Home Blog & Media Building Effective Tri-Sector Partnerships: Insight from Industry Leaders

Building Effective Tri-Sector Partnerships: Insight from Industry Leaders

August 14, 2017

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Abdul Qadir

Atlas Corps

Humentum’s Annual Conference in their 40th Anniversary year was held in Washington, DC, last month. This event brought a great deal of opportunities for the participants to network with other NGO professionals from all over the region and world to share and collaborate.

There were many great speakers, individual experts, and organizations in the three-day event with diverse topics: management, virtual learning, compliance, financial operations, project management and understanding of tri-sector partnerships in the global world.  The critical challenges our society is currently facing require the business, government, and nonprofit sectors to work together to create lasting solutions. But this is only possible if leaders are able to engage and collaborate across all three sectors.

The industry leaders speaking on this topic at the conference were Nathan Penner of Habitat for Humanity International, Evelyn Boyd Simmons of Africare, Deirdre White of PYXERA Global, and Katie Hester of The Partnering Initiative. These speakers offered great insight for the participants with respect to prevailing challenges and opportunities for tri-sector partnerships worldwide. It was stated that the globalization process has unfolded the presence of a vibrant global civil society. In addition to governments and businesses, civil society has emerged as a third global force, shifting the balance of power from the other two forces. Opportunities for civil society to forge strategic alliances with likeminded people and groups in governments and businesses abound. To respond to the multifaceted challenges of globalized world, the three sectors need an effective approach to build strong tri-sector partnerships. 

For anyone who missed this important session, here were my takeaways:

Define the Partnership: First and foremost, it is essential to define your partnership in great detail. Get the perspective and document the process and successive development as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Don’t forget to listen to the stories and perspective from your partners, either governments or small NGOs on the ground in the developing world.

Invest Time: Invest some time before leaping into any sort of partnership. Strengthening interpersonal relationships among a few champions at each partnering organization is essential for building trust and showing your commitment.

Assess Successes and Challenges: Conduct monthly or quarterly partnership health checks to identify problems before they get out of control, and focus on measurement and equality among the partners. Donors appreciate when partners tell them the truth about which ideas are working and which are not. There are always challenges for the both the partnering entities. For example, a partnership in Zimbabwe aimed to improve health infrastructure, access to health care facilities, and reduce the high mortality rate. A corporate foundation funded the project with their largest-ever commitment to the development sector, and they were very personally involved. After six months, building the desired trust with local partners, government, and community proved to be a daunting task. Meanwhile, the corporation seemed enthusiastic about the project site,  but the implementer saw the unedited review for the project. The feedback was very alarming. The donor stressed that it is not the way what they envisioned the project. The implementing partner defended their commitment and approach to the project and told the corporation that if they wanted to work differently, they are not the right partners. Eventually, after great deal of discussion, the corporation agreed to the existing partner’s plan, essentially saying, “We don’t know anything about development. Tell us what works and why.” Subsequently, the had a successful five-year run, and the partners considered expanding to different parts of the world.

Develop the Implementation Plan: Without a detailed implementation plan, it’s challenging to make a partnership work. How do we know when we need partners? What sort of partnerships do we need, and what is the potential partner looking for? You must be familiar with potential partners’ approaches to the future relationship and MoU. The intent of the partnership and each side’s expectations should be clear in order for the partnership to be successful. Each partner must contribute to the mutual decision making and understanding of the nature of their partnership, and you must support the values of partner organizations. Also, build the capacity of local leadership by investing.  Working with small, local NGOs, donors, and partners speeds up the timeline, but it can be a major risk for the partnership including financial risk, personnel risk, reputational risk, if capacity building does not take place. You must plan for risk mitigation by engaging the partners in project development, and be sure to cost it out, and if the original cost would not be enough to achieve the goals of the project, revise the cost according to the changes.

To sum up, tri-sector partnerships will be essential to overcoming the multifaceted challenges facing development. But to succeed, there needs to be a great deal of understanding, knowledge, and collaboration among the three sectors to achieve the sustainable development and global goals.

Interested in learning more about tri-sector partnerships? Join Humentum with PYXERA Global in November for a half-day workshop covering the tools and strategies for implementing successful partnerships.