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Webinar Recap: A Look Back on How Unite Us and Local 211s Are Collaborating


Our CEO and Co-Founder Dan Brillman recently had the opportunity to lead an exciting conversation with some of our local United Way and 211 partners at our webinar, Partnering with Purpose: How Unite Us and 211s Are Collaborating to Build Innovative Models of Care. Panelists included Dr. Pamela Schwalb, Chief Operating Officer at United Way of the Midlands; Naomi Lett, President and CEO at United Way Association of South Carolina; and Larry Warner, Chief Impact and Equity Officer at United Way of Rhode Island.

Building on the momentum of National 211 Day, which took place in early February, and the important work 211 does every day of the year, our goal was simple: Shine a light on our partnerships and celebrate the impact of our collaboration in communities across the U.S.

We’re Better Together

Our goal has always been to build off of the great work already taking place in communities, working alongside leaders and existing infrastructure to discover the ways in which we can all do better for our neighbors, our families, and our friends in need.

Recognizing local 211s and United Ways for their leadership and for their extensive knowledge of resources, gaps in services, and community needs are just some of the many reasons we sought them out as partners in the early days of our work. When asked what about the opportunity to partner with Unite Us brought each of their organizations to the table, each panelist had something different to say.

Larry Warner, DrPH, MPH Chief Impact and Equity Officer at United Way of Rhode IslandLarry Warner explained that United Way of Rhode Island saw collaboration with Unite Us as an “opportunity to be transformational” and to leverage their connectivity with the community and their relationships with various state agencies to have a greater impact throughout the state. Serving as the most comprehensive database of resources in Rhode Island—with over 5,000 agencies representing roughly 11,000 services—this transformation is clearly evident in the innovative work taking place in the state today. 

When asked what prompted United Way of South Carolina to partner with Unite Us, Naomi Lett emphasized the importance of maintaining a community-first approach to everything they do, pointing out,

“The Unite Us Platform allows folks to sit at the table who aren’t always invited.”

Without this increased representation from key leaders and communities, organizations are forced to solve problems with assumptions rather than realities, a barrier that our partnership in South Carolina has helped the community overcome.

Later on in the hour, Dr. Pamela Schwalb highlighted how the United Way of the Midlands initially thought, “If we built it, they would come.”

She went on to explain that this did not happen overnight, but rather through having multiple one-on-one conversations with local partners to convey the value of Unite Us and slowly build what is now a flourishing partnership. As they celebrate their 100-year anniversary this year, Midlands is excited to build on these efforts and continue making an impact.

While each of their answers was different, one thing was clear: Our mutual, unwavering commitment to collaboration and building strong, equitable communities where everyone can thrive only further proves why we should be doing this important work together. 

Rising Tides Raise All Boats

Complex problems require comprehensive solutions. Whether it’s building a framework for resource-sharing programs or providing statewide community care coordination, each approach must account for the nuances of each community and the strengths of each partner.

When discussing what unique assets Unite Us brings to the table for local 211s and United Ways, our partners were quick to highlight that the Unite Us Platform gives them access to the data they need to have a more complete picture of the people they aim to serve.

Panelist Larry Warner added to this sentiment:

“You can’t change what you don’t measure.”

He went on to state that the data made available to United Way of Rhode Island through the Unite Us Platform has been instrumental in helping “inform both our own advocacy and policy recommendations, as well as give voice to what we’re hearing from the community and trends that we’re seeing in real time.”

Naomi Lett, President & CEO at United Way Association 
of South CarolinaOn a similar note, Naomi Lett underscored the importance of data in improving United Way of South Carolina’s ability to “incentivize innovation and innovative partnerships in the state.” Access to longitudinal data, rather than data that only represents a singular point in time, goes much further when informing policy and advocacy strategies across the state.

Sharing a similar perspective, Dr. Pamela Schwalb described how the bidirectional data-sharing capabilities unique to Unite Us’ partnership with United Way of the Midlands has been instrumental in helping expand their network of partners and significantly increasing the number of resources they can connect individuals with in their communities.

In each of these examples, the Unite Us Platform complements rather than competes with the strengths and needs of each partnership. Naomi Lett said it best:

“[Identify] the areas that you have strength and leverage those as much as possible because rising tides raise all boats when it comes to the health outcomes for the people in our communities.”

Capacity Over Competition

In the spirit of continuing to grow our networks through cross-sector collaboration, we asked our panelists what they would say to other local 211s and United Ways who are considering partnering with Unite Us. Larry Warner emphasized the importance of taking time to understand each community firsthand, noting that

“Partnerships can only proceed at the speed of trust.”

Uncovering the strengths and limitations of each organization ultimately improves our ability to engage in partnerships that are mutually beneficial and capable of having a collective impact. This process cannot be overlooked and instead requires thoughtful conversations, continuous iteration, and celebrating progress—no matter how small.

When asked what advice she would give to other local 211s and United Ways, Naomi Lett said,

“There’s a footprint that 211 has in the community that’s really augmented by the capacity that the Unite Us system brings.” This focus on capacity has enabled each organization to take a closer look at their unique strengths and bring them to the table for a more effective and equitable partnership in South Carolina. 

Dr. Pam Schwalb, Chief Operating Officer at United Way of the MidlandsDr. Pamela Schwalb rounded out the conversation by reflecting on the experiences of some of the community navigators at United Way of Midlands, stating that they’ve enjoyed the opportunity to “feel like they’re part of something bigger.” By extending the capacity and responsibility of their team, this ongoing collaboration has led to more enhanced relationships and greater visibility into whether needs are being fully met across the region.

Partnering with Purpose

It comes as no surprise that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to partnering in the community. And if this dynamic conversation has taught us anything, it’s that we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the many types of partnerships our organizations can engage in and the impact we can have working together in the communities we serve. 

As Unite Us continues to expand on this exciting work and connect with other local United Ways and 211s across the nation, we hope these relationships will serve as a solid foundation for informing future initiatives and scaling our collective impact in a way that’s both intentional and purposeful. 

Unite Us CEO and Co-Founder Dan Brillman said:

“Regardless of which sector we’re in, our greatest strength lies in our ability to collaborate and create lasting, meaningful partnerships that improve the health and well-being of communities throughout the U.S.”

Effectively leveraging this strength and continuing to prioritize the needs of our communities brings us one step closer to shortening the distance between those who need help and the help that they need.

To learn more about these exciting partnerships, watch the full recording of our webinar, Partnering with Purpose: How Unite Us and 211s Are Collaborating to Build Innovative Models of Care. If you are a local United Way or 211 who is interested in joining this work, please reach out.

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About Unite Us

Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.