Three Things We Learned at the MMCN Annual Conference - Bob Woodruff Foundation

Three Things We Learned at the MMCN Annual Conference

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As of November 1, 2020, National Veterans Intermediary (NVI) is called the Local Partner Network. Older content may reference our original name.

Hi, I’m Rhi. I’m the communications manager at NVI; I’m also a veteran and a former veterans’ employment specialist (for three years, I worked in the state government and nonprofit sectors helping fellow veterans transition into civilian careers).

This means that when I attended the 2018 Annual Maine Military and Community Network Conference, I had the chance to a look at my own backyard through a new lens: Systemically, what are the Maine veterans stakeholders doing to collaborate? Ultimately, I took away three big lessons or reminders for collaboratives based on the work represented at the conference:

  • Collaboration takes time
  • There are no one-size-fits-all solutions
  • There’s a need to diversify stakeholders and invite them to join the conversation

Lesson 1: Collaboration takes time

It’s worth noting that the MMCN conference was the 8th annual convening of the network, indicating that the network has existed informally since 2003, when the Maine National Guard deployed en masse. As soldiers returned, the National Guard’s behavioral health providers were challenged with reintegrating hundreds of soldiers back into their communities without the support of a major military installation. The network became more structured beginning in 2009 thanks to an influx of funding due to a reintegration study, and MMCN’s leadership board was formalized by the governor in 2011 with a charge to advise the governor on military, veteran, and family issues, monitor the implementation of the State’s DHHS action plan to serve veterans, ensure support and services are provided to veterans and their families, and report to the state legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs.

Maine now has a robust framework for collaboration in support of veterans, their families, and caregivers. But, the takeaway is that all of it–the governance, the relationships, public-private partnerships that enable this annual conference worth easily $40,000 to take place on a shoestring budget, the 10 regional chapters–took time to create.

Lesson 2: There are no one-size-fits-all solutions

…Even in a single state, and especially when that state is rural. Those 10 regional chapters face the same issues–homelessness, access to healthcare, transportation, among others–with different resources.

In Portland, for instance, a veteran who has nowhere to stay can activate a robust network of resources with a single call that may ultimately result in a safe place to sleep that night. In Aroostook county, a low-population, geographically vast rural county with bitter winters, service providers hustle even harder for a solution, and come up short on resources. The type of collaboration that happens in conferences like MMCN serves to highlight these gaps and create a shared awareness among providers.

The challenge of improving access to healthcare services (including virtual support) varies by geography in Maine. Telehealth is a good resource for communities that have broadband connections and for areas where your library or town hall is a reasonable distance away. The same parts of Maine that are too far from healthcare resources tend to be the same ones broadband hasn’t yet reached, and where lack of profits deter telecom companies from extending service.

Lesson 3: Diversify your stakeholders and invite them to join you

The hundreds of attendees at the conference represented every possible sector. Private stakeholders include businesses that not only want to sponsor, but be involved with the change that happens at the event. Every level of government is represented. Senators and congresspeople record messages for the event when they can’t attend. Advocacy groups and resource providers attend. Veterans get free tickets. The event is one day, but the work that goes into keeping these stakeholders engaged is year-round, and locally-driven.

MMCN attracts attendees through a number of draws: resources for veterans who wish to attend (same-day VSO appointments can be arranged); continuing education credits for service providers; a statewide audience for speakers. Curating diverse breakout groups on the agenda helps too. There’s always a clinical track, and other sessions have ranged from adaptive sports, to moral injury, to medical-legal partnerships, to transportation working groups. As often as possible, the conference gets veteran speakers behind the mic.

We want to know how your community convenes

You’ll hear folks say, “Maine is a giant small town” and that culture drives Maine’s approach to collaboration. Each community’s culture influences the nature of its collaboration.  NVI wants to know: How does your community convene? We’d love to learn more about how your community or state comes together. Send us an email so that we can feature your convening on our blog!