How partnerships can stay focused and refocus – and increase their impact

In this two-part blog, this second blog looks at how partnerships can refocus, and through initial planning increase their chances of staying focused throughout. Key points are summarised at the end of this blog.

Stay focused, and refocus for impact

In the first blog of this series, we looked at why many partnerships face challenges in staying focused, and how this undermines their impact. We noted that shifts in focus are not necessarily a bad thing:

“Partnerships can re-evaluate their value add and whether they are addressing changes and pressing issues. They can question whether the right partners are on board, and whether ways of working and implementation are leading to the most impact possible.”

However, if this re-evaluation does not take place when mandates or circumstances change, or these changes are not reflected in partnership agreements, trust, engagement, implementation – and ultimately impact – suffer.   

In this second blog, we look at how partnerships can successfully retain their focus or refocus their efforts to deliver more impact.

1: Clarifying the focus of partnership agreements

A partnership agreement acts as an explicit reference point or framework to guide what partners are working towards in practice. Agreements can range from informal agreements to memoranda of understanding to legal agreements. Ideally, a partnership agreement from the start includes:

  • A clear, measurable goal that all partners work towards;
  • Explicit division of labor, including what each partner contributes (in resources, capacity, expertise, time);
  • A timeline for targets and contributions from all partners;
  • A governance framework for decision-making, for inclusion of new partners, and exclusion of partners who do not deliver on agreements;
  • A framework for communication, including in crisis situations; and
  • Criteria for sunset clauses (i.e. termination).

This partnership agreement should be known to all partners, and where deemed unclear, unrealistic, or not reflecting the resources and capacity of partners, reset and re-articulated (or terminated).  

2: Clarifying the focus of mandates

When a disconnect arises between partnership agreements and what partners are willing or able to deliver, clarifying organisational mandates and partner contributions to a partnership becomes necessary. In addition to revising partnership agreements, the following questions are helpful to guide this process:

  • Does a partner have the mandate, ability and resources (including willingness to use these) to contribute to the agreed partnership goals?
  • Can and will the partner contribute to the full extent of their abilities and capabilities, as agreed in the partnership agreement?
  • If a gap in resources or implementation is identified or left, can other partners fill this gap?
  • If partners due to mandate changes now duplicate, can these partners agree to a new division of labor in the partnership?  

Ideally, partners will regularly revert back to their own mandates and clarify any misunderstandings or changes, so that a disconnect between partnership plans and implementation does not arise in the first place, or is addressed and mitigated as early as possible.

3: Clarifying the focus of partnerships when circumstances change

We live in times of multiple crises, and radical economic and political transitions. New (also funding) opportunities may arise for partners, and new partnerships that get a lot of attention (and potential funding) are frequently formed in times of crises. The international development partnerships listed below exemplify “resilient partnerships”, which have successfully leveraged crises to the benefit of their core issues.

  • Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. During Covid-19, Gavi has leveraged its mission to provide vaccines equitably to lower-income countries for a (potential) Covid-19 vaccine. It has positioned itself at the centre of the ACT accelerator, and despite a huge funding gap, has by far been the most successful in raising funds from the three ACT pillars (for COVAX). At the same time, Gavi has kept a focus on its core mission and other vaccines, as well as ensuring equitable coverage. It has benefited from having a clear partnership agreement, the ability to supplement and build on this, and on its clear mandate.
  • Global Citizen. With a goal to end extreme poverty by 2030, Global Citizen has benefited from a broad partnership model, and a focus on political and developmental drivers of poverty. Its activities in 2020 have ranged from being one of the first platforms to (very rapidly) raise attention and funds for Covid-19 (including through a number of fundraising and advocacy concerts online) to mobilising voters for the US elections. Global Citizen continues to leverage its power as one of the fastest and most engaging mobilisation platforms, without losing a focus on its core mission of ending poverty.
  • Women in Global Health. A network and advocacy platform to end gender inequality in health, Women in Global Health has been able to showcase throughout the Covid-19 crisis how every aspect of health is still ridden with inequalities, ranging from the composition of global and national Covid-19 task forces to the impact on services and protective equipment for women and girls, to pay gaps that drive women into poverty. Using Covid-19, it has shone the light on every aspect of health, highlighting persistent and systemic inequalities.
  • GOARN. As a platform that engages staff and resources from 250 partner institutions to support countries in the control of disease outbreaks or public health emergencies, GOARN (Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network) has during Covid-19 brought together organisations like IFRC, UNICEF, WHO and national public health authorities to coordinate their risk communication, community engagement, and work on the ground. GOARN is an example where a partnership with a clear purpose can rapidly coordinate and mobilise members during crisis situations. 

These examples showcase four partnerships that have been able to place their partnership and core mission at the center of a crisis and changes in circumstances, not just by being agile, but by using a crisis to shine a light on their core mission, and acting at lightning speed to leverage this to their benefit.

Focus, focus, and refocus

Ideally, partnerships start off with a clear focus, and codify this in a partnership agreement that is regularly revisited, and when needed revised (or terminated). Nearly all partnerships face challenges when partners, mandates, or circumstances change.

As the above examples show, such changes do not have to lead to partnerships becoming peripheral, spread too thin, stuck in constant search of purpose, or in the worst case mere rhetoric. Partners can leverage changes to their advantage, and to serve their core mission and impact goals. But this requires an ability to focus, and constantly refocus.

“Partners can leverage changes to their advantage, and to serve their core mission and impact goals. But this requires an ability to focus, and constantly refocus.”

Key points summarised:

  • If partnerships do not refocus when mandates or circumstances change, or these changes are not reflected in partnership agreements, trust, engagement, implementation – and ultimately impact – suffer.
  • Partnerships can refocus by re-evaluating and revising partnership agreements, and clarifying and communicating changes in mandates and abilities to implement agreements as early on as possible.
  • In times of crises, such as Covid-19, many partnerships have shown resilience by placing their partnership and core mission at the centre of the crisis, and acting at lightning speed to leverage benefits.
  • In times of change and shifting priorities, successful partnerships require an ability to focus, and constantly refocus.

For questions, feedback, or input, we would love to hear from you. You can contact us here.

Published by Katri Bertram

Katri works in international development, and is a mom of four children. She is driven in her work to ensure that all people can receive quality healthcare, gender equality becomes a reality, and organisations working in these areas leverage the power of partnerships for impact. 
Katri has worked at the World Bank, where she headed External Relations for the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF), and Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation that works in 120 countries, where she headed global advocacy, policy and campaigning.
 Katri lives in Berlin/Germany, and is Finnish by nationality. She is a graduate from the London School of Economics (Master in International Relations), the Hertie School (Master in Public Policy), and the University of York (Bachelor in Economics and Politics). 
Also follow Katri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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