Collaboration drives momentum for system change

Gelgia Fetz Fernandes and Laura Metzger are Co-Leads of the Jacobs Foundation Learning Minds portfolio. The Foundation introduced co-leadership as part of the Strategy 2030 to, among other things, promote collaborative work. Collaboration is also an essential component of many Learning Minds programs. Here Gelgia and Laura explain why they see collaborative work is key to drive momentum for change.

Why does the Jacobs Foundation value co-leadership and collaborative work?

Gelgia: We introduced co-leadership because we believe it makes us stronger, agile, resilient and allows us to draw on a more complete toolbox of skills and experiences. It is also helpful to hold each other accountable to achieving our goals.

Laura: This collaborative element is also important because we are trying to tackle complex problems that require varied expertise to find solutions. One way of solving complex problems is to join forces so we can combine insights and skill sets to look at issues from different disciplinary perspectives.

Learning Minds as a portfolio also promotes interdisciplinary, collaborative work through its programs. Why? 

Laura: The education challenges before us are multiplex which requires research from different perspectives. This is why our research fellowship program supports early- and mid-career researchers from different disciplines. Economists, psychologists, and neuroscientists for example look at child development and learning in a different way. We feel we will create better and more successful solutions when we incorporate these varying perspectives.

Bringing brilliant researchers and leaders together is key for evidence-based policymaking and systems change in child development and learning.”

Gelgia: At the heart of the Learning Minds portfolio is bringing brilliant minds and leaders together to explore questions and find solutions. One reason is because we see this as key for evidence-based policymaking and systems change in child development and learning. For example, we encourage the excellent researchers we fund to think about how their research can be applied in practice right from the start. Bringing these researchers together with educators, practitioners, and decision-makers helps connect this practical element.

Does bringing diverse people together always produce results?

Gelgia: It takes time and patience to create the space and opportunities for people to find a common language to work together. Sometimes when an economist explains a concept from their perspective, a psychologist might not follow. Then a neuroscientist comes in and talks about the same issue from yet another perspective.

“Researchers need time to understand each other to see how their insights can complement each other.

That is where our annual fellows meetings come in. In the Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship program for example, we provide time and space over three days for people to present their work, giving them the freedom to sit together and talk. Some of our greatest projects have come about this way.

For example, we brought a neuroscientist, psychologist, and human-computer interaction expert together to explore if and how quality education in sub-Saharan contexts could influence the reduction of child labor. Together they addressed concrete questions from their different disciplinary perspectives and came up with a novel approach to effect change.

The Foundation also connects academic researchers and social entrepreneurs. Why is connecting these two groups important? 

Laura: Both researchers and social entrepreneurs are on the cutting-edge of their area of expertise, but they often work in parallel universes. We connect these universes because researchers and social entrepreneurs have two important things in common. First, they are trying to solve problems to make people’s lives better and second, they are driving innovation with their work. Connecting them, we feel, can create innovative and evidence-based solutions.

Gelgia: Technology developed by social entrepreneurs might be an excellent solution from a technical perspective. But technology also needs to be effective and applicable for practitioners so they will use it. Involving both groups from the beginning is important to stimulate change with impact.