Now, More Than Ever, Collaboration Matters

by Helena Monteiro

In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, solving social problems is beyond the reach of any single sector or actor. Our most complex challenges are best addressed through collaborative approaches, involving public, private and nonprofit sectors bringing together diverse knowledge, strategy and connections to turn vision into social change.

New technologies, new leaders and new money are changing the language and methods of philanthropy and nonprofits. This new energy and innovation are driving philanthropists to think big and invest in people and startups with similar passions and theories of change. Meanwhile, the changing roles of the public and private sectors, together with nonprofits and individual citizens’ commitment to social innovation, increasingly require collaboration among diverse networks of nonprofits, foundations, businesses, social entrepreneurs and governments. Collaborations have the potential to reach a wider range of ideas, leverage more resources, and find innovative solutions.

Yet, collaboration is not easy. One common difficulty is not having a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities in a collaborative initiative. Often, most actors enter a collaboration to take the role of lead partner. However, it is equally important to be an effective partner in an initiative led by others or to be a strategic advocate, as it is to be the leader of the initiative. Accountability issues also present challenges, as the requirements for public and private sector organizations vary considerably. Who receives credit for success or blame for failure? Can partners collectively share risk and reward?

Accountability can be particularly challenging in collaboration involving diverse organizations, mandates and efforts. Finally, dynamics of power can also challenge the success of the collaboration. A partner must be aware of access to resources, connections and influence in every instance; and take care not to impose its leadership by listening to and considering the assets of all partners at the table.

We are seeing a growing number of diverse and multifaceted collaborations being formed. It is time now to extract lessons from these experiences and create tools, platforms and standards in support of simpler and more effective collaborations.

Helena Monteiro is Executive Director of WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support).

Copyright The Resource Alliance; posted with permission.