New realities in the shifting sphere of partnerships

Moody autumn day in the Dolomites forest and mountains

Complexity is inherent to the development of successful partnerships. But it can inhibit private sector institutions from engaging in dialogue. We can’t rely only on technology to solve the problem but there are still ways to effectively partner for a better world. And we need to break down the barriers to partnering now, before it is too late.

The Covid-19 pandemic, and the COVAX Facility have highlighted the increasing need for effective, sustainable multisector partnerships. While interviewing people in the United Nations and other NGO partnership professionals, they repeatedly mentioned two major issues affecting their partnerships: the dynamic nature of partnerships and bureaucratic constraints.

The first issue regards a partnership’s constant evolution. The second constrains that evolution and even the creation of partnerships. It permeates through all partnership traits and, most of all, has a negative impact on understanding between partners.

We have all become more familiar with new communication and collaboration platforms, but they are only a first step towards breaking down distance and misinterpretations. And they don’t guarantee the sovereignty of vulnerable communities, or the high principle of “localisation”.

In order for partnerships to become a reality they need a common and jointly owned objective and a sharing of risk and responsibilities. Parallel goals and guidelines are simply not enough to ensure successful – especially in smaller countries, with a limited presence of private institutions and companies.

The United Nations must be accountable to more bosses, and principles, values and laws than most people normally appreciate. It is the international civil service responsible to 193 governments, in six “principal organs” such as the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. There are 15 specialised agencies a large number of departments and institutional layers. It is not surprising that companies face a higher degree of bureaucracy than they are used to when discussing potential partnerships with the UN or other large international organisations.

Navigating the high levels of bureaucracy can deter company decision makers and operational staff, with significant influence, resources and much-needed expertise from seeking or engaging in multisector partnerships. Impact17’s interviews on partnering perspectives highlighted that there is an inverse relationship between bureaucracy and the need for SDG-related partnerships in the smaller and “underserved” countries. Bureaucracy-related obstacles have dire consequences where partnerships are most needed. According to some interviewees, there are very few alternative partners in smaller countries once bureaucracy repels a potential private sector entity. 

Partnership strategies and the partnerships themselves are ever-changing. They may need to execute quickly, transparently and efficiently make assessments to ensure effective achievement of humanitarian or sustainable development goals. According to interviewees, bureaucracy tends to create barriers to effective communication and, more often than not, is associated with lack of transparency and efficiency – traits our interviewees told us that companies tend to shy away from.

At Impact17, a partnership assessment process begins with an holistic approach that enables the parties to jointly own a common future, to create value from their differences and to achieve desired results from practical initiatives. We identify the realities that need to be acknowledged, and new ways of working across different cultures, contexts, sectors and even values to produce effective partnerships.

While technology is a facilitator, it is not the solution. Building common ground is the key to unlocking the full benefits of partnering. Technology can help with instant, simple and direct communications, in a rapidly changing globalized world.

Partnership approaches must be simplified. Communications between local communities and public and private sector partners must be constantly improved to push partnering forward. effective and periodic assessments must be seen as part of any successful and sustainable partnership strategy.

Impact17’s platform provides an environment to showcase the positive results of multisector partnerships. But we need to continually watch and learn from all the perspectives of challenges and successes to remain agile and to create a better world.

Partnering may not always be easy but it should be. It is more necessary now than ever before. The Covid-19 pandemic should overshadow any resistance to partnering for a better world. The Sustainable Development Goals have given us nine more years to get it right.

Get partnering… Now!

Beatrice Picard
Impact17 Partnership Researcher
Beatrice is an expatriate, growth-oriented business professional with extensive international experience and demonstrable track record of success in positions across Brazil and the U.S. Over time, she has come to appreciate the power of private organizations as engines of economic growth. This realization led her to the conclusion that sustainability makes good business sense. She is interested in developing sustainable business strategies focused on product and brand development; project management; corporate sustainability and international private sector development.

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