InCommons Challenges are ideal opportunities to discover, be inspired by and share workable solutions to problems of our time. But what happens to an organization after they win an InCommons Challenge? For Clean Up the River Environment (CURE), last year's winning entrant to the InCommons Collaboration Challenge, its participation and $25,000 grant - received last December - was and still is an opportunity to expand its reach, deepen its impact and encourage the grassroots development of new groups to replicate its strategy.
Earlier in 2010, CURE became a key partner in the Minnesota River/Lake Pepin Friendship Tours, which is aimed at bring together Minnesota farmers living upstream with environmentalists living downstream to address concerns that chemical run-off from large farms in upper Minnesota was creating sediment build-up downstream. With CURE working in cooperation with the Minnesota River Board, the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance, the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance, the West Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership and the Center for Small Towns, the tours enabled the upstream and downstream groups to come together, visit each group's respective lands, seek mutual understanding of their positions and find a common vision and process for addressing them.
"The benefits from the InCommons Challenge arrived for us even before we won it," said Patrick Moore, who leads CURE. "As finalists, InCommons developed a video sharing the story to inform voters as they selected the winners. The farmers were involved, as well, and it went a long way in strengthening our relationship. Winning only boosted the credibility for the group and participation for the coalition."
Prior to the grant, the Friendship Tours was "on a shoestring budget, and the grant enabled us to fund more meetings and tours. It gave us an opportunity to do more," Moore continued. This included a March meeting in Red Wing, in which the coalition developed a charter that defined why they existed and how they functioned. "We called it the Red Wing Accords."
Setting a strategic course inspired and enabled other groups to create their own conversations among upstream and downstream parties, including local government bodies, agencies and the University of Minnesota.
"People began asking, 'can you teach us how to do this?,' so we created a course in cooperation with the University of Minnesota Morris called 'New Methods for Civic Engagement: A Workshop for Watershed Workers,'" Moore added.
And, most recently, CURE experienced perhaps its grandest breakthrough to date.
"The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency asked us to co-sponsor an open house with them on water quality standards, so we are in the midst of planning that with an InCommons focus," Moore said. "In another project we worked collaboratively with the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance to bring together county commissioners from upstream and downstream together for tours and conversations. There were many epiphanies in these tours - once you take part, you can no longer look at the issue the same way."
CURE is helping plan more tours for next year, and advising other groups undertaking similar initiatives.
"One year later, CURE has spread beyond our initial focus and forged many new exciting relationships with unlikely partners," Moore said. "We don't know yet where it will lead, but it feels like it will just keep getting better."