The ‘HOW’ behind Cross Sector Partnerships
Richard Bostock, IMA International
I have been a big believer in the power of cross-sector partnerships to positively impact development for a while now. However, the more research I did on the subject, the more complex the whole thing became. I wanted to find out the practicalities of HOW to make partnerships work…
So I decided to ask my clients how they did it.
Working with development professionals all around the world through IMA International has allowed me to host hundreds of conversations about the type of challenges that are faced, especially in programmatic partnerships where both parties are implementing. I found some of these conversations especially useful in understanding some practical steps to success, and so now I want to share some of these with you.
A resounding theme that keeps coming up is the frustration at the initiation stage, as a partnership tries to kick-off. A number of global NGOs and businesses have shared with me that what they expected to be done in a month ended up taking a year or more.
Negotiations, getting agreement on the ultimate objectives, and understanding the partner organisations takes time. However, it seems that investing in this stage is almost always well rewarded, with the deeper understanding and rapport with partners paving a solid foundation for some great work to be done.
There is also a paradox around the setting of objectives, with vague objectives resulted in lack of alignment, but very tightly defined objectives creating a ‘straight-jacket’ that frustrates the partners when the real work starts.
Again, the time spent at the initiation stage is crucial here. Building trust and transparency between key stakeholders allows both parties to be clear on what their ultimate objectives are, but also to flex where needed, as implementation gets under way.
Sticking with the theme of time, I also heard many examples of the frustration from the corporate side at how long it took to start seeing an impact in their cross-sector partnerships. Development does take time, and this can be tough for businesses that need to retain buy-in for the partnership at shareholder level.
There do seem to be ways around this though. For example, in their ‘Cocoa Life’ partnership VSO and their partners found that looking for some quick wins helped to keep everyone engaged. Sharing smaller successes meant that all stakeholders began to see examples of the partnership’s impact, even as the larger scale impact was still to come. See the full interview for details of this, and further information about their lessons learned.
This dialogue is just beginning, and IMA will be hosting a Partnerships Forum in New York, USA on May 7th where more development and private sector professionals will be sharing their experiences of what has worked.
Panelists Tom Sessions from Care International, Paula Pagniez from Swiss Re, a speaker from The UN Office for Partnerships and Camilla Nestor from Grameen Foundation will be citing from some personal examples of how they managed successful cross-sector partnerships, and there will be opportunities for general discussion to take place through a Q and A.
For an invite: Email Linzi Moore with details of your organization, role, and why you are interested.
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All good points Linzi. Challenges which have been known for a very long time – yet they continue to persist in some quarters! Different missions, contextual factors, interests, organizational cultures and ways of working, vocabularies, partnering skills, even personalities all contribute to the pace, direction, content and outcome of partnerships. Which is why we cannot dismiss the role partnership brokers /facilitators play in the partnership life cycle from scoping, building, planning, managing and maintaining to reviewing and revising partnership. They can make a huge difference to the success of a partnership. Something I also cover in a blog I posted here for the Partnership Brokering Association.
Great article. It is the HOW that is often underestimated but very crucial in any partnership success. The Partnership Brokers Association is the international professional association for those working as partnership managers and on a daily basis deal with the HOW question. These partnership ‘brokers’ (also known as process managers, change leaders or partnership intermediaries in different contexts) are vital to the effective scoping, design and process management of partnerships for sustainable development. So vital, that without brokering (whether formal or informal) most partnerships fall far short of their potential and many fail. That’s why the Parnership Brokers Association offers support, provides training, created a world wide network for partnership brokers and builds the case for partnership brokering. There is lots of experience and knowledge within this network of partnership professionals about accelarators and inhibitors from the initial scoping phase (as you described in your blog) till the moving on phase in a partnership. If you are interested in more info please check http://www.partnershipbrokers.org
Helga van Kampen