Defining Successful Partnerships

Organizations increasingly value partnerships as a way to achieve their objectives. Through partnerships, organizations can benefit from the resources, unique knowledge, experience, and networks of other organizations and leverage their respective resources for greater impact.

Companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participating in the Health and Business Roundtable Indonesia (HBRI) have defined partnerships, their key characteristics, and how they are different from other relationships as shown below. Partnerships are associations in which parties contribute substantially, not just financially.
In a partnership, each party has specific roles and responsibilities and each contributes to the strategy and implementation of the joint activity. Partners define success jointly and develop, as much as possible, subjective indicators to measure this success. This can help ensure that there is clarity and chances to modify the project or roles so that success remains in sight. The roles and the level of contribution of each partner can, and usually does, change over time, and so too can even their definition of success.

In the beginning, many partnerships rely on individual relationships. The initial creators of the partnership will be able to develop a mutually beneficial strategy, but it is their strong personal relationship that will most likely be the foundation of the partnership in the short term. As these two individuals are likely not the only ones needed to make decisions and implement activities throughout the foreseen life of the partnership, it is imperative that they work to ensure or create buy-in for the project at the appropriate levels within their institutions. Experience has, in fact, shown that it is as important to get buy-in from all levels of the institution. Clear communication is also a critical component, valuable in particular as a tool to manage expectations. And as its outcome, a successful partnership is one that produces sustainable results.

As mentioned, partnerships can change over time; in fact because they are often based in the beginning on individuals, they often should. In some cases, the partnership is, by its nature, one that will have a foreseeable end. Not every partnership is meant to be long term, but great care should be taken when deciding at what time and how to end the partnership because both partners have likely put a significant investment of time and resources into the relationship.

If the initiators believe there is long-term value in a continued partnership, then they should work to ensure that their strong personal relationships are developed into strong institutional relationships. Demonstrating to their organizations how the project supports their core business is a key way of institutionalizing a partnership. In a long-term partnership, the partners will work to identify new challenges they feel they can address together and new opportunities to work together and build a long-term strategy. The mechanisms they develop to manage the partnership should allow for innovation and scalability, so they can identify new opportunities and address new challenges.

Working together can be very difficult and so the most important criteria in any partnership is patience. In most cases, a partnership is so valuable because the parties have such different experiences, knowledge, perspectives and/or resources. Therefore, the very things that make it attractive and worthwhile to partner are the things likely to make it a challenge.
This document and others to support partnerships are based on learning at the Health and Business Roundtable Indonesia (HBRI) and available at HBRI is an activity of CCPHI (Company-Community Partnerships for Health Indonesia), an affiliate of ACCESS (Advancing Company-Community Engagement for Sustainable Societies) Health Worldwide. ACCESS-HW is a project of the Public Health Institute.