Katri Bertram, Founding Partner of Partners for Impact (PFI) shares how working with partners has been central to her career and driving impact in international development.
What I have learned working in partnership.
For over 15 years, I have worked in external facing roles in international development organisations, building and strengthening networks and partnerships, and delivering on advocacy and fundraising targets.
Nearly all of the successes I have achieved for the organisations I have worked for have been built on working in partnership.
Would it have been possible to raise billions of dollars without the support of partners? Would it have been possible to get health and education onto the Group of Twenty (G20) agenda for the first time in history without a strong coalition of partners? Would very diverse organisations have agreed to align their statements at a critical time without a strong existing relationship and trust? Not in a million years. And on a personal level, would I have learned and been inspired as much by so many people I have come to trust, and many of whom I now call friends?
However, I have also learned that many organisations in international development are uncomfortable working in partnership.
Some may simply be overwhelmed by the number of potential partners, or how to go about forming strategic and beneficial relationships. Others may be keen to work with partners, but do not know how to define common goals and a process to achieve these. The result is that they fall significantly short of delivering on their mission targets.
I have in these situations found it helpful to use tables such as the two below as a wake-up call. The first illustrates the largest international organisations (multilateral, bilateral, NGO and foundations) working in global health. The second lists all UN organisations working in humanitarian responses.
These tables are overwhelming, and the reality of the development and humanitarian architecture is even more so in practice when all actors (and potential partners) are included. However, taking a step back from our own positions and organisations is important, and triggers the following questions:
- How much are we duplicating, how much are we contradicting each other, and how much more impact could we have if we would coordinate our efforts better?
- How much time, capacity and sleep are we losing because we are focusing on competition or trying to reinvent the wheel? How much more could we do if we could turn competition into collaboration, and learn from each other?
- Are we – our guidance, our expertise, our communication – really being heard and are our policies and programs contributing to sustainable progress?
Another challenge that most development organisations face is that organisational incentives are often balanced against working with external partners to deliver on impact together. Although the ambitious missions of organisations include e.g. to save lives, eradicate poverty, end hunger, or ensure sustainable energy policies, internal and staff targets are often not in close alignment with creating impact. Fundraising, brand visibility and programming targets are focused on the individual organisation. And as organisations grow, internal management, coordination and advocacy becomes increasingly time-consuming.
“Working in partnership does not come easy for many international development organisations – but it is critical to achieve impact.”Katri Bertram, Partners for Impact
What if an external partner steals our ideas and donors, or brands our successes as theirs? What if we can’t agree, and end up wasting our time? What if a partner undermines our reputation? How will we meet our ambitious internal targets, if we spend so much time engaging externally? What if we are bound into a complex legal relationship that does not benefit us in any way after all?
But working in partnership can also result in immense benefits:
- Partners can leverage each others’ expertise, reach, innovations, feedback and diversity.
- Partners can reduce inefficiencies and duplication, reap economies of scale by better aligning funds and capacity, and expand into new markets.
- Partners can share information, risks, and advocate for change together.
- Partners can support and guide each other in times of crisis.
Partnerships need to be formed and maintained in a smart, strategic way. Meeting everyone and anyone once, creating increasingly long co-branded logo templates around events, and talking to each other but not with each other are some examples how not to do partnership for impact.
Why Partners for Impact (PFI)?
Partners for Impact (PFI) aims to show not only that we are stronger when we work together in partnership, but that sustainable impact in international development can only be delivered by working in partnership. Impact requires meaningful, substantive partnerships. And identifying, selecting, building, navigating, and managing such partnerships requires a razor-sharp focus and skill.
There are many resources available on partnerships, and there are also many people working in the international development sector who are highly skilled and experienced in partnership work. PFI will share and showcase best practices, and engage in debates and discussion. PFI also offers tailored services to organisations that are interested in improving their understanding of their existing or potential partnerships, and further strengthening their impact through working in partnership.
We hope that our resources and materials are helpful, and that we can through our contribution help advance the impact of the development sector.
If you find our work interesting or have any feedback or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would also greatly appreciate if you could share our website with your colleagues, networks and partners.