Program Reflections: Working in Partnership

by Myia Welsh, program director

WV Rivers works a little differently than any organization that I’ve ever worked for. Here, we prioritize working in partnership. Always. This intentional practice has been a strange and difficult thing for me as a manager. Every time I just want to do a thing, we have to work through entanglements and get collective buy-in to move forward. It can be maddening from a perspective of deadlines and work plans. However, this way of working has helped me think more about reach, especially for a statewide organization with a small staff. We can’t possibly conduct projects ourselves everywhere there are needs and opportunities. What we can do is partner with local organizations to amplify our collective impact.

A great example of this is our recent partnership with a local volunteer and a private septic pumping business. We’ve learned over the years that septic maintenance is a problem for many communities. Streams become impaired with fecal coliform bacteria when septic systems are not well maintained. There are septic maintenance assistance programs that provide some reimbursement are out there. WV Rivers staff wondered, What would it look like if we removed all financial barriers? So, we tried something new. We teamed up with a local partner to provide match funds to an already existing reimbursement program – by making septic pumping completely free to homeowners in a 20-unit pilot project. And it worked!

It worked because we teamed up with an already established organization that had the local knowledge and the administrative infrastructure already in place. It worked because we didn’t try to recreate the wheel. It worked because there are talented folks in the watershed already doing great work, and we could supply that extra push to get homeowners to engage with the support that was already there.

So, next time I get caught-up worrying about deadlines, here’s my plan: I am going to pause, sip my tea and remember that it’s partnerships and collaboration that actually get the job done!

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