What Is The True Nature Of Partnerships?

SiG Note: A version of this post was published on Think Thrice on March 28, 2013. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author. 

The social innovation community is acutely aware that our toughest societal challenges cannot be solved in siloes. Cross-sector, cross-disciplinary collaboration is needed to tackle such complex problems.

ContentImage-18-252448-partneryogaA growing understanding of this need for deep collaboration is amplifying the urgency for individuals skilled at bridging, building and brokering partnerships.

Mary Pickering is one of these individuals. Mary is an accredited member of the Partnership Brokers Association (via PBA in London, UK) and the VP of Partnerships at Toronto Atmospheric Fund (an innovation unit embedded within the Toronto municipal government). She has and continues to broker large scale partnerships that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto (by 80% by 2050, no small task!).

I was fortunate to participate in a workshop led by Mary on partnership brokering; below are my top take-aways around contracts, money and forces.

On the exit plan // CONTRACTS ARE USEFUL FOR THE PROCESS

Drawing up a letter of intent, contract, or, in the case of a romantic partnership, a prenuptial agreement, is helpful because it forces us to go through the motions of discussing what assets exist, what our strengths are and how we can be fair with each other.

However, if the partnership gets to the point where this agreement needs to be used, it often means a deeper betrayal occurred at some point and this issue(s) needs to be resolved before the partnership can be resumed.

Predicting all possible scenarios in advance is practically impossible, but thinking through and deciding together how to address and resolve conflicts before they arise makes it possible to be logical about what is the best and most fair outcome, without emotion getting in the way.

Contracts are a useful tool in partnership as they enable parties to be up-front about expectations — particularly those to do with succession and exit planning — during the early stages of the partnership, ushering partners to together create a shared understanding and vision of what defines success.

On power imbalances // MONEY DOESN’T EQUAL SKIN IN THE GAME

Contributing money doesn’t equal true ‘buy-in’ because one’s value of money is weighted by how much money one has.

Mary explains that one of the fundamentals of true partnerships is that each party contributes, and incurs risk, by agreeing to engage. However, with agreements where power is imbalanced, such as those between investor and entrepreneur or music label and musician, it can be difficult to decipher whether an offer to engage is a transaction or a partnership. The intention of the engagement and level of commitment is the difference between a transaction (purely a business exchange, short-term in nature, and often a one-time deal) and a partnership (founded on reciprocity, cooperation and mutual growth, and often long-term).

These semantics are important because they have very different implications when things don’t go according to plan. And they never do. Simply bringing money to the table does not guarantee commitment, so being upfront about power is a step closer to neutralizing imbalances.

On nurturing relationships // FORCES ARE WORKING AGAINST THE PARTNERSHIP

Forming partnerships can be hard enough but, once formed, there are also forces working to pull them apart. Personal responsibilities, job requirements and navigating hiccups across projects all compete for our mental-bandwidth, limiting the attention we can give to nurturing partnerships. Much like an untended garden that becomes overrun with weeds over time, unmaintained partnerships can take you backwards by growing once small nuisances into much larger issues or creating strain on relationships. Partnerships, like living organisms, need ongoing TLC to thrive.

Partnerships are crucial for getting big things done. Getting smart about how we think about, participate in, see and lead partnerships will help us move the dial on some of our more intractable social problems.

For more information about the process Mary describes and how you can be trained as a certified Partnership Broker, visit the Partnership Brokers Association website or register for the upcoming Toronto Partnership Brokers Training (Oct 27-30, 2014).

Partnerships for Impact

As the world grows increasingly globalized, we should challenge the current assumptions and orthodoxies that bind us to the status quo and look for innovative approaches. Business as usual, or incremental solutions, will rarely solve massive challenges like the evolution of education and literacy that we are currently moving through. As an example, one in four adults globally lack the basic literacy skills that have become necessary to successfully operate in today’s world and many children lack access to an education that will prepare them for life in the 21st century. Trying to address these challenges with a single sector or organization approach is unlikely to make the sort of a lasting and sustainable impact we want.

While collaboration has occurred for thousands, if not millions of years, the study of effective complex partnerships is relatively recent. Out of this work, and deeper understanding of how complex partnerships work, the new role of partnership and innovation brokering has emerged. Collaborative Impact was established to provide support, increasing effectiveness, and impact of large-scale multi-stakeholder partnerships that address complex challenges.

 

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Collaborative Impact is a social enterprise partnership that develops and manages highly effective cross-sector and multi-stakeholder partnerships with organizations from all sectors such as the Global Partnership for Education, European SchoolNet and UNESCO to collectively address major social and developmental challenges. They do this by supporting global leaders and change makers in partnership brokering, intermediation, measurement, and implementation of cross-sector partnerships.

CAAAn example of Collaborative Impact’s work is in improving measurement and assessment of complex skills in schools, which can help to address the 75 million youth who are unemployed worldwide. Currently there is an unparalleled gap between knowledge and skills acquired in school vs. knowledge and skills required to be successful in the workplace and community. The significant need to embed these skills in teaching and measurement culminated in the formation of the Collaborative Assessment Alliance (CAA). Through Collaborative Impact’s facilitation, Intel, Microsoft, Promethean and ETS partnered to establish CAA. CAA has the goal to improve the measurement of education systems to guide the teaching and learning of Deep Learning skills. The alliance offers a technical support team, portal and monthly web conferences to support the partner’s implementation of collaborative assessment tasks.

For many organizations the concept of partnering is often compelling. However the partnership approach comes with overheads that may not be evident in single organizational approaches. This means it may be best to consider a partnership approach as a last resort if the challenge or problem cannot be solved in any other way. It is in these situations that the added complexity and challenges are worth the effort to deliver new and innovative solutions that would not have otherwise been possible.

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Effective partnerships can be challenging to design, develop and manage, however research findings from the Partnership Brokers Association show that outcomes of cross-sector partnering are improved when one or more people take a brokering or intermediation role. To this effect, Collaborative Impact provides the resources and skills to take on the role, as well as promote the values and practices that accompany partnership brokering. This can lead to more effective, sustainable, and scalable results that can have a dramatic impact on a wide variety of challenges.

Social Enterprise Spotlight: Forming unlikely alliances for shared value

If we ever hope to navigate our complex and strained socio-economic landscape, we need to facilitate and initiate more meaningful ways of working together. Collaborations between disparate parties unlock doors and direct new resources towards enabling systems-level change.

Jocelyne Daw, founder of JS Daw & Associates,and a panelist at the 2013 Social Enterprise World Forum, is a champion of shared value and forger of partnerships. is a champion of shared value and forger of partnerships. Over the last 30 years, Jocelyne has built bridges between the corporate, non-profit and government sectors to create worthwhile and sustainable collaborations. While vacationing in Ontario, Jocelyne kindly shared some of her wisdom with SiG, presented in the Q&A below:

What led you to realize that partnerships are essential to creating shared value?
trent-severn waterway

Trent-severn waterway, a national historic sight of Canada administered
by Parks Canada

Jocelyne: My first experience highlighting the value of partnerships began at Parks Canada. While working in Peterborough Ontario, it became quite apparent that maintaining a park is a big undertaking. So big, it was beyond the scope of what our organization could take on alone. With this in mind, as well as recognizing that Canadians take great pride in their natural environment, I formed one of the first “Friends of Parks” groups in Canada. Through Friends of Parks, Parks Canada was able to tap into new resources such as partner organizations and volunteers, who also had a deep interest in park preservation. Following my initial exposure to the benefit of partnerships, I carried on as the founding executive director of the Canadian Parks Partnership, overseeing the formation of all “Friends of Parks” groups across Canada.

How do you create shared value now and could you offer an example?

A part of our work at JS Daw & Associates involves helping non-profits understand their value proposition. Charitable organizations often struggle at communicating what they have to offer. I assist non-profits in seeing their assets, not necessarily the ones on their balance sheet, but the intangible connections and influence derived from their relationship with the community. Through talking about these hidden community assets in a different way, non-profits can better use them to leverage business relationships in the community.

The other side of the coin is our work with corporations. Companies increasingly understand that they have to be more involved in the communities in which they operate. As a result, I support corporations in finding and forming relationships with non-profits and communities that can create shared value, typically through tackling an issue of mutual interest.

Math-Minds_logo_CMYKAn example of shared value is the Math Minds collaboration between Canadian Oil Sands, Jump Math, the University of Calgary, and Calgary Catholic School District. Math Minds is a 5-year initiative with the shared goal to enhance elementary numeracy in students and teachers. This multi-sector partnership would not have been possible without each member agreeing on the critical importance of early math literacy. Further into implementation, we invited other partners to collaborate like the Calgary Public Library.

What excites you most about the future of social enterprise?

In the traditional sense of the word, social enterprise is a non-profit starting a business. Nowadays we are increasingly seeing the roles being blurred between nonprofits and business, sometimes in the form of new social enterprises. How do we take social enterprise up to the next level and help people look at social problems as opportunities for business? We live in a resource-trapped world. The social issues are too big to ignore and it can’t just be one sector doing this anymore. We have to collaborate with a whole new mindset.

For this year’s Social Enterprise World Forum, you will be speaking on “Unlikely Alliances”. Why are unlikely alliances important and how might we go about forming and sustaining them for the long-term?

Jocelyne: For forming unlikely alliances, I’d advise organizations to be open to involving the unusual suspects. How can you look at things in new ways? Who would you work with? Think about what you are trying to achieve, and what strengths and assets you bring to the table.

People tend to silo the activity of gaining partners; however it is truly an integrated journey. Good intentions aren’t good enough. We have to work harder at knowing what we want to achieve. Through knowing what we offer and what we want to achieve, we can start to forge unlikely alliances. For unlikely alliances to sustain themselves, people have to feel the value of being there. When there is a higher purpose, people stay committed. 

The Social Enterprise Forum is a gathering of 1200 social impact champions from various sectors and associations around the world. What excites you most about attending the event?

SEWFJocelyne: I am especially excited for the incredible speaker lineup. Leaders are coming from all over the world to share their knowledge and expertise. I expect it’ll be an incredible networking experience. Looking at other great social enterprise forums, some are invitation-only like the Skoll World Forum, but this is an invitation for anyone who is passionate
about social enterprise and can just get to Calgary. 

This blog is part of the Social Enterprise Spotlight series showcasing various social innovators speaking at this year’s Social Enterprise World Forum taking place in Calgary on October 2 – 4. Learn more about the Social Enterprise World Forum here.

Social Innovator Wisdom: Partnering To Tip Systems

When developing solutions for complex systemic issues, social innovators know it is futile to operate in silos.

“We act like systems in creating large-scale problems but we act like individuals in trying to solve them” – Eric Trist, Social Scientist and Co-Founder of the Tavistock Institute

In a recent talk, Dan Hill of Helsinki Design Lab explains that ‘wicked’ or complex problems are unclear and interdependent, with no client to take responsibility “except the entire human race”. We are very much all in this together, so what better way to take a whole-system approach and pull in wisdom from different perspectives/stakeholders than via partnerships.

(image via Western Washington University)

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