke “It’s a goal that nobody could quibble with, but it’s the impossible project, right? How can a problem that entrenched – that complexly human – ever be the kind of problem that has an end?” I hope this example serves to change the national mindset about what we can accomplish when we set strong goals (“big enough to matter, small enough to win”) and work together to solve them. I also hope it changes the perception of the media who tell us that accomplishments like this are out of reach. We continue to see time and again that “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world – are the ones who do.”

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Sara Brenner

About Sara Brenner

As President, Sara Brenner leads the firm’s consulting business. Sara helped develop and is implementing the firm’s new strategy to solve social problems at the magnitude they exist, while leading a sales team that grew revenue by more than 45%. Sara oversees the implementation of the new strategy-aligning products, impact measurement, and talent initiatives with a results-based culture to deliver exceptional value to partners. With over 15 years’ experience in consulting for nonprofits, for-profits and the government, Sara worked extensively in the health and human services including at the Advisory Board Company and The Gallup Organization. See Sara's full bio

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