They may see strange bedfellows but The Lorax, the mythical environmental campaigner from Dr. Seuss’ children’s book and Winston Churchill, the enigmatic wartime leader of Great Britain have a bit to teach us on how we can maximise social impact.
One of my favourite quotes of all time is from ‘The Lorax’ – “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”. This has resonated with many of us as a rallying cry to doing what we can to increase the impact for good we can have in the world.For a long time we have promoted the idea that if we all do our bit we can make the world a better place.
Of course, no matter how well intentioned we are, our power as individuals is only maximised when we work together, with a common purpose.
The same is true for organisations that want to have a social impact.Our efforts as individual organisations can be rewarding, and can make a change, but when we work with others who share a common objective our impact can increase many fold.
This has been recognised in the design of the Sustainable Development Goals.These goals have been developed with increased collaboration in mind, both within and across sectors.It is widely considered impossible for the SDG’s to be achieved if we don’t see this increase in collaboration.
However, history would suggest that pinning the hopes for the future wellbeing of the world and its citizens on people and organisations working together is ambitious at best.
So, in this environment of ambition for the SDG’s and hope in the future of partnerships and collaboration, how can the common objectives for social impact be harnessed and the challenges faced in the past put aside? Focusing on the areas identified below will go a long way to answering these questions:
Instead of focusing on where there may be differences, look at where there is commonality . Sometimes this comes from sharing problems and identifying where the same problem is affecting different organisations. We have seen disparate groups of organisations come together around a common problem and develop strong working relationships despite what had been an antagonistic relationship in the past. All because the impact of finding a common solution and addressing the problem became the new motivator.
The old adage that a problem stated is a problem halved is pretty simplistic, but being clear what the problem is that you are trying to solve means that you can focus your work together on solving a well defined issue. Too often partnerships start with vague intent and poor problem definition, which inevitably leads to failure. Invest time in defining the problem and you will reap the rewards when it comes to developing and implementing a solution.
Every organisation in a partnership will have a broad agenda that they want to achieve as individual organisations. It is natural that at times some of the things they want will clash with the agenda of others in the partnership. By defining and agreeing what is in the scope of a partnership at the very beginning, any clashes can be addressed and the expectations for how partners will behave can be clearly established. Once the scope is defined, all organisations can then feel confident to carry on their work outside of this scope without fear that the partnership will impact on this in any way.
Again, this is about ensuring no surprises later on. Too many partnerships have failed because the partners have agreed an objective and then gone back into their organisation to work on how they think it should be done, with little regard for the other partners. Equally frequent, they have assumed others are working on something only to find that it hasn’t happened. Establish who will be doing what, who is responsible for what, and when it will be done. Put in place measures and reporting that ensure all partners are aware of the progress of the others and the overall project and keep each other informed.
A good partnership is built on trust, and trust is best built on the basis of equality and accountability. When all partners are willing to be held to account, and to hold others to account, the power imbalances in a partnership reduce significantly. The focus is on mutual accountability to the shared objectives and the impact sought rather than on who might be the bigger or more influential organisation.
Most of the problems partnerships try and resolve have a range of outcomes that will meet the more specific needs of the different partners. It is not unexpected that the buy in of partners to the outcomes that are not necessarily aligned to their objectives is low. Lifting the measure of success beyond the box-ticking of outcomes and focusing on the impact the partners wish to have contextualises all activities, directs effort and brings the interdependencies that make the partnership valuable to the fore.
When creating partnerships to solve a particular issue we often look to organisations we know to partner with. This is comfortable, convenient and often more efficient when it comes to the project set up. However, it may not be as effective at delivering maximum impact. Think outside the square, look at who else is working in the area (topical or geographic), talk with organisations in other sectors and finally think about how technology might play a role in resolving the issue you wish to address. Broadening the base of the partnership and engaging different skills, thinking and organisations purposes generally strengthens partnerships and increases the impact they have.
When it comes to transformational change in the world, not only do we all need to care a whole awful lot, we also need to work together towards common objectives, harnessing where we agree and combining our strengths for impact.
This leads me to close with another of my favourite quotes, another rallying cry for doing our part:“Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength” – Winston Churchill