By Isobel Chiang
“If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.” — African ProverbThe evolution of partnerships is that of a continual journey— its ebb, flow, and fluctuation largely contingent upon the world’s ever-shifting economic and social climate. Partnerships have changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: the act of partnering creates a whole that is significantly greater than the sum of the individual parts, and in the process builds greater value than any one partner could achieve on their own. This belief, as personified by the African proverb, is at the heart of all partnerships, which is defined as an ongoing working relationship where risks and benefits/rewards are shared. Partnerships function on three distinct yet perceptibly interconnected premises: that of mutual benefit, transparency, and equity. In practical terms, this means every partner is involved in co-creating projects and programs while contributing tangible resources and embracing mutual accountability.A crucial (and often overlooked) point is that many relationships people describe as partnerships simply are not. They are funding relationships. If a true partnership is to take place, participants must move beyond lateral funding and delve into its inherently symbiotic nature.While the definition of partnership has remained constant, what has changed is why and how partnerships are implemented. It goes without saying that the world has become more complex and hyper-connected. The roles of governments, nonprofits, and businesses are in continual flux and rapidly becoming more and more blended. Societal challenges are now shared responsibilities between businesses, nonprofits and citizens. These compounding waves of social change have contributed to the evolution of partnerships, which can be broken down into three distinct types: Partnering 1.0, Partnering 2.0, and Partnering 3.0 (refer to infographic).Partnering 1.0: Practical PartnershipsPractical partnerships are early stage partnerships that tend to be one-on-one organizational relationships undertaken to achieve practical results that save money and deliver key programs. In this stage of partnership, business contribute to societal issues primarily through philanthropy.Partnering 2.0: Strategic PartnershipsThe next type of partnerships are a direct result of economic agendas which downloaded social welfare responsibility onto the community rather than the government. Without a social safety net, businesses and citizens shouldered much of the responsibility to create value in the community. In the case of partnerships, necessity truly is the mother of invention, as new, innovative partnerships were formed in order to solve social issues.This era saw the genesis of “corporate responsibility” and “cause marketing,” which allowed businesses to move beyond philanthropic donations. Strategic partnerships gained PR and earned media recognition—or in other words, they made and shared value for themselves and the community.Partnering 3.0: Solution-Centered PartnershipsThis new period of partnering is already upon us, largely born out of the 2008 economic meltdown.“… The meltdown amounts to a spectacular moment of global consciousness, this generation’s version of Apollo astronauts’ iconic 1968 photograph of the earth from the moon— an unforgettable reminder that all 6.7 billion of us are in this together, profoundly and inextricably interdependent.” — Kurt Anderson, Time Magazine, 2009Governments in unmanageable debt and deficit realized that social challenges can only be solved by integrating businesses, nonprofits, and everyday citizens, especially in our “profoundly and inextricably interdependent” world. Increasing pressure has been placed upon corporations to move beyond profit and commit to a business structure that implements community enhancing programs while still preserving sound profitability. Social contribution thus becomes a way of doing business.Partnering 3.0 represents the immense power of partnerships, or the need to not only go far, but to go further. Leading companies are seeking to create shared value by incorporating a social purpose to their core business strategies, ensuring that they: add measurable benefit to social challenges; drive social and business innovation; and strengthen the long-term competitiveness and profitability of their business.What sets this phase of partnering from its predecessors lies in its ability to extend their impact beyond those who directly receive the service or program. Solution-Centered partnerships impact the entire community—now and far into the future.The new frontier of partnership sees innovative forms of collaboration, where unlikely alliances are bringing unexpected returns, crossing untraditional boundaries, and building long-term solutions to immense social problems. In the end, partnering is all about people—more specifically about connections between people. Organizations must choose to meet the moment by integrating partnership into their strategy and business culture, thus inspiring co-creativity in every process and unleashing shared value that works for all.
Ultimately, those engaged in meaningful partnerships are acutely aware of their expansive potential for growth. Or in the words of Winston Churchill: “There is at least one thing worse than fighting with our partners— and that is to fight without them.”
NB: This is a summary of the speech presented by CEO, Jocelyne Daw at the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations Connections 2014 Conference, April 14, 2014