As we’ve discussed in the past, partnerships and collaborations are critical for wide-scale, long-lasting conservation impact. As one of our partners explained: “As an individual organization, we can’t exist alone. We need to link with others – those that give us money, those that give us ideas, or those that give us expertise…” But partnerships aren’t as easy as they might seem, which is why we’ve spent considerable time trying to understand them better (see, for example, “7 tips for Effective Partnerships,” “6 Insights from African CSOs”). Most recently, we worked with the World Resources Institute to carry out a case study of their own partnerships with a number of East and Southern African CSOs between roughly 1995 and 2005. The objective of the study was to reflect upon WRI’s experience in an effort to identify lessons that can inform best practice in investments and partnerships between local CSOs, INGOs and international donors.
The entire report is available here, but the major lessons learned are summarized below (from the report):
Drawing on this experience, lessons to consider for INGO and donor investments in partnering with and supporting the growth of CSOs in East and Southern Africa include the following:
- Be willing to take risks – including chance of setbacks or failures.
- Tailor support to the partnership and context, while maintaining a clear overall vision and a scope that allows meaningful engagement. Focus on the quality rather than quantity of partnerships. Working closely and over time with a few partners may be more impactful than providing shorter term or less in-depth support to a large number of organizations or individuals.
- Partner where there is a convergence of missions, commitment, and values, and where you can meaningfully contribute.
- Build respectful and reciprocal relationships – engage partners as equals and ensure that support is invited / wanted by local partners.
- Partner for collaboration on shared outcomes. Avoid contracting local CSOs as service providers for external agendas.
- Be open to new leaders, organizations, and ideas and seek innovative ways of connecting with partners.
- Support change agents, including individuals and organizations willing to take risks.
- Understand and respond to the context, including changing dynamics in political environments and funding sources.
- Support ‘learning by doing’, including through meaningful and sustained collaboration and mentoring. Recognize that mistakes are part of learning.
- Support network building and peer exchange.
- Include appropriate and meaningful monitoring mechanisms, including for learning. Be honest and responsive, changing course when needed.
- Support (or help partners find support for) developing and advancing local leadership, vision, and strategies, as well as for change management.
- Provide appropriate and sufficient funding – flexible, long-term, and inclusive of overhead – with accountability.
- Provide seed funding for promising organizations and initiatives. Everything starts small. If you see something worth growing, take the risk and invest there.
- Facilitate access to other funding sources.
- Invest in leaders, ideas, and organizations – not just in projects.
- Be open and honest – acknowledge that funding is often difficult to secure and that mutual accountability is essential.
In addition to the case study, the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG), in collaboration with Maliasili Initiatives, organized a dialogue on Strengthening Partnerships for African Conservation Leadership, hosted by the World Resources Institute, Washington, DC on February 16, 2017. You can learn more about the event and dialogue here.
*This publication was produced by Maliasili Initiatives for The Nature Conservancy as a component of the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group supported project on Piloting Mechanisms for Strengthening African Conservation Leadership and Organizational Capacity. The report was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-A-15-00060 – WCS.