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The four keys to achieving mutuality in cross-sector partnerships

Stella Pfisterer | 22 June 2016

Cross-sector partnerships between public authorities, private businesses and civil society organizations are increasingly becoming a key approach for stimulating sustainable development. However, working together with such diverse partners is not always easy. Achieving mutuality – i.e. focusing on shared interests and goals of two or more partner organizations, while recognizing that they also have potentially differing interests  – is of vital importance. But how can this be achieved?

Working together with organizations from different backgrounds has its advantages: it shapes opportunities to join forces, to share unique resources and capabilities and to create synergies. Cross-sector partnerships are not to be avoided. In fact, they lie at the core of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

At the same time, partnerships creates challenges: members of a partnership might have very different expectations, approaches or interests – and such differences can significantly hinder the success of the partnership. Many people involved in partnerships wonder how they can reap the rewards of the diversity of their cross-sector collaboration. Research by the Partnerships Resource Centre (PrC) looked at partnerships in Colombia to study how they create unity in diversity. Four key factors were identified, which we believe are essential to achieving mutuality in cross-sector partnerships.

The four keys to effective partnerships

The first is effective coordination. Agreeing on who does what, how to best manage resources and how to meet common objectives is vital to building strong relationships between partners. This entails distributing tasks according to the unique expertise and capabilities of each partner, and facilitating interaction, feedback and learning. It does not make sense to have all partners do the same thing. If one partner is good at training, let them do that part and let another partner take care of fundraising, for example. It makes sense to capitalize on each other’s advantages!

The second key is accountability, which means each partner taking responsibility for the partnership and their role in it. Partners need to be accountable for what goes on in the partnership, to the outside world as well as to the partners. Sharing information is important, as is creating agreements which build the framework of the project and the relationship between the partners.

Third, attention must be paid to partnership identity: What does the partnership mean, both to the members and the outside world? The partnership’s identity is the ‘glue’ that binds partners together and provides them with a shared feeling of fellowship. It constitutes the partnership’s sense of itself and entails the recognition of the partners and stakeholders in the collective. Having a strong positive partnership identity fuels intrinsic motivation for sustained collaboration. In one of the cases in Columbia, having a logo for the partnership helped to form a collective identity.

Finally, confidence is vital for achieving mutuality. Being able to trust your partners, expecting them to be willing and able to do what is right for the partnership, not just what is right for themselves, is essential for a good partnership. Again, information sharing is important, as transparency is a precondition for trust. So is making sure that partners meet regularly and that they have access to the same documents and data bases.

Make the mechanisms happen

Of course, these four mechanisms are all related to each other. Effective coordination makes it easier to be accountable, and being accountable fosters transparency, which will aid in developing a strong and positive partnership identity. All four mechanisms interact with each other in the partnership process. If partners have jointly agreed on how these mechanisms are defined and what practices they will develop in their partnership to make these mechanisms happen, they are better able to create unity in diversity. Ultimately, this leads to a better functioning partnership.

Photo credit main picture: CIAT (via Flickr)