Many NGOs like the idea of a partnership. It gets talked about a lot.
INTRAC research with ten European NGOs - all said that they see working with Southern Partners as a key pillar of their developmental approach (INTRAC)
The EU also prefer a partnership approach, i.e. a ‘network’ of NGOs.
Some NGOs see the term ‘partnership’ as too idealistic and prefer to use the term ‘partner cooperation’. In some circles, partnerships is also synonymous with ‘alliance’ or ‘network’ (seems popular currently).
Partners can be internal (i.e. branches of the same organisation) or external (i.e. separate organisations).
Ultimately, we cannot do our work without partners. Two NGOs working together should accomplish more than two working apart.
But, how do we work most effectively with our partners, and how do we avoid some of the common pitfalls?
There is a move away from a project focus to a partner focus , i.e. From discrete, piecemeal interventions to strategic, result-orientated ways of working together (See World Vision Partnership agreement as an example).
The old or traditional model of partnerships, i.e. Revolving around one-off time-bound project funding, is being replaced by networks /alliances/partnerships which go beyond funding. The trend is for partnerships which go beyond financial aid and those which aim to ‘do no harm’.
There is shift away from being operational to working alongside S-partners.
There seems to be a trend away from service delivery to advocacy and policy influence. This is positive in terms of partnership, as it offers more equality and mutual benefit.
Value the partner. Ask ‘What can we do for you?’ (e.g. S-NGO provides photos, stories and N-NGO provides access to international networks, resources)
Role of N-NGO is changing and funding is being given directly to S-NGOs. So, what is role of N-NGO beyond channelling of funds? What is the added value of N-NGOs? There is a need for N-NGOs to develop greater clarity in terms of the purpose and nature of individual partnerships.
Partnerships can become more balanced as both partners become stronger in articulating their needs and what they can both offer.
The aim is to see partnerships between two strong autonomous organisations.
Choose one partner. What (i) benefits and (ii) problems have you noticed whilst working with this partner?
Write each point on a separate piece of card.
Group people according to their answers previously. Similar experiences with internal/external participants go together.
Overcoming common pitfalls… Common Problems Possible solutions Capacity mismatch (i.e. partners have different skills and are different in size) Carry out a good assessment prior to establishing a partnership with any NGO/CBO. Both or one NGO(s) doesn’t live up to expectations Ensure all roles/resp are documented clearly, e.g. in a MoU. Enter into short-term agreements (which are renewable). Cross-cultural issues cause misunderstanding Have a ‘partnership approach’ to working, e.g. be open, communicate clearly (in writing) and visit where feasible. Funding processes can dominate and inform decision-making, etc. Be transparent. Ensure funding processes are clear and financial information is available to all (in the long-term).
More common pitfalls… Common Problems Possible solutions N-NGOs take a functional view of working with partners, i.e. partnership with S-NGO is a means for the N-NGO to achieve its own organisational aims. Ensure the benefits to the S-Partner are clearly documented (in a MoU).
The partnership between Shell and the Nigerian Government left extreme degradation of the Delta Region in Nigeria.
Key question: Were the people in the local community fully involved in giving consent and in the design, planning, implementation and monitoring of the partnership activities?
In practice, the word ‘partnership’ is often not unpacked with rigorous power analysis or with real understanding of ‘who is in it for what’.
Partnerships can be constructive but can also be highly exploitative.
We need good partnerships with local communities at the centre, and civil society, Gov and/or the corporate sector all playing their roles in a process where potential problems with inequitable power relationships are managed through a system of checks and balances.
“ When a NGO enters into a partnership with a donor, this is a dialogue of the unequal. However many claims are made for transparency or mutuality, the reality is – and is seen to be- that the donor can do to the recipient what the recipient cannot do to the donor. There is a asymmetry of power, that no amount of well-intentioned dialogue can remove” (CVO paper, page 4)
Funding processes tend to dominate the role of NGOs and influence the nature of partnerships (INTRAC)
How do we overcome the imbalance that money can often create between partners?
What does ‘equity’ mean in a relationship where there are wide divergences in power, resources and influence? Equity is not the same as ‘equality’. Equity implies an equal right to be at the table and a validation of those contributions that are not measurable simply in terms of cash value or public profile.
If all partners are expected to contribute to the partnership they should also be entitled to benefit from the partnership. A healthy partnership will work towards achieving specific benefits for each partner over and above the common benefits to all partners. Only in this way will the partnership ensure the
continuing commitment of partners and therefore be sustainable.
Where is the partnership on the following spectrums:
Funding-based – A funding-only relationship (as opposed to a partnership based on policy dialogue with no funding). Aim is to send money to the S-NGO to enable them to implement a project which meets the aims of the N-NGO.
Capacity-based - A partner with limited capacity requires support from a N-partner (as opposed to a strong autonomous organisation that contributes from its own experience). May involve no or small amounts of money transfer.
Trust-based or relationship-based – A partnership born out of a fruitful meeting or conversation.
What are the weaknesses of the approaches above?
It is important to set the purpose of the partnership (involve all) and ensure it is understood and agreed by all.
What are the comparative advantages of each partner?
Northern NGOs: Well placed to engage with the donor public and to undertake policy influencing, advocacy.
Southern NGOs: Have the benefit of local knowledge and presence.
Remember, the sum of the whole partnership has the potential to be (and should in reality be) greater than the sum of the two parts.
3. What are the overall benefits of the partnership?
“ Partnership improves local ownership, sustainability and poverty reach as well as mutual exchange of resources and ideas between the North and the South” (INTRAC).
S-partners have legitimacy, and are rooted in their communities.
The development of long-term relationships with S-NGOs can be seen as an end in itself, i.e. the main objective can be around the notion of strengthening civil society.
Partnerships is intrinsic and essential to what we do. Can we really do international development without partnerships?
Where is the accountability and shared governance?
South to North Accountability. Centres on funding. Often donors impose strict guidelines. The control aspect of funding systems can contradict the principle of local accountability to local communities.
North to South Accountability. N-NGOs are sometimes not as transparent as we expect our S-partners to be. It can be good to introduce formal systems for S-partners to give feedback to N-partners, as well as vice versa.
Shared Governance. Difficult to find examples of mutual, shared decision-making. Consultation with southern partners is more common. N-NGOs exert a considerable degree of power and influence, because of their control over funding.
“ In 1998, ActionAid International - whilst acknowledging its accountability to 150,000 donors, governments and its own board – decided that its primary accountability was to the poor people, especially women and children, that it served. Performance is now measured from the partners point of view, who decide along with programme managers whether the initiative are succeeding and how they should be changed”.
(Extract from the report “A North/South Divide”, UN Research, June 2006)
Contract: A legal document stating each party’s obligation.
MoU (Memorandum of Understanding). A written agreement between two parties (usually). It is like a contract, but it doesn’t have to carry the same legal weight. It is usually a straight forward statement of cooperation and understanding, to help clarify the roles and responsibilities of each partner involved in the shared interest/situation. A good way to document and sign the details of a partnership but doesn’t offer legal protection.
MoA (Memorandum of Agreement): Same as above. No legal difference between a MoA and a MoU.
If there is a lot of money involved, or if a project is complex, it may be more appropriate to ask a legal practitioner to draft a contract.
In an ideal world, legal instruction should be taken in all situations, before making a final agreement.
Extract from an evaluation report of USAID project
“ The collaboration between the DHMT, the community-based structures, and the NGOs is fairly strong and their presence is clearly recognized by the partners. However, in each case, aspects of this coordination could be strengthened. While all the DHMTs reported regular communication and strong coordination between themselves and the NGO, a few mentioned that they did not receive the monthly malaria activity reports. A stronger emphasis needs to be placed on reaching the village and household levels by creating a stronger link with community structures and the village leaders through ongoing discussion and a formal agreement, such as a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The new round of grantees will be strongly encouraged to liaise more closely with village leaders and include them in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages of the grant activities.
Recommendation: Oxfam should sign a fixed/time bound MOU’s with partners. “
Extract from the Evaluation Report of a
USAID-funded Rural Livelihood Project in Northern Ghana, 2008
Mutual feedback: Ensure a systematic and consistent approach to mutual feedback, e.g. regarding partner relations, project progress, etc. Mutual assessment of the partnership relationship to be built into regular systems of the N-NGO, in order to facilitate reflection and learning. Make feedback a formal part of DME. Strengthen processes used for partner consultation.
Be realistic. Authentic and mutual partnerships depend on the partner being similar in size and organisational capacity.
Whose agenda? N-NGOs need to guard against the tendency to impose agendas on to S-partners. Don’t have hidden/pre-set agendas.
Formalise the partnership: Develop a systematic approach to ensuring ‘good practice’ in partnerships. It doesn’t ‘just happen’. Funding processes are often very formalised and sytematic – so should partnerships be.
Remember: Equity, Transparency, Mutual Benefit.
Elements required for a successful partnership (source: CVO)
Two-way exchange of information
Clearly articulated goals
Equitable distribution of costs and benefits
Mechanisms to measure and monitor performance (both ways)