In Part 1 of 2019 Trends in Partnering, we shared the case for why partnering is critical for organizations prioritizing social impact and environmental sustainability. We also provided some examples of new and innovative types of partnerships. You can review the article here.
For Part 2, we will explore financing collaborations, and business-led partnerships that are looking at longer term impact.
Let's begin with innovative finance mechanisms that promote partnering for greater access.
Organizations that used to simply receive funds (think nonprofits) are becoming investors themselves. Companies are looking for higher returns on investment in the form of innovation, both to test new models for operating their businesses, and to test new technologies. Big picture challenges like MacArthur Foundation’s 100 & Change competition, which awarded $100 million to a set of partners advancing social missions (in this case bringing Sesame Street to Syrian refugees) will become more standard. This challenge was pivotal in the way it brought partners together to brainstorm creative ideas for that proposal process. It essentially forced collaboration to identify new ways to operate as a society.
Increasingly partnerships are geared towards making a serious shift in how we live, work and play. Google’s $25 million venture challenge around artificial intelligence to address societal challenges is one example. The proposal from Google indicates that collaboration for proposals is welcomed and even encouraged, especially between technical and social sector experts. This type of funding and program activity allows organizations to partner and test new types of engagements, like WeWork with the Tent Partnership for Refugees, which is testing out a refugee hiring model at all WeWork locations. Starbucks partnering with Arizona State University is another example of companies looking for collaborators to add value, in this case to their employees, by providing opportunities to attend college.
--- It’s all about testing new innovations, trying new things and pushing the envelope. The best way to do this is trying new approaches with partners, particularly unconventional ones.---
Crowdfunding will continue to be a popular avenue for financing, and partnerships between societal change actors and funding recipients will be critical to attracting new faces to crowdfunding platforms (of which there are many, and still more popping up daily!)
Government donors will want to rely on businesses to leverage public funding, so partnerships between civil society and businesses will be more and more attractive to financiers from the public and private sectors.
Additionally, the role of accelerators and incubators will continue to grow.
Projects are now about shifting communities out of poverty, or addressing systemic issues like those inherent in the Sustainable Development Goals. Partnerships are critical for any organization that is hoping to make a longer term impact local, or global.
NY Times Writer Anand Giridharadas wrote in his Best Selling Book, Winners Take All about the negative consequences of capitalism, and how institutions are failing us by relying so heavily on corporate titans and wealthy philanthropists to save the day. I don’t completely disagree with all of the points in his book (here is my review of the book), but truthfully we are so dependent on the private sector to partner with government, civil society, academic institutions and each other to solve many of the complicated problems that government alone cannot.
Take for example the (recent) government shutdown. At Yellowstone, where toilets overflowed and trash cans were overstuffed, Marriott Hotels' staff volunteered their time and also their hotels for other volunteers to help clean the parks.
Companies are stepping up and taking aims to ‘do their part.' There is more work to do, for sure, but partnerships are becoming the lynchpin for companies wanting to take a leadership role in affecting change politically, environmentally or socially.
Technology is evolving how we look at partnerships too. There was a period when governments, academics, civil society and companies thought finding technology partners was the be all and end all. With the onslaught of new technology making our work faster, more streamlined and connected, and the challenges some of the bigger tech companies have dealt with around privacy, access and data management, future partnerships in the technology space will likely come from smaller, more niche tech services. Bigger technology companies will need to consider the benefit they play in society to ameliorate the role they are playing as partners. The way we engage with our partners on social media, or through technology platforms, may shift as well, especially as these issues of privacy and data use continue to be in question.
As brands consider partnerships for the future, the role of consumer perception will be important. For some, staking consumer feedback and ensuring awareness building is a high priority. Tapping into buying behavior, supporting trends and other actions of the consumer will help you direct 2019 partnership goals accordingly.
Through 2019, partnerships will increasingly be about this notion of ‘what have you done for me, and the planet lately’. There’s a need to show impact of dollars and of time, both for internal employee engagement interests and to quell stakeholders outside of an organization's four walls. Being creative with partnerships is important, finding the most efficient use of resources and time to partner with the right partners (and not just for partnership sake) is even more so. Making sure the partnership story is told accurately and transparently is important. Look in all directions for partners. Whether it’s for funding or something else, consider that partners can come from all angles and be open to discussions, even with competitors, about what an effective partnership could look like.