Porter Novelli

Note: The following is a guest post from Bill Novelli, the first in a series based on his comments from a co-convening of Social Capital and Points of Light. Most of the attendees were corporate execs, with a smattering of nonprofit execs included. The event was a joint session with Social Capital and Points of Light that sought to understand how to approach partnerships and where to go from there. It took place in Alexandria, VA on Feb. 23. You can read the introduction to the series here.

Many partnerships will get bigger, more complex and potentially more effective

Bill NovelliNot all partnerships will expand, of course. There will always be effective one to one relationships like the Centers for Disease Control working with Lysol on public hygiene. But as organizations ambitiously scale up, they will naturally expand their alliances. For example, KaBoom! is moving from what they call “transactional” to “transformational” partnerships as they grow from only building playgrounds to engaging whole cities in playability.

At the local level, Blue Zones, working with Healthways and Gallup, is cultivating entire communities, some 23 across the country at current count, working with companies, schools, religious institutions and city government to build healthier communities and help people live longer and better lives.

But the really big endeavors, like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals — to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all — can only be tackled with very large, well resourced, increasingly complex partnership structures that are extensive cross sector, network collaborations.

These have always existed in one form or another. The National High Blood Pressure Education Program in the U.S. many years ago was an example. The UN treaty on tobacco control is a multi-country collaboration. But now I think we are going to see and be part of bigger collectives, with greater collaboration among many sectors to achieve impact.

These are difficult to build and maintain, but have enormous potential if they are well managed, with adequate resources and expertise, and if organizations can achieve their own objectives as well as the collective objectives. In addition, there must be adequate levels of trust, means of conflict resolution and a minimum of bureaucracy.

These expanded, high potential partnerships aren’t going to work just because they’re big, but only if they can combine the best of each sector and what each can bring to problem solving on a massive scale.