World Leaders have committed to the UN’s 17 Global Goals for sustainability in the next 15 years. The goals aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality & injustice and fix climate change. All of the Goals are important, but for the last 25 years, we at Common Purpose have been working to address one Goal in particular – Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals.
Partnerships matter. And cross-sector partnerships are hard to get right. However, when the sectors - public, private and NGO - work together, much more can be achieved. It is a prerequisite for achieving every single one of the preceding 16 goals.
Effective cross-sector partnerships mean resources are better used, solutions stick, and people - citizens - benefit. So what is the secret to making Global Goal 17 work? We’ve captured the learning and experiences of Common Purpose alumni from around the world to identify some of the key elements of success.
1. Avoid stereotyping, suspend judgement.
We’ve all heard the stereotypes in one form or another:
"The public sector is a follower of process, wasting public money."
"The private sector is full of rats making money for shareholders."
"The NGO sector is a group of fools with their heads in the clouds."
Without being able to set aside your preconceived notions, you may well struggle to form partnerships with people. If you suspend your judgment, people may even surprise you. The sectors often approach things differently, but many of the challenges individuals face are the same. If you form judgments and avoid prejudgments, you can stand to learn a lot from thinking about things in a different way.
2. What’s the objective?
Don’t form a partnership without taking the time to work out the shared objective very clearly. What is to be achieved by when and for whom? This is particularly relevant as we see the growing demand for ‘frugal innovation’. Frugal innovation has been commented on as being important for many developing countries, but it is also an important idea for leaders in developed countries who have to achieve more with less. Clear objectives lead to efficient partnerships.
3. Partnerships need leadership too
Many people assume that forming the partnership is the hard part. The real challenge is keeping it together.
Avoid unled groups and rolling chairs. Unled groups flounder and loose sight of objectives. Rolling chairs loose momentum and clarity. Partnerships need leaders to set and vary the pace, to keep the group together, to bring individuals back to the table, to focus on the objective and to drive an outcome.
4. Choose a chair who is comfortable leading beyond authority
The leader of a cross-sector partnership will not be able to rely on their authority. There is none to be had. If they try to use authority, members will resist, evade and sometimes walk away. Leaders who can lead beyond authority come into their own as leaders of partnerships.
Some call it using soft power, but it’s far from soft. It’s about influencing, pacing, communicating, aligning, understanding the individuals in the group and the group together, about building coalitions which get sustainable support without weakening the outcome.
5. It takes time
Building a coalition is slow and often tortuous; sometimes it even goes backwards. The job of a leader who understands this is to keep the outcome in sight, bring in the stragglers, produce clarity when it gets lost, find words which will help people to come back together, and judge that moment when things can be driven forward. Don’t assume that after years of dismissing each other all the members will begin to work together by some sort of spontaneous combustion. It will take time and it is time well spent.
6. Spot the money flows
It is often said that the definition of partnerships is "the sublimation of loathing in the pursuit of funding."
It is very cynical but it is also often quite true. And funding at least has its role in bringing people to the table. It is also a reality that systems and organizations are run in certain ways and the better you understand them the more likely you are to influence them. The best way to understand them is to understand how money flows in them; how and where decisions are made to invest or divest.
We don’t need leaders from the three sectors to like each other but we do need them to work together. And equality is important if members are going to work together, happily. Don’t let one sector be more equal than another. Patronizing comments are hard to get out of your head once they’ve been put in.
8. Be selfless
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you can’t be in a partnership for your own benefit. People will quickly spot if you are in a partnership merely to benefit yourself or your own organization, and they won’t work with you. In fact, in many cases people will assume that there is no other reason for you to be there but to ensure that you get your share of the cake. It’s important to confound them and show that this is not the case.
Win-win solutions do occasionally happen in life and successful partnerships work because more can be achieved together than apart. But you need to be out for a win for the partnership as a whole and the people you will benefit by coming together. Any specific wins for you or your organization are a bonus. If there is any credit to be had for what you are doing together give it to someone else. They will work with you.