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Partnerships are at the very heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and play an increasingly important role in driving results in disaster preparedness, resilience and humanitarian programmes.

We partner, perhaps based on our instinct that aligning and combining our resources with others yields greater impact than what we can achieve alone. However, despite the promise of partnering and its increasing popularity to deliver sustainable development outcomes, we do not see partnerships consistently delivering value at the levels required to achieve the SDGs. Simplistically, there are at least two reasons for this. First, there are not enough robust partnerships. Second, many of the ones that exist are far from delivering on their full potential.

This underperformance of partnerships is symptomatic of the fact that partnering – particularly across societal sectors – is challenging and resource intensive. Based on The Partnering Initiative’s (TPI) experience with partnerships over the past 15 years, we know that to be successful, they require significant investments of time and resources to form, deliver, and measure impact effectively. Therefore, it’s logical to partner only when doing so has the potential to create significant value.

 “Despite broad rhetoric, there are a lot of partnerships that are not delivering as well as they should. They are not designed to maximize the value creation or able to report on the additional value that they can create. That’s why we are very keen to work with TPI in this partnership to develop this guidance and additional guidance that can provide this partnership value creation that can help guide all stakeholders, UN colleagues, member states and other actors to create partnerships that can really deliver and won’t waste time and really bring the best impact of partnerships.” – Ola Göransson, Partnerships Coordinator, UNDESA

While it is obvious that the creation of value should be the basis for all partnerships, this principle is often confused by a lack of clear definition of ‘value’ and by the related question of ‘value for whom?’. To help answer these questions, TPI partnered with World Vision to develop a straight-forward value framework that helps partners systematically understand, examine and maximise value of their collaborations. And with further support from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), TPI captured this framework in a guidebook, Maximising the Impact of Partnerships for the SDGs: A practical guide to partnership value creation, which is available for free download. This guidebook offers tools for maximising value creation through a collaborative process with all partners during the design phase, as well as for assessing and reviewing the value created throughout the lifecycle of the partnership.

Webinar on Value

To introduce the partnering value framework and guidebook, TPI hosted a webinar with panels of experienced practitioners from across different sectors who shared experiences of maximising partnership value and use of the new framework and guidebook. Watch a recording of the webinar here if you missed it.

Defining ‘Value’

As Darian Stibbe, TPI’s Executive Director, describes in the webinar, partnerships are intended to deliver value to all partners involved, as well as create additional value by virtue of the collaboration, thereby defining ‘value’ as:

  1. the benefit each individual organisation gains, and
  2. the value-add of the partnership as a whole.

It’s helpful to start by considering the value each individual organisation can obtain from partnering. This value can be either mission value – towards the achievement of an organisation’s strategic objectives, or organisational value – either leveraging direct resources for the organisation, or in the form of intangible gains that support the organisation’s future ability to deliver.

For example, Amanda Gardiner, Vice President of Global Sustainability and Social Innovation at Pearson – a global learning company – noted that her organisation’s participation in the ‘Every Child Learning’ partnership with Save the Children allows it to derive value beyond reputation and brand. Through this partnership, Pearson not only reaches under-served Syrian refugee communities in Jordan with access to education, its product and research teams also gain insights into designing for unique community needs in the future.

By considering the value one’s organisation obtains at each stage of a partnership, as well as the costs, partners can help ensure it gains net value from its involvement (net value = value gain – costs).

Transaction costs Implementation costs
Partnerships can take a significant amount of time both to develop and to manage, requiring staff time, social and political capital and some ‘hard costs’ Staff time

All staff time plus overheads / full cost recovery

‘Hard’ costs

Money and other resources with a financial value (e.g. travel, office space, equipment etc.)

Non-tangible

Social and political capital used in implementation

Amplified impact: More than a sum of its parts


To understand the alchemy of partnering that creates extra value, beyond that which is created for each individual organisation, we should consider the ‘Collaborative Advantage’ of partnering. TPI defines this as the intrinsic value or power that bringing together resources, particularly from different sectors, can create. The benefit from the Collaborative Advantage is referred to as the ‘Partnership Delta’ (∆P), and is the difference that a partnership bringing together different stakeholders can deliver, compared to single actor outcomes – i.e. delivering more than the sum of its parts.

In their work together, TPI and World Vision identified ten different types of Collaborative Advantages and associated ∆Ps:

While this framework highlights unique Collaborative Advantages and associated ∆Ps, it’s likely that partnerships include several of these mechanisms working together. For example, United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Business Advocacy & Policy Manager, Amaya Gorostiaga, explained that her organisation’s partnership with GSMA – a global mobile operator association – combines leveraging of complementary resources, combined approaches and creation of collective legitimacy. Taken together, the partnership generates a powerful ∆P – creating new industry standards that amplify promotion of child rights in a digital age.

Applying the Framework:

Collaborative Advantage: Creating collective legitimacy and knowledge

∆P: Developing and disseminating norms, standards and policies to raise standards across a whole sector

Description: By bringing together both the collective knowledge and the combined legitimacy of key players, partners can together develop norms and standards that can be taken up by, and raise the standards, of a whole sector.

Example: GSMA and UNICEF partnered to promote mobile industry guidelines to safeguard children online. To this partnership, UNICEF brought deep expertise in child protection and advocacy. GSMA utilised its convening power of industry stakeholders to contribute to the co-creation of new Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection with UNICEF. The partnership yielded identification of ways in which mobile operators can promote children’s rights and responsible digital citizenship and helps promote new industry standards.

Utilising the framework throughout the partnering process:

“Arithmetically, we know 1+1 does not = 5. But the concept helps encourage creativity… even thinking about what new types of partners would be useful to bring in…facilitating conversations with field teams to dig deeper into what value – aside from transactional – they want from partnerships…

– Ian de Villiers, World Vision

When a partnership can identify and develop Collaborative Advantages and associated ∆Ps early in its formation process, it can help maximise impact toward the SDGs. For example, Ian de Villiers, Senior Partnering Advisor, Advocacy and External Engagement at World Vision International, noted that using this framework can provide a ‘cheat sheet’ in partnership negotiation, helping to quickly frame and then drill down on the sources of value for each partner and from the partnership as a whole.

Using the framework later in the partnering process is also useful. For example, World Vision applied it retrospectively to its collaborative campaign, “It Takes a World”. Doing so helped partners understand the ways each was contributing to the broader campaign outcomes and see the important role they played individually and as part of the collective. Ian also noted that World Vision plans to continue using the framework to contribute to its partnership portfolio management as it helps keep roles clearly defined, transaction costs low, and focus on both outcomes and longer-term impact.

Applying the Framework:

Collaborative Advantage: Creating sufficient weight of action

∆P: Combining / aligning / coordinating resources to create the critical mass needed to deliver otherwise impossible outcomes

Description: Where a desired outcome is so big (e.g. advocacy or eradication of disease), it requires sufficient number of organisations to align their resources, their networks, their actions, their voices to together achieve the desired outcome.

Example: Word Vision’s campaign “It takes a world to end violence against children” aims to build awareness of the issue of violence against children, improve legislation and mobilise public action. In designing the campaign, World Vision identified that partnerships would be a key strategic driver to its success. As such, the campaign works at global, regional, national and local levels with various organisations and actors from civil society, faith groups, government, the private sector, and the United Nations. By taking such an expansive partnership approach, the campaign has created sufficient weight of action and powerful joint advocacy contributing to outcomes such as passing new national legislation against domestic violence.

Applying the Framework:

Collaborative Advantage: Combining diverse resources, thinking, approaches

∆P: Innovation, creating new, more effective approaches, technologies, services and/or products

Description: Using and combining the diversity of partners’ knowledge, ideas, experience and resources to develop new ways of tackling stubborn or complex challenges.

Example: Pearson and Save the Children formed a partnership called ‘Every Child Learning’ to increase educational opportunities for Syrian refugees in Jordan. The partners combined their respective expertise – Pearson in education and learning tools and Save the Children in advocacy and emergency and conflict-affected communities – to together research and develop transformative programmatic and digital education solutions. This partnership meets immediate education goals in Jordan, while also fostering future adaption and scaling of education tools and advocacy in other emergency and conflict-affected contexts around the world.

Key Insights

In summary, TPI and its partners offer compelling evidence through the value guidebook and webinars that fully appreciating and integrating value creation across the entire process of development and delivery of partnerships will result in:

  • Organisations able to be more discerning and choosing to pursue the partnership opportunities that will generate most value from their perspective and avoid ones that may be an inefficient use of their resources.
  • Partnerships forming only where a partnerships approach can be demonstrated to generate significant added value to deliver greater impact and deliver net value to all partners.
  • Partnerships and partners able to focus their energies and optimise the way they work and operate to ensure they deliver the greatest value, including agreeing not to work together in areas where extra value is not being created.
  • Partners having more direct, ‘grown up’ conversations to mutually decide to adjust or discontinue partnerships where enough value is not being created.
  • Donors, including those funding consortia, being able to understand how to use their funding to generate maximum impact by catalysing the additional value created by partnerships.

 

author avatar
Julia Gilbert

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