Despite its increasing occurrence in the global community, and its elevation through the Sustainable Development Goals, the act of partnering remains a challenge across all sectors. Doers need to share about what works — and what doesn’t – if we are to create a partnering model that enables sustainability and scale capable of achieving the 2030 Agenda.
A recent conversation among representatives of successful partnering initiatives hosted by Concordia and Palladium at the 2017 Concordia Annual Summit yielded applicable best practices for partnering. While each partnership is unique, here are 6 (nearly) universal rules about partnering for positive social impact:
- Don’t be afraid to revisit the definition of “success”: Changing external environments (political landscapes, shareholder demands, community dynamics) can affect partners and their definition of success differently. While partnerships should have clear definitions and metrics for evaluation from the outset, the strategy conversation should not be relegated to the “planning” stage. Transparency and ongoing conversation help partners grow in sync, and “resetting” should be viewed as a healthy reaffirmation of the partnership.
- Get paid: Every member of the partnership has to see a return on the investment. The philanthropic or donor community can cover startup costs or otherwise buy down some of the risk, and the UN has a set of financial instruments to help early stage enterprises realize a positive net value at the onset of partnering. The UN is also beginning to understand that successful partnerships have a profit-generating attribute to them. This is a huge step in the right direction—according to one participant affiliated with the UN, even 15 years ago, consideration of the bottom line was viewed as a negative, but now, solid business plans are part of a partnership’s evaluation. At the same time…
- Take the long view: Successful partnerships solve societal problems. For an enduring partnership, each partner must be guided—above all—by this goal. The private sector must convince its partners that they’re in it to solve a problem, not just sell their product.
- Check your pace: Partners must develop a disciplined approach based on programming goals and partner competency. Growing too fast can run the risk of eclipsing partner capacity.
- Trust is still key: A partnership-building proverb is that trust is essential, but difficult to develop. Long-term partners are at an advantage, but that opens a circular challenge of building trust to support partnerships that build trust that… To build trust from the beginning, transparently express all partnering motives—even internal organizational ones. This eliminates any hidden agendas (or suspicion of one), allows a partnership to develop a dual value proposition, and reminds each partner that there are internal questions and hurdles that all organizations must address. Other techniques to build trust include: engaging a neutral, third party to facilitate partnership formation; bringing the recipient community in as true stakeholders and partners (not just beneficiaries); and, creating a social license—this can be particularly useful for post-conflict governments (or those rebuilding societal trust) to put “skin in the game.”
- Build a sound exit strategy: Just like a great golf swing, follow through is important to an outcome. If you don’t build in a strong exit strategy, the positive long-lasting impact of your partnership is less likely to continue. More M&E is needed to track the post-project follow on of partnerships, but this is often not built into the partnership strategy and budget. Improved collection methods of the project’s legacy (say, 5 years out) would unlock increased best practices on what makes a project sustainable.
These findings stem from the 2017 Concordia Annual Summit Strategic Dialogue “Practicalities of Partnership Building: Best Practices from the P3 Impact Award Finalists”. Participants included partnering representatives from the public and private sector, experts in the shared impact space, and the five finalist partnerships for the P3 Impact Award, an annually issued award recognizing innovation and excellence in the partnership space. You can watch the full discussion here.