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Skoll Day 2: The Science and Art of Partnership Development

By Alisha Miranda on March 27, 2008No Comment

My afternoon session today was an interactive workshop lead by IDEO, SustainAbility, and the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) on effective models for partnership.

We broke out into discussions with our tables, learning about partnership development from individuals who had built successful (and occasionally, unsuccessful) partnerships in various countries around the world. My table was filled with mainly representatives from NGOs or social enterprises, so as someone who works on the corporate side of partnership building, I found their perspective very refreshing.

Our group, moderated by Sofia Tickell, Chairperson of SustainAbility, focused on the “building” and “planning” stages of the IBLF’s 12-step Partnership Framework. I want to share here with you the outcome of our fantastic discussion:

Question: What are the critical moments in these stages?

    * Negotiate and identify next steps up front with your partners.
    * Level-set and manage expectations on both sides; need to be transparent up front and ask all partners, “what is it that you want?”
    * Determining up front what the deal breakers are – and make sure you’re clear on your values as well as your partners.
    * Put it in writing – all partnerships should have some kind of formal contract (but as Mel Young, founder of the Homeless World Cup put it, you have to have one, but you should only be using it as a last resort).

Question: What are some key considerations and challenges when building and planning a partnership?

    * Find a way to fit in your partner’s existing strategic plan and positioning yourself to strengthen those gaps.
    * Make sure your counterpart at the partner organization is empowered to make decisions and at the appropriate level – they need to have some sort of stake in the partnership that’s relevant to their performance evaluation as well.
    * Valuing and protecting any intellectual property brought into the relationship is critical.
    * Setting the agenda is not always easy for an NGO to do, particularly when asking for money.
    * Recall all stakeholders: even in a partnership between an NGO and a company, there needs to be an eye toward government, staff at both partners, affected communities and other relevant parties.

Question: How have you addressed these challenges? What are the keys to success?

    * Communicate your partnership objectives throughout the entire organization, from senior management down to the bottom. For an NGO, the staff and the community need to buy-in to the process.
    * Don’t forget the community you’re addressing – even if they’re not at the partnership building table, their opinion matters.
    * Be patient: keep long-term goals in mind and remember the process is iterative.

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