Whether it is homeless, dropout rates, unemployment and workforce needs, etc., communities face many challenging, complex social problems every day. More and more a variety of stakeholders are coming together to try to address these complex social problems.

The American Academy of Social Work has called these the “Grand Challenges for Social Work.” Ashley Long, Ph.D., the director of the Illinois Birth-to-Third Grade Continuity Project at the Center for the Study of Education Policy, was able to sit down with leaders from the field of social work to discuss potential ways that local partnerships can address society’s grand challenges. Findings from these conversations were recently shared in the article “Social Work Grand Challenges: Leaders’ Perceptions of the Potential for Partnering with Business” in the July 2018 issue of Social Work.

Findings highlight the importance of different sectors coming together to address grand challenges – these social problems are not solvable by a single entity but require diverse perspectives and resources. Given social work’s rich history of being at the forefront of caring for communities, social work leaders are also called to take leads in collaborative efforts. It also is critical that future social workers be equipped to not only work with individuals in need but also work with other disciplines to better meet individual, family, and community needs.

As cross-sector community partnerships continue to grow in popularity, partners from health, government, education, nonprofit, and business have been found coming together. While not always a traditional partner, the business sector is increasingly providing a social contribution and is drawn to cross-sector partnerships. Social work leaders identified some risks of partnering with business but overall agreed that the potential benefit of having business involved outweighs the risk. The need for such diverse stakeholders also indicates a continued need for capacity building of community partnership leaders to understand the importance of interdisciplinary work and to build their recruitment and retention skills of stakeholders.

Long continues to advocate for community partnerships through the Illinois Birth-to-Third Grade Continuity Project (B-3). The B-3 Continuity Project works to ensure a high-quality, comprehensive system of teaching, learning, and support for children from birth through third grade. As highlighted in this article, in order to more effectively serve Illinois children and families, the State is aligning and transforming state and local systems to assure collective impact across service sectors.