How to build partnerships

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I often reflect about the meanings of partnership in the context of Nepal and I am always surprised that when we talk about it, most of the time, people associate partnerships with a monetary dimension.

Certainly there is nothing wrong in assuming that a partnership between two actors necessarily involves an intrinsic financial aspect but I strongly believe that if we stick just to this kind of view, we miss what a real partnership is really about.

Let’s first look at some foundations, often neglected, of an effective partnership:

Value creation: regardless of the sector or industry, a partnership implies working in synergies, bringing on board different perspectives and expertise, maximizing diversity in order to create something with an added value.

It can be a collaboration between a designer and a car manufacturer or between a hotel and the local community where it is situated or a new collaboration between a leading corporate and a not for profit, any partnership must envision a change, something anew stemming from this joint effort.

Personal Credibility: without it, it is very hard to engage ourselves in any meaningful conversation with any potential partner. It does not mean you need to have tons of expertise (think for a second how the vast majority of for profit start ups are funded by venture capitalists) but you need to “own” a compelling story about your personal journey towards, for example, the development of a new software, you have been working on since months.

You do not get credible just because you achieve a lot in your life though most of the people think that credibility is only about money, stock options or excellent sell results. Instead credibility also comes from stories of failures, learning by doing and incremental wins.

Credibility is founded, after all, on personal values and “character” related qualities that are forged through personal commitment, reliability and grit.

Accountability: Here I see many cases of people not “walking the talk”, committing in doing something but then “forgetting” about it or simply not caring enough to follow up. Personal accountability goes simply down to mastering effective though basic communication habits like returning calls when we are not able to pick up our mobile, replying an SMS related to a work matter or simply think deeply before saying “YES” when instead you should say “NO”.

Trust: There is no short cut to this fundamental tenant of each partnership. You need to earn it, you need to work hard to establish a complete level of trust with your potential counterpart. Establishing trust means also thinking the long way, with foresightedness, understanding that a small concession or adjustment to meet a specific request, can generate the indispensible goodwill necessary for the most successful partnerships.

Now when we are working on developing a partnership agreement, we rarely step back a second and think about the above mentioned intangible factors. Mainstream thinking is that partnerships should bring, concrete and very tangible results, in the shortest timeframe possible.

Again here we end up focusing on maximizing our actions for the highest return, without realizing that the best outcomes emerge only after a dedicated effort to reach out the counterpart with the best of our intentions, putting ourselves in the shoes of our interlocutor.

Yet if we try to work hard on these intangibles, we will realize that partnership are truly “win-win”, a shared enrichment for both parties and do not necessarily involve, at least in the immediate, an immediate impact on the “bottom line”.

For example, I recently read a case study on cross-collaboration. It is related to Lidl, the German global discount supermarket chain that hired a group of social workers (yes you read it well) to address some concerns of its new employees in Switzerland during its entry in that market. Lidl could simply have ignored their concerns but instead decided to reach them out, even offering counseling like sessions to them.

In Nepal for example a Hydro Power Company could work with local NGOs to better assess the needs of local communities whose lives are going to be affected by the disruptions caused by the heavy construction works.

This is not just another example of cross sector partnerships but it is actually a double partnership because by working with a not for profit, you also win over the distrust of the local population, showing that you care about their future.

The locals will end up being real partners in the development of the hydro with new ideas and bottom up solutions.

The best programs, products or services are created when two parties, setting aside their respective narrow interests, try to “enlarge” the options available, pursuing the best possible outcomes benefiting them the most, creating true shared value.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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