CSR — Partnerships:
Making development work​

Yanti T.R. Koestoer ,  Contributor ,  Jakarta

Why is the word “partnership” so popular in the context of development these days? Over the last decade, calls for partnerships as a new approach for development have increased in both developed and developing economies. In Indonesia, people are familiar with the word gotong royong (working together), but people rarely understand the true meaning of partnership.

Whether social, economic or infrastructure development, we see far too many examples of programs carried out by organizations operating in isolation from one another. Lack of coordination based on communication and a sense of shared objectives among key stakeholders reduces the efficiency and impact of programs. Operating without a spirit and framework of partnership also leads to a fear of sharing ideas and capabilities. The ability to share and combine capabilities among different organizations can be critical to success in programs dealing with the “market” economy or the challenges of decentralized government.

Partnership is an inter-sector relationship that may include individuals, groups, organizations or companies who agree to work toward a shared objective, fulfill agreed upon responsibilities and tasks and share both risks and benefits. It is also critical that the partners agree to evaluate and review their relationship from time to time in light of how well they are making progress toward their common goal(s). This approach to getting something done can be easily contrasted with the more “normal” situation where one organization or individual is in charge and everyone else does what they are told to do.

In the context of development, we recognize three major players i.e. government, the private sector (business) and civil society. If working in a spirit of partnership these three players should work within a “Balanced Power” framework in delivering services and benefits for society and communities. Each brings its core competencies and strengths into play, and together they multiply their power to make social change. In many parts of Indonesia, partnership — where all parties stand equally — begins to demonstrate its ability to improve the quality, results and sustainability of development programs. In fact, it can be a mechanism for stability, peace and prosperity.

Partnership can provide a strong mechanism for problem solving, both by leveraging greater physical and financial resources and by increasing the intellectual and creative resources that can be focused on a problem. Collaboration among partners can also raise better mutual awareness and build a dynamic contact network which can turn conflict into cooperation. Moreover, building effective partnerships greatly benefits from pragmatic skills and techniques. By constructively engaging with the diverse players of development, we can learn how to do better partnerships and avoid mistakes made in the past.

The skeptical view sees that working in partnerships with other organizations is too challenging to be worth the effort or that it is even impossible. However, many examples demonstrate that it is workable as long as parties involved plan it well, transparently raise and share resources and carefully manage the relationships among partners. In some instances, formalizing the partnership may help to build better cohesion and clarify both responsibilities and objectives. Having a facilitating capability within the partnership, ready to help clarify and mediate may also be helpful. Paying attention to and benefiting from lessons learned by other partnership practitioners can also help us deal with common problems and challenges faced in partnerships.

A book written by Ros Tennyson (International Business Leaders Forum, 2002) outlines several golden rules on how to effectively build inter-sector partnerships. Although such tips were mentioned more than five years ago, they are still relevant these days. Among others, we must change the paradigm that “cash” contribution is the most important aspect of partnership. In fact, mobilizing non-cash resources to support initiative/program and make the partnership work can have a larger impact rather than just cash. We must keep purposeful and result-focused at any stage of the partnership. Any problems should be seen with preconceived attitudes toward learning programs. Along with that, we must acknowledge and face obstacles in a direct, open and honest manner. Often we must find “champions” that can promote the initiative and campaign for social change, and also “intermediaries” to steer the process. Moreover, regular evaluation is needed through stakeholder-based research as a feedback mechanism.

A number of examples can be found in Indonesia, although only few truly demonstrate ideal models. Typically in a partnership-based program, a civil society organization acts as an “intermediary”, and has transformed project concepts proposed by local (grass-roots) organizations (as “implementer”) into viable programs in each corresponding location. Support and contributions from both local and higher level governments, financial and management support from either international non-profit organization partner and/or a donor agency, help the “championing” organizations execute their initiatives addressing economic, social or environmental issues.

Such a workable model requires considerable up front facilitation and planning help from a neutral organization that acts as catalyst and facilitator, to ensure the resulting partnership-based programs are significantly stronger and more sustainable.

Those who manage partnerships undoubtedly have a leadership role but often work “behind the scenes” with little or no acknowledgement. They are an extraordinary breed of people who are comfortable to live away from the limelight, while also being prepared to carry responsibility if things go wrong. I am sure there are people who meet these criteria in Indonesia. We just need to increase the population of such a “breed”.

The writer is executive director of Indonesia Business Links. She can be emailed at yanti.koestoer@ibl.or.id.