The Chemistry Between Us: Partnerships and the Power of Relationships

By Dave Prescott, Associate, The Partnering Initiative

Some magic quality emerges when people work in close sync with each other. We’ve all experienced the fellow feeling of being in a choir or band, a sports team or a friendship. It’s hard to explain what exactly this feeling is, or the importance of it: you have to experience it directly.

In the same way, a certain bond arises between the core people involved in any effective cross-sector partnership. This analysis of a South African water partnership refers to the central importance of the ‘chemistry’ of partnerships. According to the partnership manager Nick Tandi: “We need to get better at understanding this chemistry, and how to make it work quicker and at scale”.

While few would doubt that something like ‘team spirit’ or ‘harmony’ is an essential function of well-functioning social groups, the chemistry at the core of partnerships is often overlooked, it’s rarely actively cultivated, and it’s certainly never budgeted for.

The question is, can the art of collaborative relationship-building be learned, or is it something that naturally emerges between the personalities involved? Can the partnership chemistry be methodically established, or does it just emerge?

In TPI’s experience – and an important underlying principle of its partnership training - it seems as though a combination of luck and careful cultivation can be an essential ingredient here. While working in partnership comes naturally to some, a collaborative mindset can be consciously developed in other cases, and there are tools and methodologies that can be applied in order to fast-track the required chemistry.

At issue is more than simply the ability to network, though relationship-building skills are crucial. It also includes the development of active listening skills and strong empathy, the ability to negotiate, awareness of power relations, a certain tolerance of uncertainty and risk, and an interest in learning quickly.

Such so-called soft skills are often the hardest to define and discuss (at least, without descending quickly into abstraction), and therefore the easiest to overlook. They are also the most urgent to deploy when things go wrong. If you don’t have a large well of trust to draw from at crisis moments, partnerships can quickly unravel and people will revert to the safety of their organisational or disciplinary silos.

TPI is chairing a session on these ‘soft’ issues at the forthcoming Global Partnerships Week, as part of a focussed discussion on what makes for healthy, well-functioning partnerships. It will draw in part on TPI’s partnership healthcheck tool (see Tool 10 on page 39 of our Better Together guidebook), a field-tested process designed to tease out some of the more evasive interpersonal issues that can make or break partnerships.

In the end the search for partnership chemistry may come down to a mixture of intuition and experience. And just as the best way to learn to write a novel is to sit down and write that novel, so the best way to learn to cultivate partnership chemistry is to actually get stuck into a partnership. In the meantime, there is a great deal more that can be done to respond to Nick Tandi’s challenge to speed things along, not least by formally recognising the central role that these invisible bonds play in effective collaboration.

For further information on The Partnering Initiative please see our website or follow us on Twitter. Or contact us if you have any questions.

TPI will be running a 2.5 day training on Building Effective Partnerships for Development, in D.C., alongside Global Partnerships week, from March 8th to 10th. The training will also run in Oxford from May 15th to 18th. Find out more and register.

Delivering Inclusive Business for Sustainable Food Supply

Delivering Inclusive Business for Sustainable Food Supply

by TechnoServe

For millions of smallholder farmers across Africa, Asia and Latin America, commercial supply chains offer the potential for better, more stable livelihoods. Meanwhile, for many companies looking to do business in emerging markets, these farmers have the potential to be important suppliers or customers. And for a growing global population, improved smallholder productivity and connection to markets has the potential to satisfy our expanding need for food. In many cases, however, it has been difficult to turn this potential for a mutually beneficial relationship into action.

At TechnoServe, we worked with four companies on a series of projects that explored the specific obstacles to delivering business models inclusive of smallholder farmers and developed solutions to those challenges. We then developed public case studies to share lessons learned with other companies and stakeholders seeking to implement inclusive business models. While each company confronted challenges unique to its business and market, one recurring theme was the importance of identifying partners beyond the private sector to help effectively implement solutions.

To build on this finding and advance the conversation about engaging smallholders, Concordia and TechnoServe have organized an event, Delivering Inclusive Business for Sustainable Food Supply. Held as part of Global Partnerships Week, the forum will bring together representatives from leading companies, foundations and public-sector agencies to discuss how partnerships can help lead to more productive engagement with smallholders.

Learn more about the recent case studies published by TechnoServe in partnership with Coca-Cola and Kellogg.

As part of Global Partnerships Week 2017, TechnoServe will be hosting a Side Event in partnership with Concordia, Delivering Inclusive Business for Sustainable Food Supply, to explore avenues for inclusive business models.

To learn more, please contact Concordia's Director of Social Impact Hanne Dalmut,

Urban Technical Extension: Recognizing Needs in Our Own Backyard

Many students attending urban universities can go their entire academic career without getting to know their neighbors, leading to the formation of stigmas and cultural barriers for both parties. Drexel University, located in the designated promise zone of West Philadelphia, strives to reduce university-to-neighborhood boundaries by creating a more integrated experience for students and community members alike.

In the public-private partner landscape, universities have their own key role to play, with the ability to provide interdisciplinary expertise and technical skills to address problems which might otherwise fall through the gaps. At Drexel University, one of the nation’s premier research institutions, President John Fry has committed to creating “the most civically engaged university in the United States.” The question is, “How?”

We begin the process by asking questions: “What are the issues experienced on a day-to-day basis for you?” As respectful partners, it is the university’s first obligation to listen very carefully. From there, mitigating problems must be done hand in hand with those enduring them, thereby ensuring solutions are what the neighborhood truly wants and needs.

One route for constructive discourse and advancement is Urban Technical Extension (UTX), a part of Drexel’s new Peace Engineering Program, which uses the university’s resources in technological excellence to construct beneficial engineering solutions alongside Philadelphia nonprofits. Resulting innovations may take the form of new technologies, apps, or systems-level models and processes that can be readily applied to build capacity and address important neighborhood-level issues.

The pilot UTX project is in partnership with the People’s Emergency Center (PEC), a Community Development Corporation located just west of Drexel’s campus in Powelton Village. As an engineering student currently working full time to kickstart Peace Engineering, I am spending an hour each week attending the PEC’s general staff meetings to attain an understanding of the many facets of the organisation. The issue we have collectively decided to tackle is the point of service at the center’s weekly food cupboard.

Each Saturday morning around 8 AM a line forms outside the People’s Emergency Center’s doors, but distribution does not begin until 10:30 AM. One of the most notable parts of PEC’s food cupboard, however, is their commitment to excellent customer service. Volunteers walk alongside participants telling them about each item, any upcoming community events, and engaging in friendly conversation. Because of the way the organisation treats its customers, beneficiaries are usually willing to wait to receive food assistance.

A real problem occurs, however, on days of inclement weather. Whether it is snow, rain, or extreme temperatures, days with poor conditions force food cupboard attendees to make an unfair decision: should they sacrifice their physical comfort and safety or their food? Many times, the latter is chosen and the turnout on those days is much less than an average day. This is a lose-lose situation. Not only are community members not receiving food to eat and serve to their families, but the pantry, who distributes mainly fresh produce, will end the day overstocked with food that will not last to the next week.

By evaluating the real parameters (which admittedly were different than the parameters I would have assumed without my time spent listening to managers, volunteers, and participants), we decided on a technical response to alleviate this struggle. We are in the final stages of creating a web-based application that volunteers will use on tablets to take the orders of people in line before the doors open. Once the orders are received on the inside of the building, other volunteers will pack that person's bag with the items they selected and run it out to them. This way, participants will still get interpersonal contact and an option to choose what they would like, but the wait will be shortened greatly. Once this application is ready to run, a feedback-based iterative process will make sure the application fulfills its intended purpose.

Problems that seem to have objective answers at first glance become far more complicated once human elements are introduced. These complications are worth addressing. It is expected of engineers to face some of the world's most pressing issues, and I strongly believe reducing poverty, hunger, and inequality should also fall within our expected work.

There is a dire need for bridging the gap between peacebuilders, policymakers, and technologists to work together in reaching the sustainable development goals. We at Drexel hope that Peace Engineering and programs like Urban Technical Extension are the first step in that direction.

Bryce Peckman is a third year Environmental Engineering student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She is currently working to implement the first ever Peace Engineering program, a shared project between Drexel University and PeaceTech Lab intended to train scholars with technical backgrounds to apply their skills towards peacebuilding efforts.

Public-Private Partnerships: Working toward Sustainability

Public-Private Partnerships: Working toward Sustainability

By: Center for Transformational Partnerships, USAID

At USAID, we know that ending extreme poverty and building resilient and democratic societies is impossible to achieve through the work of one organization alone. This is why partnering is at the center of our work, and we are continuously looking at innovative ways to collaborate across sectors while also improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our existing partnerships.

We know that working with the private sector, in particular, is critical to achieving our goals both as an Agency and the broader development community. Great ideas can come from everywhere and these types of engagements create innovative, cost-effective and results-oriented development approaches that enable us to accelerate and scale sustainable impact.

At USAID, we are looking at how we can better define this “value add” of partnering and working with the private sector. With limited research in the field, we are looking at how and why partnerships can improve our work - from the role of relationship health in improving development outcomes to the role of partnerships in driving sustainability. We recently joined forces with Dalberg Global Development Advisors to examine the enduring results of some of our partnerships with the private sector - long-term continuity of partnership activities, outcomes from a partnership, or development outcomes sustained or scaled as a result of private sector commitment. Though not a rigorous, scientific study, we looked at a set of USAID partnerships that ended in the same year, to better understand how the private sector’s involvement may have contributed to enduring results and whether our partners continue to make efforts to advance development objectives after a project ended.

The first part of a multi-year study, we were able to not only begin developing an important framework for studying this type of engagement, but also gleaned a number of insights around how cross-sector collaborations contribute to sustainability and recommendations for how we might select, design, implement and evaluate partnerships more effectively. Here are a few of our critical takeaways:

  1. Market-oriented partnerships - with market-oriented activities - have a higher likelihood of enduring than non-market-oriented partnerships. Of the partnerships we looked at, those designed around a core business opportunity for a profit-driven partner had a high likelihood of creating enduring results, more so than those engaging solely in CSR activities. So while we know there is an important place for CSR and philanthropic efforts, we also know that shared value partnerships can help us achieve lasting results.
  2. Not surprisingly, our work suggests that enduring results were linked to private sector partners contributing in an additive manner. When the private sector was not essential and did not generate “additionality,” partnership activities were less likely to endure, which is why we don’t partner simply for the sake of partnering but seek collaboration that advances our development objectives. More specifically, we found that as an asset, private sector relationships were most additive when used to create market linkages.
  3. Achieving policy change can be an effective way to drive scale and sustainability of a partnership, particularly when combining private sector assets with the capabilities of donors and host country governments. Of those partnerships we reviewed, those that achieved policy change demonstrated strong potential to both sustain and scale activities or outcomes, without requiring additional funding.
  4. Partnerships with corporations that have a strong local presence are more likely to have results that are financially self-sustaining. USAID has a long history of working with local firms, the dynamics of which we have explored in depth as we consider the value of working across sectors.

This work also revealed anecdotal evidence of positive spillover or indirect effects from our partnerships that may be significant but hard to quantify. For example, a specific partnership and the commercial viability of a company’s engagement in a development project may have raised attention and attracted other companies to invest in a traditionally underserved community.

These insights and findings support much of what we already believe. That partnerships are critical to our work and they can help us approach development challenges more effectively and efficiently with an eye toward sustainability and scale. Now, we must look to strengthen the understanding and expectations for sustainability and scale in partnerships - both internally and amongst our partners.

USAID is actively working to better understand how our cross-sector partnerships improve our development outcomes so that we can also improve when, where and how we engage with partners. We aim to build upon this recent work to further refine a framework for examining our partnerships to better assess and evaluate the contributions and roles of the private sector in building lasting development results.

How Cross Sector Collaboration Can Lead to Innovation

How Cross Sector Collaboration Can Lead to Innovation

At The Intersector Project, we seek to empower practitioners in the business, government, and non-profit sectors to collaborate to solve complex problems that typically can’t be solved by one sector alone. Our focus is U.S.-based collaborations, and we aim to provide meaningful analysis and practical insight into how collaboration can best leverage the expertise and resources of each sector, the tactics of successful collaborations, and overcoming common challenges to collaboration. Want to learn more about innovation and cross-sector partnerships? Read all the insights shared during the event in this Storify of The Intersector Project's GPW Twitter chat on innovations and partnerships. 

Innovative, Cross-Sector Approaches in Countering Violent Extremism

Innovative, Cross-Sector Approaches in Countering Violent Extremism

In the spirit of this year’s Global Partnerships Week (GPW) theme of “Leveraging Innovation in Partnerships”, Concordia has long been a proponent of innovative and collaborative efforts that advance global security agendas combating violent extremism (CVE). Many of the GPW partners, and a number of the affiliated organizations and events this week, have dedicated significant time and resources to developing CVE programs and partnerships that to curb the ever-expanding reach of global extremist narratives. Read more from Concordia's Donniell Silva about how collaborative, cross-sector partnerships are working to counter the rise of violent extremism. 


Engaging Diaspora in Development & Diplomacy: The Power of Public-Private Partnerships

Engaging Diaspora in Development & Diplomacy: The Power of Public-Private Partnerships

With the rise of globalization, the number of people leaving their home countries to seek education and employment opportunities has skyrocketed. At the same time, their ability to stay connected to their home countries has increased thanks to the ease of modern travel and widespread access to communications technology. Learn more from Kate Wittingen of the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) on how partnerships are harnessing the power of the diaspora.

Collaboration for Impact: Partnership Connects Corporations and Social Enterprises

Collaboration for Impact: Partnership Connects Corporations and Social Enterprises

While it is widely accepted today that partnerships between corporates and small and growing businesses can bridge scaling challenges and help to co-create innovative service offerings for low income markets or develop impactful delivery and distribution channels, establishing these partnerships is a challenge.  Read more from Sheena Raikundalia of Intellecap on how a new partnership with USAID is helping to bridge this gap.

Reaching the SDGs: New Alliances in Digital Development

Reaching the SDGs:  New Alliances in Digital Development

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call on all of us to work as partners to end extreme poverty, fight inequality, and address climate change.   Digital technologies enable government and citizen action towards these global goals.  The rising ubiquity of mobile phones, the increased global use of communication and social media applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook, and the ability to rapidly analyze and use disparate data sets from multiple sources are accelerating governments’ and citizens’ ability to make better, more informed decisions.  However, in order to reap the large scale benefits of these breakthroughs, we must all share equally in the digital economy. Read more from Kate Wilson, CEO of the Digital Impact Alliance.

Bridging the Gap between Development and Private Sector Efforts: a New Model for Gender Lens Partnerships

Bridging the Gap between Development and Private Sector Efforts: a New Model for Gender Lens Partnerships

On this 2016 International Women`s Day, it pays to reflect on the global partnership efforts achieved since 1975 – the International Women`s Year, when the United Nations (UN) officially started to commemorate the accomplishments towards women`s empowerment and gender equality. The theme set by the UN this year, “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality,” is yet another strong reminder that women and girls are not a segment or a niche group of our society, but equate to half of the world`s population, and play a critical role in the world economy. Read more from Suzanne Biegel of SPRING who demonstrates that investing in women and girls has the highest untapped return. + Stella Artois: Leaving Our Mark to Help Give Others a New Life + Stella Artois:  Leaving Our Mark to Help Give Others a New Life

Deep in the mountains of southern Honduras lie tiny remote villages, where the impact of the global water crisis plays a heavy hand in daily life. It takes hours to get to them, across unforgiving terrain -- climbing over boulders, slogging through mud, crossing fingers across broken bridges, curving around precarious cliffs. Read more from's Julie LaGuardia about the partnership with Stella Artois that is helping bring water to women. 

Innovating Partnerships: How USAID Views the Future of Partnership

Innovating Partnerships: How USAID Views the Future of Partnership

Today, new economic powers have emerged, private investment to developing countries has soared, and new technologies have opened opportunities as never before. The nature of development is changing, with collaboration across diverse stakeholders now a central feature of the development landscape. In particular, partnerships with the private sector are playing an increasingly important role. Chris Jurgens of USAID's U.S. Global Development Lab offers three critical themes which we believe are critical to the next generation of partnerships in global development.

State Department Celebrates Collaboration: Global Partnerships Week 2016

This post was originally published on DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.

The word “partnership” seems to be everywhere these days -- and the U.S. Department of State is proud to be at the center of it. While public-private partnerships (P3s) have been around for years, they are increasingly becoming a primary way to achieve our objectives in diplomacy and development. Learn more from Special Representative for Global Partnerships Andrew O'Brien on why we are increasingly turning to partnerships as a model for social issues, from reducing poverty to combating climate change.