A lot of the focus in the social impact sector is on partnerships across organisations and sectors. There is no doubt this will be a significant part of the future of maximising social impact, but what happens when the actors in a partnership are a partnership themselves? How can this affect the impact?
Many international organisations are a collection of legally independent organisations who come together under the umbrella of a brand and international body to deliver work in a specific area. The sector is rich with stories of success of these partnerships, but sadly it seems that for every positive story there is a story of frustration, disquiet or sometimes even failure.
In a previous blog I talked about the challenges of bringing multi-stakeholder partnerships together presented and how these challenges could be mitigated by clarity on where partners had common ground, careful planning, and mutual accountability (see https://www.direct-impact-group.com/the-lorax-and-winston-churchill/).
In this blog we will explore why the same process is crucial to the ongoing success of partnerships of independent organisations under one brand.
In a world where cross sector partnerships and collaborations across larger geographies are becoming more prevalent, it is increasingly common for partnerships to span across a number of partners within what is considered one international partner organisation.
For example, a global logistics firm may partner with a global iNGO in delivering logistical support in times of humanitarian crisis. When disaster hits the local arms of both the logistics company and the iNGO will work together to deliver support. Provisioning supplies may involve other parts of these organisations working together. If either one of the organisations has a dysfunctional culture or internal tensions the chances of the joint venture failing increase significantly. After all, what may be frustrations for staff involved in dealing with the internal politics of a partner organisation may cause urgently needed aid to not arrive.
Sadly it seems that it is more often the iNGO that suffers from issues of internal politics and dysfunction across the organisation. Multi-national businesses tend to be clearer on systems, processes and most importantly culture. The successful ones have worked out how to implement an organisational culture that provides the freedom to localise within a framework for collective consistency where it matters.
So what can global organisations do to increase their ability to be a consistent and stable partner across their entire organisation, without losing the benefits of diversity, localisation and flexibility that a looser structure may offer.
A recent article1 outlined how the growing demand for ethical food is being hindered by splits and fractures within the fair trade certification community. It appears that rather than focus on leveraging the increased demand for ethical goods to benefit poor farmers and producers the focus is on the differences and processes of certification.
While this is clearly frustrating for consumers who lack clarity on what ethical standards really are, and for the companies that supply finished goods the biggest effect is on the farmers who are not seeing the benefits ethical certification should offer. The social impact is far from being maximised for any of the organisations who have set up to promote ethical trade.
If we can get our diverse, global organisations working well we can be best positioned to make the most of any partnerships we enter into and maximising our social impact.
1Fair trade food schemes battle to promote better standards, D. Crouch, Financial Times Jan. 08, 2019