Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What value can partners add?

There is a lot of discussion in the social sector about partnering. I was at an applicant meeting and funders who were giving out $8,000 grants were lecturing attendees on the value of partnering. However, the things that the attendees did were all exactly the same. So I began to wonder, what value can partners add? Do these funders really understand what is possible by partnering and what isn’t? Have they lost sight of the purpose of partnering, and are promoting the means to an end as an end?

If by partnering you can’t do something different from what you can do on your own, then the only possibility is efficiency. If we are both doing something similar, we can possibly do it more efficiently by doing it together. This is some of the thinking behind mergers. Mergers can lower competition for funds, and create efficiencies in bringing money in and spending it. But not always.

If by collaborating we can do something together that we couldn’t do by ourselves, then something more than efficiency is possible. Complementary competencies, capabilities, core functions, and operations can produce something more than efficiency. This takes some real thinking about the resources of each partner and what value is added by working together. Sometimes it seems more difficult to work with another organization than for an organization to do something on its own. However, if we want to create results that have lasting impact it often requires working with other organizations and partners in a new way. This requires a different skill set and ability than developing and operating programs on your own.

Recently after giving a talk about sustainability -- someone asked how to help partnerships of industry and colleges with vastly different cultures and expectations. Things were expected to happen much more quickly in industry than in the college, and employers were becoming inpatient with the slower processes of the college. This is a difficult question to answer. Any ideas or suggestions?

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