In 2009, a group of outdoor recreation businesses came together at a retreat at Saddleback Mountain sponsored by the Maine Woods Consortium to consider how best to grow nature-based tourism in the Maine woods, hoping to expand greater awareness of the north woods as a tourism destination. Originally, the network intended to focus on creating tourism packages that would highlight multiple partners working together in a particular region, e.g., partners would coordinate marketing efforts and create packages w/ other local businesses that could draw vacationers to a particular area. Over time, the partners have developed tourism destination packages and itineraries among themselves as well as with local partners that provide a total outdoor experience for the traveler.
WHO IS INVOLVED
Several businesses in the tourism sector in Maine are part of the network: the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Huts and trails, the New England Outdoor Center, Northern Outdoors, Sunday River Ski Resort, and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Other partners in the network are also important: PlaceWorks Consulting and the Maine Woods Consortium. In addition, the Maine Office of Tourism has provided support and advice as the partners have developed ways to work together.
HOW THEY WORK TOGETHER
The members of the Network are self-selected; there is no formal process of entry into the Network. Although members are both collaborators and competitors, the glue that holds the Network together is trust. There is strong interest in expanding the membership and partners are working together to figure out how best to do this.
One year ago, Bryan Wentzell, Policy Director for the Appalachian Mountain Club, stepped in to coordinate the efforts of the Network. Up until that time PlaceWorks Consulting had been providing coordination and website maintenance through a small grant.
The members talk every few months, mostly through conference calls and emails. The meetings focus seasonally on developing tourist packages in a cooperative way. A prior package included a cooperative venture between the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and Maine Huts & Trails that allowed vacationers to hike through the woods, then go out on a pontoon boat on Flagstaff Lake where a tour guide would explain the history of the lake; the end of the trip included a stay in a hut close by the lake. Another package entitled “Chicks with Sticks” brought together vacationers for a knitting and skiing weekend.
Bryan and Sara Hunt from the New England Outdoor Center maintain the blog posts on the website, and partners continue to search for ways to maintain funding and momentum around the website, blog, and Facebook page.
The future of the Network is still undecided. Members conferred this past March and decided to try another season of working together. As of yet, there is still no good way of tracking how many packages can be attributed to MWD, so the tangible business benefit to members is unclear. The Network website, blog, and Facebook page are in place, but how much these sites are driving traffic to the websites of individual partners has not been determined. Members feel they are at a critical crossroads, trying to determine what is working, what is not, and what it would take to make the Network thrive.
PROGRESS TOWARDS GOAL
The Maine Woods Discovery Network is made up a group of core industry leaders who have developed trust among themselves and who are committed to expanding nature-based tourism. The Network sponsored cooperative vacation packages for 2010, 2011, and the winter of 2012 packages, with plans for summer 2012 in development. Over the next few months, the Maine Woods Consortium is again sponsoring a retreat focused on supporting nature-based tourism in the Maine woods. Participants will consider developing a certification process for high quality tourism businesses. Could the Maine Woods Discovery Network be the avenue for this certification? Would partners be interested in expanding their mission and totally rethinking the Network’s purpose?
The Maine Woods Discovery Network knows that Maine offers something to tourists that no other state in the east can: ten million acres of lakes, mountains, and forest that is still mostly wild. Many visitors coming to Maine see only lobsters and lighthouses; only a small percentage of the state’s visitors get to the north woods. The members of the Maine Woods Discovery Network are focused on adding the Maine woods to the list of natural resources that draw vacationers from all over the world to our state.
The roots of the MNCFC are in discussions held two years ago between Ken Morse and Kirsten Walter who were both involved in fledgling efforts to develop food councils in their local communities. As they considered the robust food movement in Maine, they made connections through relationships with others involved in similar ventures. Food councils, sometimes funded through the US Department of Agriculture Community Food Project grants, are often the first step that communities take to develop a more coordinated locally-focused approach to food production and distribution. Ken and Kirsten convened others involved in the food movement who were interested in food systems assessment, planning and developing councils, and the group spent several meetings defining goals and principles and researching systems-level models. This team decided to focus on helping rural and/or under-resourced towns and regions develop a comprehensive quick-start approach to looking at community food systems that would move the community to action quickly.
WHO IS INVOLVED
The network is in its early stages of development and seeks to knit together individuals involved in local food movements through creating a forum for community food efforts where people can share experiences, resources, information, and strategies. Most of the work to date has been focused on developing a kick-start tool kit that communities can use to accomplish some early successes in their development of a local food council.
The core partners of the MNCFC continue to be Ken Morse and Kirsten Walter; Barbi Ives from the Muskie School of Public Service, as well as Annie Doran and Brendan Schauffler, two coworkers of Kirsten’s from the Lewiston-based St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, who have also played an important role in the development of the network.
HOW THEY WORK TOGETHER
The MNCFC typically meets on the second Friday of every month, prior to the Eat Local Foods Coalition meeting, at the library in Brunswick, ME. Although 40 people are on the membership list, usually 8-12 attend the meetings. The major focus of the meetings has been on developing a “kick start tool kit” that communities can use to develop a community food council. The tool kit calls for implementing a community food scan as a first step toward developing food self-reliance, so that everyone has the same picture of how food works in their communities. The members of the MNCFC have found that many groups wanting to conduct food systems assessment and planning begin by spending a great deal of time on developing a vision, guiding principles, and goals, rather than getting to the heart of what brought people to the table in the first place. By focusing on a three meeting model, with suggested starting indicators, the tool kit asks a community to first dig into the story of its own food system, painting a picture of “how food works” in the local community. In this way, a collaborative view is developed early on.
The partners of the MNCFC approach their work through tapping into the collective knowledge and experience of the network members. They view the building of the tool kit as an iterative process, so they don’t begin with a lot of answers to local community issues, but strive to elicit feedback from member communities at different stages in the process. The tool kit itself and the monthly meetings provide multiple points of entry for people to become involved.
A good example of how this work has developed in a local community is the community planning charette that was held in Lewiston-Auburn in 2010 to discuss the local food system. An overflow crowd attended the event at the public library, representing local interest not seen during ten years of work on food systems in that area. As the work has evolved over the past year, Good Food for Lewiston-Auburn has hosted a series of community food gatherings in people’s homes, rather than in formal academic settings. These gatherings have been seen as the start of local community food councils.
The MNCFC sees itself working on two fronts: first, as a catalyst to loosen up the siloed approaches to the food and agricultural sector around the state, thus developing a systems approach within the sector; and secondly, trying to build coordination and a systems understanding within local communities attempting to grapple with their own food systems.
Moving to a systems approach has many challenges inherent in it, so the partners take a long-term view of their work; they realize they are trying to shift the framework of how people think and act about their local food systems. The resources of time and funding for developing a network and an initiative, such as the kick-start tool kit, are real. Everyone involved in the network is stretched thin, also working at other jobs and in other capacities.
PROGRESS TOWARDS GOAL
The Maine Network of Community Food Councils is very young, still at the start-up stage, gathering support for developing the community kick start tool kit. They have recently received funding specifically for the network from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation; these resources will be used to develop a more formal approach to building the network. Although early on the network partners didn’t want to spend their first efforts on network structure and governance, they now realize the importance of attending to these issues of process and have learned that it is a necessity for building the capacity and health of the MNCFC as it moves forward. They plan on focusing more on this aspect of network building in the coming year.
The work of transforming our food system from a global industrial supply chain to a more community-based system is a large task. Currently, the state of Maine has set a goal of 80% of our food coming from our local communities; most localities in Maine are not even at 20%. To realize this large goal, the network intends to engage as many people as possible, since the partners feel that the process is as much about engagement as goal setting. They look to design a process that communities can adapt from wherever they are. To that end, over the coming year the network will pilot test the kick start tool kit in several communities around Maine and encourage these localities to include as many people as possible in building their own locally-based food system.
The story of the Mahoosuc Initiative had its beginnings in 2004-2005, when the conservation community across Maine was focused on opportunities in the Downeast region, as well as, controversies around development in the Moosehead Lake area. While attention was being paid to conservation issues in other areas of Maine, few people were talking about the western mountains. Discussions in local communities began about the large area of land in the Mahoosuc region. Just fifteen years ago, this land had been owned by a handful of forest products companies that managed the land as a long-term, multi-generational investment. Now the land was largely sub-divided and owned by companies with short-term time business horizons of 8 to 10 years, making it ripe for development. For communities that rely on natural resource and recreational tourism, loss of access as well as development of primitive landscapes would have a detrimental economic impact. Small local groups and large national conservation groups came together in partnership to support regional collaborative work focused on landscape-scale conservation. Initially, partners were convened as a project of the Northern Forest Alliance, which provided staffing and fiscal agency. As the network and funding strategy changed, the leadership of the Mahoosuc Initiative shifted from the Northern Forest Alliance (no longer in existence) to an Executive Committee of six partner organizations that now serves as the backbone to the network.
WHO IS INVOLVED
Partners of the Mahoosuc Initiative focus their efforts on bringing together the right partners, facilitating community dialogue, and helping draw in resources from inside and outside the region to new projects. Partners are able to do this through both local and national connections.
The key partners of the Initiative include the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), The Wilderness Society (TWS), the Androscoggin River Watershed Council (ARWC), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, the Conservation Fund, Mahoosuc Pathways, the Northern Forest Center of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the Tri-County Community Action Program, and the Mahoosuc Land Trust.
HOW THEY WORK TOGETHER
The Executive Committee of the Initiative, made up of six key partners, meets quarterly, led by staff from the Appalachian Mountain Club, The Wilderness Society, and the Androscoggin River Watershed Council. These meetings are typically project-focused, centering on project updates, deliverables, opposition concerns, or public advocacy needs. The Executive Committee reports to a broader partnership meeting that immediately follows.
Initially, the AMC provided a part-time staff person to the Initiative through support from the Betterment Fund. Then the Initiative attempted to work together “by committee” for the past few years, but found that the coordinating function was essential for some aspects of local project development and outreach in Maine. Landon Fake, Executive Director of Mahoosuc Pathways, now serves as part-time coordinator.
The Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge (UNWR) project serves as a good example of how the Initiative partners work together. Lake Umbagog is a wildlife refuge that sits across Maine and New Hampshire. UNWR initiated a process to revise their land management plan, which included a proposal to expand their boundary by some 50,000 acres. Mahoosuc Initiative partner organizations organized around a public dialogue process of town meetings and email outreach and generated over 12,000 supportive comments; trips to Washington, DC were organized and the congressional delegations from both Maine and New Hampshire were involved. The result of this broad-based community support for the project is that the boundary has been expanded, allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire land from willing land owners, thus conserving additional land for public access. As land continues to be put into conservation projects in the Mahoosuc Region, Mahoosuc Initiative partners perform the vital work of grassroots support and federal funding strategies.
Like any coalition that brings together partners with divergent opinions, the Initiative has had to work through differing perspectives, visions, and goals. Partners stay in the Initiative because there is an acknowledgement that more can be accomplished by working together than working separately. The combination of local, regional, and national partners puts the Initiative in the unique two-way position of connecting larger conservation projects with grassroots support, as well as providing opportunities for smaller organizations to tap into national resources. This structure works well in developing projects with strong community support.
PROGRESS TOWARDS GOAL
The Mahoosuc Initiative has accomplished many of the goals they initially set out to do, including protecting and conserving many acres of land and trails around the region, including the Androscoggin Headwaters Project and the Mahoosuc Gateway Project. Two map projects have promoted the region as a tourism destination: a driving touring loop map and a Mahoosuc Recreation map and guide. The touring loop map, which highlights area outdoor recreation businesses and roadside attractions, is currently about to head for its third printing and also exists as an iPhone app. Three years ago, 10,000 copies of a touring map were printed; this fall there will be a third printing, with an additional electronic application available for smart phones. The Recreation Map and Guide, published by Initiative Partner AMC, is a great additional map to the touring loop map, highlighting backcountry and non-motorized recreation in the region, such as road bike loops, river trails, and hiking trails.
In addition to these tangible accomplishments, the partners are especially proud of the relationships that have been built among the participating organizations. From the beginning, the Initiative wanted to create a network that was able to influence public policy, so partners typically focus on sharing information about the current political lay-of-the land. When the Obama administration created the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative, landscapes across the United States were reviewed. Within Maine, the broader conservation community came together to put the Mahoosuc region on the map as one of the AGO landscapes, advancing the conservation movement in Maine and the region.
Currently the Initiative is now partnering with another network called the High Peaks Initiative to form the Androscoggin High Peaks Collaborative. This new collaborative wants to support landscape-scale conservation, hoping to broaden our state’s conservation focus to the entire western region of Maine. Currently partners have established an informal communication structure to share information and marketing capability for political and fundraising purposes.
Just fifteen years ago, the Mahoosuc region’s largest forested parcels were owned by five forest products companies, all of which have now left the region or dissolved as independent corporations. Currently 85 percent of the Mahoosuc region is in private ownership by investment trusts and timber management organizations, with future ownership uncertain. Continuing this ongoing shift in ownership and potential development patterns – Boston is less than three hours away and Portland just over an hour – could mean that the region’s landscape could be dramatically altered, along with traditional public use and access.
Partners of the Mahoosuc Initiative are always looking for community economic project opportunities, as well as opportunities to protect the land. Twenty years from now this area, full of mid-level plateaus, could be a key region for climate adaptation, providing ecological refuge for species that could be disappearing. Even as the conservation focus might shift, the work of the Initiative will continue to be based in local communities. The partners feel that what they do is not particularly extraordinary: they bring together local communities to develop local support for projects that are necessary for these communities to flourish.
In 2010, representatives from several county-wide organizations came together through an invitation from Bill Hager of Child Care Services of York County to discuss forming a meaningful collaboration that would help fellow nonprofits think about their business in new and creative ways. At the same time, staff from the United Way of York County were exploring how to develop alternative models of collaboration and received training in the networks for social change model. Aware that nonprofits routinely talk about collaboration, but are not always prepared to deal successfully with “turf” issues, the partners wanted to find opportunities for small to medium-sized organizations that would result in efficiencies that could help them remain viable in an environment of reduced resources. Many nonprofits began during the 1960’s/1970’s when funding for small regional nonprofit organizations was more available. Realizing that the model of a small organization focused on a single service in a small town is not sustainable now, the partners in the Nonprofit Collaboration Project wanted to help their fellow nonprofits develop new business models where they could retain the services they are committed to, without sacrificing sustainability.
WHO IS INVOLVED
Members of the planning group of the York County Nonprofit Collaboration Project currently include: United Way of York County, Child Care Services of York County, York County Community Action, and Safe & Healthy Sanford Coalition. There is a larger membership list of over 60 names of those nonprofit representatives who are interested in attending events and exploring partnerships. The planning group has been successful in broadening the membership beyond health and human services to libraries, conservation/environmental groups, as well as nonprofits in the arts and cultural sectors.
HOW THEY WORK TOGETHER
The York County Nonprofit Collaboration Project has sponsored a series of events for nonprofit organizations based on topics of interest identified by the larger group at its initial meeting, such as viability and collaboration, grant writing, and financial services, all with the purpose of helping the nonprofit world think differently about doing its business. In between these events, the planning group meets several times a year to plan future events. Because the Child Care Services of York County Board of Directors is committed to fostering the development of this Collaboration Project, future planning is a regular agenda item for the Board. However, partners are clear that no one organization “owns” the Collaboration Project.
The United Way of York County has been able to offer a major contribution to the Collaboration Project through developing and maintaining a website. Partners were happy to find a committed community-based organization that could offer a neutral site for a website presence.
In November 2010 an initial meeting to discuss viability and collaboration was attended by 45 participants from various organizations. The session ended with a small group brainstorming session about how to determine needs and identify opportunities to partner and share. In February 2011, two sessions followed that were focused on financial services, resource development, and communications/marketing; and an April 2011 event centered on grant writing. While the topics have all been helpful learning for nonprofit organizations, the real results of these events have been in the development of partnerships that have helped the nonprofits venture into new ways of doing business. Although this has been a slow process, there are now examples of organizations sharing back-office support (three organizations now share a bookkeeper), bulk buying together, and collaborating on grant writing and pursuing funding.
On July 17, 2012, 30 people came together for a community conversation entitled “How Do We Survive, Grow, and Thrive in Challenging Times”; the event showcased the joint projects that have developed through the Collaboration Project. Presenters spoke about the process of developing collaborative projects and the results of their ventures in group purchasing and shared back-office supports. Further discussions centered on finding new opportunities for collaboration, including group purchasing or sharing of space, staff, or programming.
The planning group partners are well aware that while most nonprofits espouse collaboration, they are also fearful of losing the commitment, passion, and focus they bring to their particular service. The inertia that can result from this fear often keeps nonprofit organizations from moving ahead; the partners hope to change the framework to one of finding opportunity.
Showcasing the successful collaborations that have sprung up from discussing alternative business models at the Collaboration Project events has also been a strategy that has helped participants think about their work differently. Not every partnership that was attempted has been successful, however; two groups involved in literacy programs began discussions in collaboration, but were not ultimately successful in finding ways of working in maximum partnership. The members of the larger group strongly believe that there will be other opportunities that may bear fruit, and are continuing to bring other resources to the table, such as the Maine Association of Non Profits.
PROGRESS TOWARDS GOAL
The early conveners of the York County Nonprofit Collaboration Project never envisioned a county-wide collaborative where all business processes would be shared; instead they hoped to stimulate natural partnerships that would change the way nonprofit organizations thought about their business models. The broad diversity of the 28 organizations that attended the July 17 meeting gives the planning group reason to believe that word is spreading out to a broader audience.
The vision of the York County Nonprofit Collaboration is not to be one large unified network of nonprofits, but rather to be a “network of networks”, helping to spawn multiple networks and collaborations of natural partners. The planning group plans on continuing to sponsor broad community conversations that will bear fruit in partnerships and collaborations of many shapes and sizes, where many nonprofits are able to think creatively about new but effective ways of operating.