Engaging Unlikely Allies for Your Cause: How-to (Part 2)

What is possible when you move beyond talking to the same people over and over, and begin instead to Engage Unlikely Allies in your work?

In Part One of this post, we talked about the huge potential that is waiting to be tapped when you engage those unlikely allies. If you have not read that post, the examples in this post relate to that one. So read that first, and then try this exercise.

In this post, I’ll share an exercise that can help you quickly uncover those unlikely allies.

Ripples in a Pond
Envision your cause as a stone tossed into a pond. The first ripple created by that stone is about the lives you immediately touch with your work. Beyond that first ripple – in the second and third ripples, and the ripples beyond there – those ripples are where the unlikely allies can be found.

The question at the root of this exercise is, “Who else cares about this?” What you may find is that sometimes people do not realize they care. Your job, then, is to help them see how your cause impacts the things they do care about.

Step 1: Identifying the Ripples

Before you can identify allies in the outer ripples, you must first identify who is in that first ripple. The question you will ask for this first ripple is…

Whose lives are

directly touched by your work?

Using the example of GlobalSkin’s movement to change the way the world sees skin disease, obviously that first ripple includes the patients who have skin conditions. It also includes doctors and pharmaceutical companies.

And with the example of The Patterson Foundation’s literacy initiative, the first ripple obviously includes students and teachers and parents.

Now comes the fun part. To identify the next ripple, and the ripples beyond that, you will ask…

Whose lives do THOSE people touch?

This is where you will begin to touch upon people who are impacted by your work and don’t realize they are.

For example, patients with autoimmune diseases affect their workplaces, either when they are unable to work, or unable to be completely present (pain, stigma, other issues). And BAM – suddenly a local chamber of commerce or large employer might be an unlikely ally!

Therefore, for GlobalSkin, we would ask…
• Who do patients connect with?
• Who do doctors connect with?
• Whose lives are touched by pharmaceutical companies?

You can even break these down further. For the pharmaceutical company, for example… Whose lives are touched by their marketing reps? By their new-drug development people? By their patients with other problems? Etc.

And then again. Whose lives are THOSE people touching, etc.

You can also do this exercise by issue. For example, looking at one aspect of skin disease and other autoimmune diseases, there is the huge issue of environmental factors.

Whose lives are touched by environmental issues?
Who else cares about environmental issues?

And BAM, once again, we are beginning to see potential unlikely allies.

You can see where the ripples of The Patterson Foundation’s literacy initiative would have the same enormous impact. Now make the list for your own cause, and see what you come up with.

Step 2: For every ripple, who do you know?
We all know far more people than we think we know. We think we are not “well-connected” because we may not know people in positions of authority, but we all have neighbors, friends, and colleagues. If we have kids in school, we know parents of other kids. At work, we know spouses and family members of our coworkers. (For more resources on identifying who you already know, check out the Community Engagement archives right here at Creating the Future.)

Using the list you created, sit down with friends and colleagues, and brainstorm who you know. And if you can’t think of someone for a particular category, brainstorm who you know who might know someone. (The benefit there is you will be engaging yet another person in your cause – that “introducer”!)

Step 3: Invite those individuals to a conversation.
The goal of that conversation will simply be to explore common goals, to see what you might accomplish together that neither of you could accomplish on your own. The more you are open to whatever might happen, the more exciting the possibilities.

Step 4: Keep your ears open
From there, let engagement and connection become your way of being. Listen for the connections between other causes and professions and your own. Then find someone to connect with, and set that date for coffee.

Because there really is so much more we can accomplish together than any of us can accomplish on our own.


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