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Partnerships: Driving Social Impact and NFP Sustainability

27 February 2014 at 9:26 am
Staff Reporter
Managing Director of Spark Strategy, George Liacos, discusses cross sectoral partnerships, their ability to drive greater social change and influence business models, following his recent collaboration with the Young and Well CRC to produce the white paper: Together We Do Better: Perspectives on Partnerships.

Staff Reporter | 27 February 2014 at 9:26 am


Partnerships: Driving Social Impact and NFP Sustainability
27 February 2014 at 9:26 am

Managing Director of Spark Strategy, George Liacos, discusses cross sectoral partnerships, their ability to drive greater social change and influence business models, following his recent collaboration with the Young and Well CRC to produce the white paper: Together We Do Better: Perspectives on Partnerships.

Spark Strategy works with Not for Profits and social enterprises to realise their social mission objectives and unearth ideas for sustainable business models.

Teaming up for social impact

It is evident today that if we are to tackle complex societal issues, such as youth mental illness, we need cross-sectoral collaboration through which we will realise holistic approaches for delivering systemic change.

Determining such means for magnifying social impact and engendering organisations with the capacity to deliver long-term, transformative change has become a key concern of Not for Profit leaders, policymakers, businesses and the broader community.

Many of the tangible benefits of collaboration are obvious: from leveraging skills and resources to profile raising among stakeholders and increasing the depth of services delivered. There is also growing recognition of the importance of partnering in supporting the sustainability of the individual partner organisations.

Not for profits face increasing challenges in meeting their social objectives, given the growing demand for their services. Reliance on external funding for non-revenue generating activities, in a resource scarce environment, has engendered competition rather than cooperation. Where Not for Profits focus their attention on fighting each other for a piece of the pie, they miss opportunities to partner with mission-aligned organisations and those with complementary skills or resources that in collaboration, can ultimately deliver greater results for the end user.

Perspectives on Partnerships: the Study

Spark recently produced a white paper in collaboration with the organisation, Young and Well CRC (Young and Well), a collective impact hub for the promotion and improvement of youth mental health.

The paper represents the culmination of a study on the issue of partnering and collaborating for social impact, within the context of youth mental health. The white paper explores the insights and experiences of partners to the Young and Well, deriving practical ideas for fostering and maintaining healthy, productive partnerships, which deliver benefit to society and the partner organisations.

The findings of the study informed the panel discussion, ‘Together We Do Better: Perspectives on Partnerships,’ at the Young and Well CRC Connect 14 national conference, held  in January in Melbourne.  

More broadly, the purpose of the study was to spark a cross-sectoral conversation around some of the key issues surrounding partnership, particularly, how partnerships enhance social impact whilst fostering the sustainability of the partnering organisations.

Partnership is a loosely defined concept, used differently across sectors to denote various working relationships between organisations.

In this study, we were interested in understanding the respondents’ experiences in all manner ?of partnership relationships. We used the term partnership broadly to denote two or more organisations working together around a defined goal for mutual benefit. Partners contribute to processes and activities, which transform resources into outcomes.

Partnership relationships: from the One Night Stands to the Soul Mates

The study brought out some key themes across the various respondent’s partnership experiences. We found partnering relationships to be distinguished by the level of impact and temporal nature of the relationship, describing four distinct ‘relationship types’:  

One Night Stand: These affairs are transactional, short-lived but potentially high impact. They are typically between organisations of disparate sizes, focused on the delivery of a single point solution. It’s not uncommon for two organisations to have multiple ‘one night stands’.

Honey Mooners: The relationship gets off to a good start and the future looks promising. Partners appear committed, showing enthusiasm and motivation. Gradually though, the partnership loses its spark as partners experience strategic drift and loss of purpose. With differences unreconciled and expectations unmet, the partnership is de-prioritised, people stop delivering on milestones, and, ultimately, relationships fizzle out.

The Love-In: Exchanges between partners are all warm and fuzzy. There is a lot of talk and collegial interaction but not a lot of output to show for it. Often, these partnerships lack an effective backbone organisation and avoid critical measurements of outcomes. Partners in this relationship tend to focus on survival rather than impact.

Soul Mates: Partners are in it for the long haul. They share a vision for achieving a mission, have aligned values and an established mutual respect and understanding for each other. Partners integrate their knowledge, resources and activities. They are able to compromise and support each other when needed, willing to sacrifice custodianship of an issue or IP for better outcomes, business and funding models.

Partnering impacting the business model

Business models convert resources into social outcomes through the mechanism of the social enterprise or organisation.

At its heart, partnering for social impact is about improving the business model of the sector. Improving the social impacts going out, and the resources coming in.

The outcomes delivered by the partnership deliver what the community values and demands. In other words, partnering must not only deliver better outcomes, rather these outcomes must be what the community wants, in the way that they want them. This is a value-driven business model.

Our study found that partnering impacts on the business model of organisations, in varied ways, depending on the typology.

One Night Stand: The critical business model implication of partnering is that resources are exchanged to enable each member to undertake activities, adjust the volume or modality of customer contact as well as deepen or broaden reach. This improves stakeholder engagement and service delivery, which drive outcomes.

Soul Mates: Key activities are shared and integrated, often involving some structural change and relocation and external coordination of member functions. The implication of this engagement is that investment is made on the expectation of an enduring relationship, leading to impacts and improvement across the model.

Innovative Partnerships: These partnerships instigate fundamental changes to all components of the business model. The purpose of the engagement is to create synergy benefit, reviewing all components for improvement. Custodianship of resources, IP, issue and brand is irrelevant as members focus on the outcomes demanded and maximising those outcomes, co-designing the business model accordingly.

Want to read the full report? The White Paper is now available for download via this link.

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Get in touch: 03 8804 1731


Staff Reporter  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

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