Collaboration – Comfort or Crucial

The social sector today has realised
the difference between the impact of working for change
in isolation versus a more structured cross-sector coalition. Today
NGOs are increasingly finding worth, value and merit in working
closely with other NGOs, as also with government and corporates for
social change. Organizations around the world have begun to see
collective impact as a new and more effective process for social
transformation. Here are some of the voices from the sector capturing
what they feel about collaboration. 
 

What Are Some
Pre-Requisites Of A Good Collaboration?

  • Collaboration is less
    about creating similarities and more about embracing differences
    .
    It’s critical for both sides to understand what they excel at and
    then work with those who complement them.
  • Alliances require alignment in
    core values and approaches.
    Required for reasons having more to
    do with ideologies than about process.
  • Specific goals are more
    useful than a common cause
    . Rather than focus on just the
    macro cause (education), have specific goals such as ‘target
    beneficiaries in specific schools would gain a certain curriculum.’
  • The partnership should be
    based on familiarity and trust and run deeper than just work
    .
    Important but unpredictable challenges such as culture,
    decision-making, risk acceptance, resource availability can best be
    addressed when there’s trust to draw upon.
We asked our
NGOs what they see as key fundamentals for effective collaboration?
Hema Ganachari has been in
exports almost all through her career. She switched to the
developmental sector for the last 6 years. She manages Operations at
Idobro Impact Solutions, a social enterprise that works with
women, social and green initiatives to multiply their impact. “I
believe that collaboration is absolutely essential when we want to
achieve far reaching and meaningful results, especially in the
development sector. To be effective,
I believe that the most
critical pre-requisites for forging effective collaborations are
clarity in, the objective and goals, both at organisation and
individual level. Understanding what each collaborator is bringing to
the table and the level of expertise. I have experienced that there
is sometimes a mismatch perceived in the levels of expertise in the
stakeholders, before and after the agreement hence also defining
roles and responsibilities post collaboration.”
Over the past 30 years, (IDEX
International Development Exchange)
has supported more than
500 grassroots, community-led projects led by women, youth and
indigenous people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Trishala Deb
is the Regional Director for Asia. Her views, “I’d say the
primary ingredient is a real commitment to genuine success of all the
parties. The only way to get to impactful partnerships are honest,
significant and thorough knowledge of our mutual interests,
strategies and differences. I also think that it helps to proactively
engage differences, and not be afraid of them since they are often
the source of collective efficacy.”
Ashoka Social Innovators
is the one of the largest networks of social entrepreneurs worldwide, with over 3,000
Ashoka Fellows in 70 countries creating large-scale impact
through new innovations. Olina Banerji, as part of the Venture
and Fellowship team, leads the engagement strategy with senior Ashoka
Fellows by building supportive platforms, conversations and
connections. She adds, “The cornerstone of effective collaboration
is trust, the willingness to let go and agility with your
idea/organisation. Collaboration works when individuals within
organisations have the determination to see the partnership through.
Another key fundamental is a joint, mutually affirming purpose.”

Cuddles Foundation is striving
to help impoverished, helpless children survive the trauma of
cancer. Their founder Purnota Bahl sees 3 clear
fundamentals. Clear Division of labour where each partner knows what
the other is doing and that there is no duplication of effort.

Transparency that leads to trust –
there should be clarity in terms of donors being approached, plans
and goals. Clear downward communication: many a times the management
of the NGOs are in sync while there is no clarity in the ranks
downwards. Hence, the purpose of partnerships, the goals and the
clear division of labour has to be communicated clearly.

 All four
organisations shared positive experiences 
Hema
– “Every year, we organise our annual flagship event, the RISE
Summit, which attempts to bring together the Corporations,
Government, NGOs and the Academia, with the objective to start at
least a dialogue between stakeholders to collaborate to achieve their
goals. I am happy to share a success story, where through the RISE
Summit, a corporation is achieving the double objective of dealing
with MDF waste on the one hand, and using it to create livelihood
opportunities for an NGO, on the other. The project is its final
stages of the pilot, and looks to be successful.”
Trishala – “IDEX is built on
the idea that all relationships can be partnerships. We commit to our
partners in the field for 5-30 years. We engage in funding
collaborations, artists in residence programs, and experimental
ventures with donors. We treat each partnership as a genuine
long-term dialogue, which surpasses any transactional value.”
Olina – “Our organisation
works primarily through collaborating with its stakeholders. There
have been several successful partnerships with Fellows such as the
Nutrition Programme, the Housing For All programme and the
Changemaker Schools Programme, where we have worked with schools,
businesses and other CSOs to drive common outcomes.”
Purnota
Yes, we have
collaborated successfully with other NGOs working in the field
of cancer like Sanjeevani and Chetna foundation. However while trying
to work with a NGOs in the exact same field of paediatric
cancer, we have not been able to collaborate. NGOs in the same
field seem to focus a lot of energy on work, which they can brand and
take credit for without really focussing on the big picture. This has
been the biggest limiting factor for us.
Cross Sector
Ngo- Corporate Partnerships – Can We Address Imbalances Of Power In
Cross-Sector Partnerships?
While most say, ‘Opposites Attract’,
is that true of NGO – Corporate Partnerships? While some feel
corporate solutions are not always suited to grass-root level
problems; other feel there is adequate opportunity for successful
cross learning and cross working.
Corporations and NGOs are very
different in their goals, structures, motivating factors and work
cultures. They enter into relationships with each other with
differing objectives. The primary motivation for a company to enter
such a partnership is to enhance its brand, reputation and
credibility by doing social good. On the other hand, NGOs enter
partnerships primarily to access funds.
What does effective collaboration look
like when a nutrition program for children in India involves a
government health department, an overseas agency, and local and
international NGOs? Is it even possible for these partners to work
together collaboratively and effectively when such different levels
of influence exist? Each brings different strengths and abilities to
the table.
NGOs have strong
relationships with the local community, the overseas agency would
have great technical resources and experience, and the government
would have the ability to make decisions on operations and
approaches. Each may be doing excellent work, but more often than not
– in parallel rather than together. 
 Do you think
partnerships can be effective if there are imbalances in power or
abilities? To what degree
should flexibility be maintained?

Hema
most certainly believes that a collaboration is easier between 2
parties where one is much “more equal than the other”, in terms
of abilities; where the strengths and weaknesses are clearly seen and
understood. “Where 2 organisations are similar in strengths and
abilities, clear roles and responsibilities will need to be laid down
if the collaboration is to achieve its objective. Trust in each
partner would be crucial to maintain any flexibility.”

Olina considers an exercise of
power is anti-thetical to a successful partnership. “It should be
premised on equality and openess. Flexibility is important because
despite best efforts, there are things that may not go according to
plan. However appropriating blame in this situation is not useful.
The partnership work load should also play to the strengths of each
partner. Quite simply, define the scope of work in a manner that
partners complement each other.”
What are some of
the steps/measures you would take to ensure the partnership remains
effective and sustainable?
Trishala has a practical
outlook, “With partners in the field, we make long term, multiyear
funding commitments. This means that our annual monitoring and
evaluation data is not tied to annual funding. On that basis, we can
have really honest conversations about the merits and lessons learned
from different program and development strategies. Everyone learns
more through this process.”
Olina suggests, “A good
partnership relies on specific point people both sides, who are
completely on board with the scope of the project, its timelines and
its ultimate objective. They should have prior clarity of roles and
how the partnership is useful both partners. Another key move is to
incorporate timely check-ins to ensure that things are on track not
just operationally but also in terms of the vision of each partner.
Partners should be honest sounding boards for each other and
considerable time should be spent aligning the organisations
initially in the partnership.”
How
would you gauge if your partnership has been effective? Do you have
any tools/benchmarks to measure effectiveness?

Hema’s
suggestion –“ Simple common
tools like logical framework analysis, M&E plan and theory of
change with little bit of tweaking are quite capable of analysing and
assessing the effectiveness and impact of the partnership. We have to
add a section in these tools telling us which organisation is
responsible for a particular activity. The more the project is
broken down into activities, and the responsibilities are assigned,
the easier it will be to measure the effectiveness. A comparison of
the actual activities with those as per the initial
document will be a good way to measure effectiveness.”

Trishala’s recommendation, “We
have an annual evaluation tool that is tied to our theory of change,
and is designed to track information from the standpoint of the
organizations that are doing the work. Effective partnership is
gauged on whether organizations are meeting their own goals for
progress, and it the collaboration with IDEX has included more
support than just funding. IDEX strives to develop each relationship
with support from funding, capacity building, relationships with
other organizations, communications tools, and long term problem
solving.” 
Purnotta
admits that they don’t have a
numeric metric yet to gauge the impact. “Delivery of aid in
the smoothest way possible and alleviation of the issue is the most
effective way to gauge the partnership. The ease of both the teams to
work collaboratively is also a great way to gauge how successful the
relationship is.”
No
matter how effective the collaboration, there is bound to be, a small
degree of disagreements be it in ideology, method or approach. To
conclude we asked how our organisations would manage it.

Hema
ends, “I feel that timely
communications and regular meetings / updates, trainings will
minimise disagreements, and will make it easier to control any such
issues. Lastly, but most importantly, willingness, trust and patience
will also determine the effectiveness and sustainability of the
collaboration.

Tishala closes, “We expect
differences and disagreements, and treat them all as learning
opportunities. Since none of our funding agreements are tied to
project support, and are all general operating grants, we are never
in a position to disagree over an implementation strategy. Therefore,
it’s through dialogue, learning and evaluation that we can understand
why organizations and leaders make the choices that they do.

Purnota
proposes, “Regular team meetings, an open mind and the willingness
to reach a compromise is the only way to manage control. Also, a
very important point is discussing what are non-negotiable in the
relationship. Also at what point the partnership should be
dissolved helps the NGOs to watch out for the red flags and avoid
conflicts.”

Olina concludes, “A
face-to-face, honest conversation where both sides are open and
vulnerable enough to understand each other’s perspectives. A useful
way may also be to have programme managers and others working on the
partnership to undergo exercises in active listening and
communications.” 
This article is excepted from out Interaction Article from CAP quarterly newsmagazine (Sept-Dec 15 issue) ‘Philanthropy’. To read the entire article or request your printed copy write to us at connect@capindia.in


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