Partnership in social enterprise: how to find the right partners and further your impact [reprint from Social Enterprise Alliance Blog]
Now, more than ever, businesses working on social, environmental or economic impact issues are told that in order to be most effective, they must partner, collaborate, build coalitions — take your pick of the “work together for the better” verbs. This is especially true for social entrepreneurs, tasked with finding a way to build purpose into a profit-generating organization, which in its DNA assumes that purpose comes from consensus.
Partnering, while I agree is absolutely critical these days to deliver true impact at scale, it is not always easy. The process of partnering is inherently time consuming, painstaking given the need to vet and match skills, and finding the right partners can be too resource-intensive to match its merit. So, why is partnering critical in order to address sustainability and social impact challenges like climate change, gender equity, poverty alleviation or environmental responsibility? The answer is simple: rather than relying on assumption or pure guess, companies are able to make more informed decisions about their business, investments, corporate social responsibility goals, social impact priorities and even philanthropic endeavors by listening to and working with others that have complementary skill sets.
For Connective Impact, our primary goal is to ensure the right partners are working together around issues of critical social, environmental and economic impact, so collaboration and effective engagement is possible.I have often found that companies jump into partnership development and other collaborative work without taking the time to evaluate the scenarios in front of them, truly understanding the challenges and gaps, and thenidentifying the partners to address those gaps.
Taking a few simple steps makes the process easier and more effective. This approach has been effective for corporations large and small, start-ups, social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and even the U.S. Government. At the end of the day we want to see a more productive, healthy and prosperous planet, so leveraging your partners toward those aims is really important. So, how can we make partnering easier, more streamlined and impactful?
First, it is critical for each organization to understand its own goals and objectives before even entering into a partnership or collaboration.Otherwise the mission of the organization’s sustainability strategy will be compromised, and the collaborative group will not be working in a space of comparative advantage. Prioritization at this stage is important, because it takes time and patience to capture all ongoing activity and developments, to determine where there are gaps and needs for partners, so being clear about what is most strategic is key.
Once priorities and specific gaps are clear, the next step is to clarify which existing or potential partners have similar goals, and where there are complementary skill sets to address glaring gaps. Preparation around joint action must happen before a partnership is solidified. This involves ensuring goals are aligned among partners, quantitative outcomes are defined, processes made clear and roles identified. Only then can the collaboration begin effective implementation. Having a clear sense of partnering criteria, what strengths each of the potential partners bring to the collaboration and the specific action items for each partner is critical.
Once a partnership is underway, taking the time to evaluate its effectiveness in both filling in gaps your prioritization exercise identified,and providing additional value, is worthwhile on a regular basis. Partners are partners for a reason: they help you help them. This special dynamic is not permanent. Missions will shift, geographical priorities will change and staff will come and go. Partnerships may change and that is ok. Putting in place a specified, regular check-in point on each partnership will ensure your partnership is built around trust, honesty and integrity of the work. This will also manage the right approach to refine and adjust as the collaborative work progresses.
With the right process in place to identify partners and understand mutual goals and joint outcomes, collaboration and effective engagement with others can be made much more actionable, rewarding and deliver benefit that far exceeds any costs.