Thursday, 14 January 2016

Overseas Outlook - The Art Of Shared Commitment

Incorporated at the end of 2013 in Hong Kong, the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society (CAPS) is a uniquely Asian Centre dedicated to facilitating excellence in philanthropy. It promotes best practices and standards through its own research, capacity building and conferences and through partnership with its intermediary network. The Centre helps to improve governance and aid the efficacy of philanthropists and social delivery organizations working on education, health, environment and poverty alleviation in Asia. This work will contribute a great deal to scale impact of social delivery organizations working on social change throughout the region.

We met Dr. Ruth A. Shapiro, Chief Executive of CAPS. CAPS partners with donors as well as local research and capacity building organizations throughout the region. Dr. Shapiro is the editor of The Real Problem Solvers, Social Entrepreneurs in the America, published in China with the addition of Chinese social entrepreneurs in July 2014.

Ruth Shapiro in conversation with Meher from CAP
Here are Ruth’s views on collaboration.

“We should partner!” is a common sentiment voiced within the non-profit sector.  The concept is laudable – by working together, we can leverage synergies to do more good and in fact, partnering well can do just that.  Still, while partnering may lead to increased impact, at times, it can also lead to frustration and weakened results.  Partnering only makes sense when it is mutually beneficial to do so, in other words, when all parties gain something through the partnership. In some ways this type of pragmatic thinking runs contrary to the idealism of our sector.  Why wouldn’t we work together?  But, successful partnerships depend on aligned agendas. 

Be clear about what the benefits are to all parties. Let’s think about different types of partnerships, most common are those between NGOs and businesses or corporate foundations, those with government and those among the NGOs themselves.

In India, due to the relatively new CSR legislation, partnership between NGOs and businesses will only increase in number and scope.  But these can be treacherous.  NGOs often want to partner with business to receive much needed financial support.   Companies want outcomes that may or may not be aligned with the goals or processes of the NGO partner.  As more and more partnerships take place, shared learning for both the government and the company side will increase and over time, and hopefully, partnerships will become easier to carry out.

Partnering with government can lead to extraordinary scale. But, as everyone in India knows well, government bodies are not the easiest of partners!  They often have time consuming reporting, rigid rules of engagement and an inability to be flexible when changes need to take place on the ground.

Partnering with other NGOs, while seemingly the most benign can also entail risks.  It is crucial to understand what each party is bringing to the table and the added value of working together.  While we NGOs are all working to make the world a better place, we are also often competing for resources.  

In all cases, it is critical to go into the relationship with one’s eyes wide open.  Regardless of who you are partnering with, certain steps can increase the success of the endeavor:

1.     Write up clear, detailed memorandums of understanding to mitigate the chances of miscommunication and abuse.  Agreements must be reached and adhered to around goals, partition of the work, outcomes, deadlines and credit.   The very process of discussing the agreement can help clarify expectations. 

2.     It is helpful to put in place a mutually agreed upon communication schedule and “check-ins”.

3.     When appropriate, it may be helpful to agree on a mutually acceptable third party who can mediate when necessary.  Companies, NGOs and government speak from different perspectives and while literally speaking the same language, figuratively they are often speaking very different languages, so a translator can often be helpful!

Partnering is like marriage.  You may agree on the reasons for entering into it, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t bumps along the way.   The better prepared you are before working together, the better the likelihood of success.
This article is from CAP's Quarterly newsmagazine Philanthropy. To get your printed version of the magazine, write to

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