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08.24.21 | Community

The power of collective impact

Sage Collective was founded in 1978 as the Tabernacle Senior Citizens Project, Inc. (You can learn more about our story here.)  As the focus of our work has evolved over time, we took the opportunity to rebrand as Sage Collective in 2019.

Sage refers to the great wisdom and spiritual connection we strive to claim. Collective defines the sense of community engagement and interaction we seek, but it means much more than that. 

When we say “collective,” we make reference to the positive ways we can address the systemic challenges and inequities in our society — by forging connections among people and ideas. Joined together, we function as catalysts for change to lighten individual burdens, creating stronger and more purposeful communities along the way.

Moving forward from the essential meaning of “collective,” we embrace the powerful idea of collective impact, which recognizes the diverse strengths and weaknesses of communities, while working with neighborhood leaders and resources to achieve a more just and equitable future … particularly for older adults.  We are always seeking to align ourselves with conceptual frameworks and organizations that are taking bold and efficacious approaches to transformative change through collective impact. We believe that Together Chicago is such an organization:

Together Chicago came into being in 2017 as a mix of local leaders in business, faith, nonprofit and government questioning how they could do more to address the root cause of violence the city was experiencing.

The organization’s vision is to prevail as a catalyst of change and inspire hope within underserved and underrepresented Chicago communities. Together Chicago has five main areas of focus for creating change through the methodology of collective impact: economic development, education, violence reduction, gospel justice and faith community mobilization. Concentrating on these different areas, Together Chicago partners with a variety of local businesses, nonprofits, churches and schools to achieve equitable justice and further their mission of collective impact.

If you’re out and about the last weekend in August, Together Chicago is participating in Chicago Peace Week’s Peach Walk & Festival, to be held at the Dusable Museum of African American History on Saturday, August 28. The event will start at 9 a.m. at the museum’s sculpture garden with a gathering of faith leaders throughout the city for a Peace Walk, directly followed by the Peace Festival. You can learn about the Peace Walk & Festival here.

Collective impact is more of a movement than it is a phrase, providing a roadmap for communities to enable change by inviting everyone to take action together. And as we have seen in communities across our country and around the world, empowering and uplifting all voices is critical to ensuring the success of a collective goal.

Functioning as more than just part of our name, the term “collective” celebrates our rich identity and codifies our beliefs into a framework of mutual engagement for an equitable future.

Text overlay reads "At Sage Collective, we believe that humanity is at its very best when we empower and uplift all voices in pursuit of a collective goal."
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05.13.21 | News

Formulating an Innovation Lab with Kathy Watkins-Richardson

“Getting things off the ground” is often a nonlinear process. As Sage Collective continues to expand its service offerings to include virtual and in-person programming, we’re learning, reflecting, and adapting as we go along. This ability to remain agile and constantly innovate is how we operate — and what will ultimately set us apart as a “Model for Social Innovation.”

In this installment of our Interview with an Expert series, we talk to Sage Collective’s latest team member, Program Coordinator Kathy Watkins-Richardson. We are thrilled to have Kathy Watkins-Richardson as part of our team, and to celebrate her pivotal role in making this progress happen. Let’s dive in:


With your extensive background in marketing and strategic planning, what aspects of your experience and skills do you anticipate bringing to your work with Sage Collective? 

KWR: I have always leaned toward challenges in every aspect of my life. Sage Collective presented itself to me more than a year ago, when I operated as a facilitator for an annual meeting. I was at the time, and still am, working on my PhD in conflict resolution studies, which really lends itself to the whole mission for Sage. I recall being so impressed with the leadership present at that weekend workshop, and I was greatly inspired by what Sage (Tabernacle) has done and aspires to do.

Donna Gaines and I continued to stay in touch and late in 2020, she asked me to come on board as a contractor to assist with multiple projects. Having been in this role for several months, I am now finding great use for that marketing and strategic planning background, as well as aspects of conflict resolution that relate to issues of equity in underserved communities. In combining my skills, 27+ years’ experience, and interests, I find I am driven by the challenge and desire to help Sage achieve its goals.

We are carving out new paths that require an eye toward identifying the appropriate goals and building execution plans that will get us there. Conflict skills and relevant theories deepen my perspective—and inform strategy, as well. My marketing comes in handy in that we write a good amount of material, so I must use creative words to convey our meaning and to inspire or persuade the given audience. So, I guess you might say this is a great fit.


You were a pivotal player in planning and executing Sage Collective’s latest live, virtual roundtable discussion on COVID-19. What was that process like — from initial concepting, to executing the event, to the follow-up with event attendees? What lessons have you learned from the process, and how do you plan to apply these new insights to future programming at Sage Collective?

KWR: To operate in Sage’s entrepreneurial environment, one must be flexible. From the initial idea of launching a COVID campaign, to having two experts discuss vaccination perceptions and issues relevant to our audience, to the day of the event, things were evolving rather fast in the national arena.

President Biden was in major gear to accelerate vaccination. We had secured our moderator, Monique Caradine, and panelists, Dr. James Galloway, and Dr. Joseph West, early. Working with our speakers, we designed content to portray a story “from virus to vaccine.” Questions were crafted for their expert response. But as the planning proceeded, national issues of vaccine access and how to sign up to get vaccinated changed to “vaccine hesitancy.”

It may seem difficult to understand, but that was a major shift of the narrative, so as we plan future webinars and events we want to make sure that we are in a position to stay on top of the changing landscape, and that we are delivering on the promise of representing the needs of our community with the most credible sources of information.

I can say, too, that I have gone back to an old marketing adage: let’s build one customer at a time, so we will slowly cultivate our audience. That is, while we are delivering great virtual discussions, we also must get known, so people will come. This requires the follow-through you mentioned—the thanking of our attendees—and much multitasking as we continue to develop programming.


How do you see the arc of that experience — implementing a program, learning as you go, and coming away more experienced and informed than before — as being reflective of Sage Collection’s larger “Model for Social Innovation”? In that same vein, can you give us a brief overview of what it means for Sage Collective to be an “innovation lab”?

When the idea arose of comparing Sage Collective to an innovation lab, I must tell you that it took me back to the time I worked in the aerospace field. Major manufacturers were designing innovation labs and think tanks in the 1980s to foster high technology competition—spaceships, unmanned aerial vehicles, supersonic jet engines.

However, I did my research and found that a “social innovation lab” is something unique, and something with which academia is quite familiar. Thinking of Sage as this kind of entity requires a visionary mindset that enables experimentation, ability to move quickly, and perception of failure as a way forward. Success isn’t bad either, don’t get me wrong!

Further, a social innovation lab is not necessarily going to produce tangible objects (like rocket engines), but holistic concepts intended to evolve (in our case) into housing as health, social enterprises, social movements, and eventual policy impact. We are shaping Sage into a model for social innovation that has the potential to create change.

The lab mindset emphasizes the need to strive for ways to get better, to value timing and learning, and to enable the organization freedom and responsibility for choice between feasible options. So we shall conduct intentional experimentation, as we’ve come to call it, that requires ideation, evaluation, and validation. The word Collective in our name is key to our effort, as it portrays Sage’s invitation to a host of organizations to participate in the challenge with us—thus manifesting a certain culture for innovation and change that can have greater impact.

Headshot of Kathy Watkins-Richardson
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10.06.20 | Community

Sage Collective: A Distinguished Model

Sage Collective is a fiercely nimble, adaptable and, above all else, intentional player in the field of older adult living. To illuminate just what makes the Sage Collective model so distinctive, from framework to funding, we sat down with Marc J. Lane, a nationally recognized business and tax attorney, pioneer behind the Advocacy Investing® approach to socially responsible and mission-related investing, and member of the Sage Collective Leadership Team

What sets Sage Collective’s approach to affordable housing apart from others?

ML: For Sage Collective, It’s not just about housing it’s about life enrichment, life extension and living better longer. So from architectural design to programming to wraparound services, Sage Collective is developing a unique and unprecedented program to serve older adults, looking at housing as healthcare that focuses not just on health, but on the whole person. That framework therefore expands and includes arts and culture: dance, yoga, massage, computer skills, gardening. You name it, whatever contributes to the lifestyle and wellbeing of the residents, it will be there. 

Not only will there be services of the highest quality, but the residents themselves will have an advocate. Sage Collective will pursue public policy initiatives, setting themselves up as a trusted advisor, convener, collaborator and catalyst to ensure that older adults get the best possible treatment across the entire board, with an impact that goes far beyond what Sage Collective themselves implements.

Image reads Sage Collective is synergetic, it's innovative, it's disruptive over an image of elderly hands

How does Sage Collective fall into the category of a mission-driven venture?

ML: Every nonprofit is mission-driven by law, but not every nonprofit is a mission-driven venture. Sage Collective is not (and will not be) wholly dependent upon philanthropy, government contracts and grants. It’s pursuing market-based strategies to be self-reliant and financially sustainable. Sage Collective relies largely on earned revenue, delivering market-based solutions driven by the older adult audience Sage serves what they need, what they want and how they receive the support that’s being provided. The resulting wraparound living services have a wide scope, from campus-style residences to intergenerational programming to research, data-sharing and advocacy. And underscoring every single one of those offerings is Sage’s desire to serve its older adult population and promote vibrant, engaged living. 

Simultaneously, Sage Collective values leveraging its thought leadership and collaborating with other nonprofits, for-profits, investors and even government agencies whose interests and values align with those of the organization. So Sage Collective is synergetic, it’s innovative, it’s disruptive.

As a nonprofit with 40+ years under its belt, how do you see the mission of Sage Collective as being highly evolved?

ML: There’s an extraordinary history here. Donna Gaines and Dwain Kyles, who lead the board, were intimately involved in the management of Sage Collective’s affordable housing community, Willa Rawls Manor. There were lessons learned, but having sold that asset, they now have the rare opportunity to reimagine their vision guided by that experience. Donna and Dwain (along with the other members of the board) have decades of experience and expertise that is unmatched anywhere else. The population they serve will be empowered by virtue of that commitment and the compassion they have demonstrated over these decades.

And about the Sage Collective board: Donna and Dwain put together a national leadership team which is highly unusual, if not unique, bringing together experts in all of the relevant disciplines — gerontology, medicine, law, finance, customer experience and others. With that kind of collective knowledge, experience, relationships and the platform all of those folks leverage, Sage Collective will set the standard to which other affordable housing initiatives will aspire. 

How is Sage Collective’s model built to scale, and be replicable nationally?

ML: Market-driven decisions, when done right, are driven by evidence and by data. For Sage Collective, data will be used not only to determine effectiveness of programming and services — ensuring these services are impactful and well-received by the target population — but data will also be deployed for the public good. Yielding its expertise in data development, translation and deployment, Sage Collective will be able to scale up.

So when it comes to creating measurable social impact as a social venture, this data and its deployment also ensure Sage is held accountable to the financial returns on investment and the social returns on investment, too. When Sage Collective’s findings are made available to a wide range of other parties, public and private, then with a powerful bottom line: the older adult population will be the beneficiary of all those better-informed decisions now being made within society. This becomes an all-hands-on-deck venture, a movement where Sage Collective is the spearhead, and in which all of us benefit, because all of us are touched by the older adults in our lives; how they live and how successful they are.

Marc J. Lane
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