How to Make Collaboration Work – 7 Lessons from the Field
This article was written by Mark Horoszowski, CEO and Co-founder of MovingWorlds.org, and was originally posted on Huffington Post here. The article stems from key lessons discussed at Global Engagement Forum: Live, an event hosted by VEGA Member PYXERA Global.
“Collaboration is an unnatural act between non-consenting adults,” says Mark Kramer, Co-founder of FSG and co-author of the landmark HBR articles Creating Shared Value and The Ecosystem of Shared Value. That’s why partnerships are so hard to get right.
Last week at the Global Engagement Forum: Live, hosted by PYXERA Global, changemakers from all sectors convened to talk about the sticky issue of “collaboration”. Experts agree that in order to solve systemic challenges facing our shared planet, we’ll need to develop new levels of partnerships that tackle the most challenging issues we’ve ever faced. “Collaboration takes the head of a sage, the heart of a visionary, and the feet of an explorer,” said PYXERA Global CEO, Deirdre White.
So how do you create collaborations when our natural tendency is to not? Here are the 7 key lessons from the Forum:
1. Align on problems, not solutions
2. Invest in learning upfront
You are what you measure.
Before partnering with an organization, it’s vital that all stakeholders understand the incentives of their partners. As you lay the groundwork, take the time to understand what each partner is hoping to get out of solving the problem. The easiest way to do this is to research and discuss the success criteria for the partnership. Financial incentives tend to speak the loudest, so make sure to be transparent – and ask for transparency – to understand the financial incentives of potential partners.
Federico Waisbaum, the Director of Puerta 18 in Argentina, emphasized that to truly help in the field, you must first understand the field. Federico was one of eleven hosted contributors at the Forum – sponsored individuals brought from geographies around the world to ensure the collaboration was grounded in realities in the field. Waisbaum’s organization empowers youth and young adults to learn “power skills” like communication, adaptability, and leadership in addition to technical skills in information and technology. To achieve their goals, he emphasized that the right partnerships, like the pro bono support Puerta 18 received from SAP’s Social Sabbatical, can be truly catalytic. His advice to other corporations that want to partner with entrepreneurs:
3. Design partnerships for scale
Like products, partnerships can also scale. And, like building new products, building partnerships can take a lot of time to launch and get right. If you need to build a new collaboration from scratch every time you need to move to a new area or expand your audience, you’ll be stuck in an inefficient mire and won’t be able to reach your organization’s potential.
As Stanley Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, IBM and President, IBM International Foundation, shared “To achieve and then scale results, you must build replication into your model, and test and iterate quickly to achieve it.” And Stanley knows a thing or two about creating effective partnerships. He’s the architect of such projects like P-TECH which helps youth transition from school, to college and career and the IBM Corporate Service Corps which sends over 500 IBM employees every year to participate on skills-based community service projects.
Stanley suggests that all parties – public, private, and nonprofit – take a lesson from business here which, by design, is “inherently skilled at bringing solutions to scale with efficient process, tools, and management.”
4. Address all pieces of the problem by partnering with businesses
5. Measure What Matters
“What I’m interested in is linking together stories about peoples’ lives—how they experience the everyday—and analyzing that through data analytics in a way that’s meaningful to see if we are making a meaningful impact,” – Dr. Diana Caley, Food Security and Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor, Crown Agents.
Picking the right metrics, and communicating those clearly from the start, is critical to long-term success. Your stakeholders, especially those with a financial stake, will hold you to what you measure. At the same time, be willing to flex. As a program evolves, donors and implementers learn about realities in a community they are trying to serve and the established metrics may need to change.
As Stanley Litow shared:
And a word of caution, here. Ask any changemaker working in the field on last-mile implementation and they’ll warn you against breadth metrics. Organizations working in the last mile have to deal with complex systems, rigid environments, and challenging cultural and behavior change issues. The only way to overcome these is by focusing on depth metrics.
As Victoria Badía, founder of Nutre a un nino in Mexico, hosted at the Forum by PepsiCo, shared with me that,
6. Check your bureaucracy luggage at the door
At the Forum, I had the chance to sit with Luvuyo Rani, Co-founder & Managing Director of Silulo Ulutho Technologies in South Africa, who was hosted by SAP and partners with SAP in the Social Sabbatical program. Silulo Ulutho Technologies has a fantastic system of IT training centers empowering youth and entrepreneurs. Before he was recognized as the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year, however, it took a while for Rani’s organization to grow. He credits the value of international skills from volunteers as being critical to growth. But he also provides guidance to international groups, even large corporations, that want to engage with social enterprises in the field:
7. Stay aspirational, but be ruthlessly honest
Dr. Sheldon Himelfarb, CEO at Peace Tech Lab, advised in a panel on Social Design and Entrepreneurship that to create partnerships, you “must be ruthlessly honest. Can a project be sustainable and scalable? Does it really make an impact?”
In inspiring closing words, Dr. Himelfarb shared that when it comes to solving the most pressing challenges that we’ve been forced to address, “We’ve never been more capable [in achieving them]. If we can make a military complex, we can surely create a peace complex.”
Partnerships might not be natural for public, private, and nonprofit organizations, but they are critical to helping us achieve a world free of inequalities and injustices. Remember:
- Align on problems, not solutions
- Invest in learning upfront
- Design partnerships for scale
- Address all pieces of the problem by partnering with businesses
- Measure what matters
- Check your bureaucracy luggage at the door
- Stay aspirational, but be ruthlessly honest