Powerful Partnerships – Keeping things Practical

Partnerships in the social investment space are, by no means, easy – powerful partnerships even less so. They take time, collaboration, effort and humility. In today’s fast-paced, task-first world, partnerships come at a high cost. But we believe they are an investment in the future because none of the hope we have for our nation’s tomorrow can be achieved without true and meaningful partnerships across sectors.

There are some that have pioneered partnerships in their funding relationships – overcoming challenges, setbacks, and humbling moments. Two such organisations are Kamvalethu and Jabulani Rural Health Foundation.

Powerhouse Partners
Kamvalethu, a social investor, moved to an outcomes-based funding approach in 2018 after realising they wanted to keep their operations lean and flexible, but move to unrestricted funding for their partners, while still maintaining close relationships and reporting intervals. (Interested in this funding approach? Read more here)

Jabulani Rural Health Foundation runs, among other projects, an Early Childhood Development programme in the rural village of Zithulele in the Eastern Cape. They connected with Kamvalethu and began the process of building relationship to ultimately enter into a partnership to fund their ECD programme. This was Jabulani’s first time partnering with a results-based funding partner that took collaboration seriously, and they learned some key lessons along the way.

Cath Young from Jabulani and Lauren McGill from Kamvalethu shared some of their insights, learnings, and encouragements from their process of partnering together.

The Partnership Process
In our Impact Reporting Guideline we cover the all-important aspect of Partnerships. There are six phases to the Partnership Process (find out more here). Kamvalethu and Jabulani’s story highlights Phase 4 – Negotiation and Formalisation. This is the point where partners have courageous conversations to support the management of expectations on both sides of the relationship and provide a firm foundation for the success thereof.

When Cath and Lauren reached this phase – the rubber really hit the road and they had to test the waters of trust in the relationship.

A little backstory on their partnership process:
When submitting her proposal, Cath had set high expectations of Jabulani’s results and outcomes. As an implementing partner, Cath felt they should set goals which looked impressive to ensure the partnership went forward. However, in true partnership fashion, Lauren challenged these unreachable goals, and encouraged Cath to aim for more realistic outcomes. Cath, struck by Lauren’s approachableness and care for their capacity, reworked the outcomes. In the end, Jabulani was not able to achieve even their reworked outcomes at the end of the funding period. Proving that the original outcomes were significantly out of reach and would have resulted in an even greater drawback on their results, and team morale. This process shows a humility and collaborative spirit between both parties as they engaged in meaningful discussion about goals and results, without a punitive or hierarchical attitude – negotiation at its best.

The sticking points of partnership
Having built this sturdy bridge of partnership between the two organisations, Lauren and Cath have the following take away points for you to consider. When digging deeper and tackling the practicalities of the Negotiation and Formalisation phase in a partnership remember to:

  1. Be mindful of power dynamics
    As the social investor, don’t elevate yourself within the relationship. Rather, recognise that each of you are the expert in your own field – treat each other as such. Constantly aim to equalise the relationship so that you can foster trust and honesty.

    As the funding partner, when you’re working through the details of your partnership be sure to work towards collaborative outcomes and avoid micromanagement. Put ample effort into constructing Memorandums of Understanding with your partners. This will free them up to do what they do best – implementation.

  2. Work together
    It is the dual responsibility of both partners to ensure they are being honest and realistic in each of their roles, and then to hold each other to account. Share the weight and obligation of the partnership in equal measures. Set targets and goals together, document them and talk through the details of data collection and management tools.

    If the process of setting targets together, and sticking to them seems daunting, take encouragement from Cath who “felt stretched but in the end, found focus through the targets and a deep satisfaction once the process was completed.”

  3. Stay curious
    Always be willing to recognise that you have something to learn. Both Cath and Lauren learned from one another as they criss-crossed the funding period to reach their end goal. Jabulani assimilated the outcomes-based approach into more than just their ECD programme and benefited from the partnership on a much broader level than just funding. Cath shared how “valuable an outcomes-based model can be for keeping our teams accountable – not for ‘policing’ purposes but in order to ensure that we continue to put in the necessary effort to grow and improve from year to year.”
  4. Be willing to challenge the status quo of social investing.
    This type of time-intensive relationship building is not what most social investors and implementing partners are used to. Cath had never encountered this kind of collaborative model before and was encouraged by Lauren’s openness and the joy of working with a funder that truly understood the work Jabulani does. Pushing boundaries and innovating is not an easy path, but it’s well-worth the investment.

    Lauren describes how Kamvalethu approaches this out-of-ordinary partnership process: “Many of our partners are used to funders wanting a breakdown to the last cent. I understand why funders operate in this way; it has just never been something that I have had any interest in doing. Don’t get me wrong, we care very deeply and bare responsibility for the funds which we receive and channel but taking on results-based funding means we agree to an outcome, agree to an amount of funding which we are comfortable with to meet this outcome and then we get out of the way; but remain available to partners in terms of any support they many need.”

An equal, synergetic partnership takes time but offers true rewards. When you put the effort in, you’ll reap the benefits of being actively involved in the partnership process. As Lauren puts it, “the largest benefits are clearer communication, a joint mission and less of a top-down feeling in the partnership.”

May we encourage you to engage in the worthwhile work of partnership building for the sake of those that need us most.