The Good and Bad of partnerships
By: Blake Norris
Humility and Mutual Respect
Good things only happen when all the partners start off with humility, and a willingness to learn from what’s already been done and tested. The business world shouldn’t overestimate its ability to come up with smart solutions to social problems just as government shouldn’t overestimate its ability to solve business challenges.
Humility doesn’t mean that you have to be trapped by conventional thinking. But you need to understand it before you move onto radical alternatives. Bill Gates is an interesting example in this respect. When he first became involved in charity he gave the impression of thinking that simple business models would quickly solve problems like malaria or poor schooling in the US. To his credit he devoted a huge amount of time to gaining a deeper understanding of these fields. Many of his early projects failed — in some cases on quite a large scale. But over time his foundation has steadily become more effective and more respected.
Partnerships all boil down to people. In practice partnerships aren’t really between organizations they’re always a partnership between a few, a few dozen, or a few hundred individuals who get to know each other, get to respect each other, and feel energized by each other. These relationships thrive best when they’re reinforced by shared experience — the more frontline the better. Doing things together is better than just talking about things together, shared risk and vulnerability is better still. And relationships are helped by compelling conversations in small groups. Big conferences don’t create partnerships, even workshops with more than around a dozen people don’t. Big events are better for conference organizers but not much else.
Partnership matters. We need more creative blending of the skills of different sectors. As public spending is even further squeezed there’s both a need to find different ways of delivering public services, and an inherent virtue in exploring new models with lateral thinking. But most important things in life depend on humility and a willingness to learn. This is no different.