“The issues we face are so big and the targets are so challenging that we cannot do it alone. When you look at any issue, such as food or water scarcity, it is very clear that no individual institution, government or company can provide the solution.” Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever

A new report released by the Business Network for Sustainability got me thinking more about the importance of creating effective partnerships for effecting change and how we can support this in the work we do with communities.  The purpose of creating partnerships is to address problems that individual organizations, or even whole sectors, cannot solve by themselves. These problems are usually complex and require different resources, skills, knowledge and tactics that can only be gained from multiple organizations working together. From the Business Network for Sustainability (NBS) report, the key reasons and benefits for building partnerships are to:

  • Innovate – learn from each other; collectively create new solutions
  • Achieve sustainability goals – work together to tackle social, environmental and economic issues in an integrated way, not dealing with one set of issues without consideration, or at the expense of, others
  • Gain access to skills and resources – bring different skillsets, resources and individual networks together
  • Increase legitimacy – a partnership comprising different sectors (e.g. private, non-profit, government) adds credibility and improves reputation

For all these reasons, it makes sense to build and work through partnerships where they will help to achieve a desired outcome. However, partners must be carefully selected and a partnership process managed in order to be effective and beneficial for all involved.

A successful partnership needs to not only meet each partner’s individual goals; it must meet shared goals (and ideally share a common vision). By having a shared vision and goals, the partners can truly innovate and collaborate towards new solutions.

Here are some tips from NBS to ensure effective, collaborative partnerships work:

  • Be inclusive (share power, find consensus, clarify decision-making authority)
  • Set expectations (agree on ground rules, handle conflict, create accountability, be patient!)
  • Build understanding (explore differences, create a shared vision, encourage continuous learning)
  • Develop relationships (build trust, develop leadership)

Furthermore, Peter Senge, from the MIT Sloan School of Management, also includes these conditions to ensure traction:

  1. Focus on pressing practical problems.
  2. Focus on transforming relationships.
  3. Create spaces for reflection and deeper conversation.
  4. A ‘backbone organization’ anchors the partnerships.
  5. Recognize the role of the partners in the problem and consequently be open to changes within.

While the NBS focus is mainly on partnerships with businesses, the points identified can completely transfer to local governments and community partners. Some types of collaborative partnerships and examples of communities that are using them are provided below:

Type of community process Purpose Who is involved
Vision to Action Tofino (integrated community sustainability plan) Create shared community vision; implementation of actions Community organizations (businesses, NGOs, local government)
Whistler’s Economic Partnership Initiative Develop economic strategy Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Whistler, Hotel Association of Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb
Sea to Sky Corridor Local Economy Collaborative Build a stronger shared-value based local economy through mentorship,
support and collaborative action
Chambers of commerce, local government, social enterprises, businesses, entrepreneurs, financial institutions
Zeballos-Nechatlaht Create shared vision for the two communities and collaborative strategies
for getting there
Village of Zeballos, Nechatlaht First Nation, community members
Squamish Lillooet Cultural Centre Create a new cultural centre that would showcase Squamish and Lil’wat culture and heritage and create joint economic development opportunities Squamish and Lil’wat Nations

If you have a great collaborative partnership story, please share it by sending a brief description to: info[at]whistlercentre.ca

By Cheeying Ho
(604) 388-8421