Do I need partners?

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Do I need partners?

Scaling with or without partners makes a big difference for your organisation. Depending on the capacities you have internally and the resources you need to gain access to, you might need to partner up with other organisation(s). But before doing so, it’s important to take time to think this through. How would you define your ideal partner? What role do you see for yourself in the future? Are you willing to give up some control? Do you need to undertake actions to protect yourself in this partnership? Using the key questions below, we would like you to reflect on the pros and cons.

The key questions in this chapter:

  1. Do we have all the necessary competences and resources internally to scale alone, or will it be better to find partners?
  2. Are we ready to give up some level of control of our social innovation to engage the support of external partners?
  3. Have we considered how we will protect ourselves as the originator or owner of the idea, if necessary, before engaging with partners?
  4. Have we developed a model for how our partnership should work, including the risks and rewards for each actor involved, and the value that each partner will bring?
  5. Can we find partners who share our vision and purpose and are motivated to contribute to the impact of our social innovation?

1. Do we have internally all the necessary competences and resources to scale alone or will it be better to find partners?

Given your scaling plan, what are the new competences and resources you need to achieve your goals and do you have these internally? If the needed competencies and resources aren’t present in your organisation, would you be better off developing these yourselves, or would it be a good idea to partner up with other who have these competences in-house? The ability of doing so depends on your situation as well. Partners can bring in diverse types of added value:

  • Network resources: access to local markets, clients, partners…
  • Peer-to-peer support from others working in the same fields
  • Business coaching and support
  • Academic expertise and research support
  • Financial resources: start-up or growth funding
  • Legal resources: understanding of local regulations, business requirements
  • Platforms for dissemination of knowledge
  • Access to knowledge and skills: HR competences, technical skills, communication skills…

Some examples why social innovations from the BENISI sample:

“We needed external support in breaking down structural and cultural barriers that prevented the take-up of their business or services.”

“We partnered up with a law firm for an introductory training and pro-bono consulting to strengthen our internal competences.”

“We chose to have a counterpart in another country that had grounded experience in setting up social organisations locally.”

“Partnering with other organisations in the same field gave us a lot of visibility.”

“Outsourcing non-core business activities to trusted partners enabled us to grow our reach rapidly.”

2. Are we ready to give up some level of control of our social innovation to engage the support of external partners? 

Involving external partners implicates finding a new balance in the level of control. How much control do you want during the different scaling phases and do you want to keep control over the new organisation after implementation? What level of autonomy you desire or need from your partners?

We learned that it’s a real challenge for innovators to let go of control when taking new people on board. At the same time, it’s complicated to motivate a partner when you can’t offer ownership. Therefore, it’s an important (and sometimes difficult) period to detail and finalize the governance of the collaboration to clearly inform roles and responsibilities, social impact, finance, control…

3. Have we considered how we will protect ourselves as the originator or owner of the idea, if necessary, before engaging with partners? 

When reaching out to potential partners, you should have good idea of what you share at your first contact: what do you want to keep confidential and is it, perhaps, necessary to protect your basic concept?

Some social innovators are willing to share their intellectual property in the beginning of their project because of lack of time or expertise to develop their model, but later on they need to re-evaluate their decision as they see opportunities to scale themselves.

Before taking any decision, check local legislation as that may be very different from the national one being adhered to at the moment. If needed, involve a local independent advisor to help you.

4. Have we developed a model for how our partnership should work, including the risks and rewards for each actor involved, and the value that each partner will bring?

As mentioned above, detailing the governance of the collaboration is sometimes difficult, but key to building a healthy partnership. Open communication about roles and responsibilities of each partner and the value (financial and non-financial) that each party will bring in is key. It’s important to offer a strong proposition to new partners. What is the added value? The proposal should bring added value to both parties, otherwise your partner may not be motivated enough in the cooperation.

We learned that partnerships with public authorities requires compliance with specific rules and constraints. E.g. some public authorities cannot partner with private companies because of public tenders rules.

5. Can we find partners who share our vision and purpose and are motivated to contribute to the impact of our social innovation?  

Once you defined the new competences and resources you need partners for, it’s time to find them. But who are the ‘right’ partners and how does one find these organisations or individuals? Unfortunately, we have no clear answer to these questions since every organisation is unique. However, the following learnings from social innovations might help you finding your most appropriate ally:

Who’s the right partner?

Be very clear about your vision and mission in order to find the best match, and make sure your ambitions are aligned. Setting up partnerships needs time and can take longer than expected. Agree on common concepts and definitions, sometimes the same words have different meanings in different countries. If you are unable to find the right partner, keep going on your own until you find a trusted one. Do not team up with a partner that will prevent you from achieving your social mission. Only go for partnerships you believe in. 

Where to find partners?

Although it may take some time to find the right partner, you can undertake some actions to accelerate the search. We listed tips from different BENISI innovations on how to do this:

  • Networking is crucial: participate at (inter)national networks and fairs, either specialised for non-profit/social enterprises or sectoral ones, to find collaborations
  • Finding someone from your own culture to help find a partner in the new market can be helpful
  • Be creative and bold while networking: sometimes connections are unpredictable, finding some time to dedicate to the project when you meet a smart person or institution can be useful
  • Embed your initiative into existing programs in order to connect to like-minded people
  • Find the right project through which you can find the right partner
  • Ask incubators or sector federations to help you connect
  • Collaborate with platforms who focus on the dissemination of promising social innovations
  • Look for lobbying associations, communication partners, or academic associations who are promoting a similar mission

To build a solid partnership the negotiation process is necessary. It could be very helpful to have someone (external) moderating and facilitating this process.

BENISI FACT
Finding the right partner is not always easy
95 percent of the BENISI social innovators were open to partnering, yet only 40 percent actually followed a partnering scaling trajectory and 69 percent of those scaled successfully.

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TIPS & TRICKS

  • When scaling abroad, teams made up of different nationalities and competencies are favoured.
  • Make the organizations you interact with aware of the main features of the project to inform them in the sourcing of specific knowledge and ideas.
  • Sharing the same goals is not enough. To start a good partnership you also have to be open-minded on your partner’s ideas and goals.

Useful Resources

To find out more about designing your scaling approach, please visit our online database with useful resources. A sample of these is listed here below:

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