Lessons for global cross-sector partnerships

FSG, a social impact consulting firm, compiled a number of key lessons for global cross-sector partnerships tackling issues related to humanitarian crises based on the experience of Partnering for Change. 

Addressing complex challenges, such as adequate healthcare provision in humanitarian crises, often requires cross-sector collaboration,1 and collaboration between humanitarian organisations and corporate actors is recognised as being increasingly essential.2 

This being said, working in cross-sector partnerships is not necessarily straight-forward. Reseach shows that nearly early 40% of multi-stakeholder partnerships fail to move past their initial launch and nearly 80% fail to achieve their stated objectives.3 To succeed, partnerships need to be carefully designed and planned, which can be hard work and is not without pitfalls. Clarity from the out-set is particularly critical for partnerships bringing together actors from various sectors, spanning geographies and focusing on inherently unstable environments. Since the onset of the partnership, FSG has accompanied Partnering for Change to guide and spar with the partners on good partnership practices. 

Strategic learning and evaluation are important tools for cross-sector collaboration. Based on the experience of the partnership, FSG recommend adopting a flexible approach that meets the needs of the collaborative efforts at any given time.

At the end of the first three-year phase of collaboration, three broadly applicable key lessons were identified, and for each, advice was shared based on the experience of Partnering for Change. These are.

Lesson 1:
Building trust takes time and is needed at multiple levels

This may seem obvious but is worth stating, as it is often underestimated. Trust, underpinned by strong interpersonal relationships, is a critical foundation for global partnerships and can take years to develop. This plays out at multiple levels: In the early years, the partnership and institutional levels may take precedent but should not detract from engaging the broader ecosystem of stakeholders critical for impact.

Lesson 2:
Balance setting boundaries with flexibility when it comes to private sector engagement

Private sector engagement in humanitarian affairs is a particularly sensitive subject when it relates to medicines and the health of vulnerable populations. Patience, open and honest dialogue, flexibility, and in some cases also clear boundaries to avoid (fears of) undue influence are key ingredients for enabling private sector contributions in these contexts.

Lesson 3:
Advocacy is a natural joint activity for a global partnership, but expectations, liabilities, and risks need to be managed

Advocacy is often seen as the natural place for cross-sector partnerships to prioritise. Nevertheless, differences in advocacy approaches, cultures, expectations, and associated liabilities and risks must be actively considered and managed by the partnership. 

Nearly 80%

of multi-stakeholder partnerships fail to achieve their stated objectives.3

  1. Becker J, Smith DB. The Need for Cross-Sector Collaboration. Stanford Social Innovation Review. 2018;16(1):C2-C3.
  2. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The Business Case: A study of private sector engagement in humanitarian action. UNOCHA;2017.
  3. Pattberg P, Widerberg O. Transnational multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development: Building blocks for success. Available at SSRN 2480302. 2014.

“The Global Goals can only be met if we work together.… To build a better world, we need to be supportive, empathetic, inventive, passionate, and above all, cooperative.”

UN Sustainable Development Goal 17

HOMS, SYRIA, The city bears the scars of the conflict.  © ICRC: KRZYSIEK, Pawel