5 lessons on developing difficult partnerships

Date

August 8, 2019

4 min read

As the AVPN 2019 conference was underway, news reports were coming in of over a hundred children dying in Muzaffarnagar, in Bihar, India. Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) was identified as the root cause, with the children showing symptoms of seizures and severe disorientation. Upon investigation, a team from the Indian Medical Association found that malnutrition “contributed substantially” to the epidemic. The numbers are telling – almost 48% of children under five in the state are stunted, which is among the highest in India.

What does this incident have to do with partnerships you may wonder? At the 2018 AVPN Conference, three organisations from different sectors – Kellogg’s, The Breakfast Revolution, and Sesame Workshop India – were looking to broaden their impact and efforts in tackling India’s malnourishment problem. Collaboration was a solution they were all considering, and this came together in the form of Bright Start – a network of implementation partners, funders, and content and advocacy leaders who share the goal to end morning hunger.

Fast forward one year, and the 2019 Conference theme of “Breaking Boundaries” saw a lot of talk about collaborations. The hope is to bring together different sectors and challenge them to create more successful impact stories, and in doing so, learn valuable lessons in dealing with partnerships.

Five lessons from partnerships implemented by the companies

Delegates at the AVPN conference gave multiple examples of collaborative initiatives, and the results have been nothing short of fascinating. The journey to get there, however, wasn’t an easy one. Nonetheless, here are a few tips for collaborators to consider:

  • Corporates typically form two types of partnerships: The first is with an implementing organisation such as an NGO, which has a good sense of the grassroot level issues; the other kind is a bigger partnership – a multilateral agency and implementing organisation come together with the corporate – and these are fascinating and challenging because they have a far greater impact while it may bring out the best and worst of all sides.
  • Each partner has different strengths and weaknesses – bringing together all the partners’ assets and plugging the gaps is imperative. Often, corporate partners come in with clean processes and systems in place, whereas NGOs are more cautious as the best laid plans can sometimes go out of the window. Marrying the native knowledge NGOs have with the frameworks and programmes corporates put in place can be a truly challenging piece.
  • Priorities, needs, and objectives of all partners need to be looked at individually, and the partnership should not be seen as one single entity. Understanding the difference between all is important.
  • The private sector is heavily focused on quality. However, the scale and depth of complexity is immense when trying to create impact at scale. Thus, it is important to understand that replication of a pilot project in entirety will never happen because governments just do not have those resources. On a related note, its imperative that we shouldn’t fall in love too deeply with the programmes we create – we must allow for customisation and recognise that it can’t be replicated wholesale. The capacity and appetite to engage on local unique problems and opportunities cannot be emphasized enough – a global programme translated will look very different in China, India, and Vietnam, and often the biggest predictor of success is the programme’s ability to engage with the local context.
  • We cannot forget the community that we are implementing the programme in. When implementing an initiative, it is very easy to go in with a moral high ground saying we are doing great work, but if the community doesn’t take it forward or own the project/mission, the project is most likely not going to succeed. A lot of pilots sometimes don’t work when scaled up because they are conceived in sandboxes with no consideration from communities.

As we continue looking for new, scalable, high-impact solutions to the world’s wicked problems, it would be useful to pause for a moment and see how we can tap into each other’s strengths and make use of what is already easily available to us. We hope these insights give you a sense of what can be achieved through and the considerations before entering into a collaboration.

 

 

 


About Author
Akanksha Rath
Akanksha Rath Adjunct Faculty Singapore Management University

Akanksha teaches communications, research, and writing courses at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU), and is passionate about helping her students become proficient communicators. Education, sustainability, and cross-sector partnerships excite her, and she has recently completed her Masters in Tri-Sector Collaboration from SMU. Her interest areas include Singapore’s ageing population, nutrition and the future of food, and corporate implementation of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).