It’s easy to work with people like us, but the key to making a bigger impact is often to work with those unlike us.
While social entrepreneurs often set out imagining that their key partnerships will only be with the organizations most mission- and culturally-aligned with them, this often isn’t the case. Or, at least, it’s only a starting point.
In fact, it turns out that the most valuable partnerships are often not with those who are most like you but with organizations with a useful difference from you.
This is because while alignment on mission is important for coming together, it is when different capabilities, insights and communities come together that something truly new and innovative can be created which neither could have done alone, creating the possibility for greater impact.
Great partnerships are also based on complimentary, not identical, goals and abilities.
Some years ago Ashoka, the world’s leading community of high-impact social entrepreneurs launch a major initiative to foster stronger collaboration amongst the Ashoka Fellowship. A key insight that emerged from this work was that instead of matching them based on their focus — eg. those working on water issues with those working on a similar issue somewhere else — they needed to be matched based on different but complementary needs and capabilities — eg. one with a distribution channel, the other with a product requiring distribution.
It is when two organisations bring together their different skills and abilities that magic can occur — like two very differently-shaped puzzle pieces clicking perfectly together. Mexican Ashoka Fellow Gina Badenoch has described working with corporate partners as “like a dance — you have to find the rhythm.”
And just like dancing with a partner, it’s not all about you, and your needs or ambitions. You need to be responsive to the goals and aspirations of the partner, need to match their rhythm, flow together.
To support this clear goals and deliverables need to be established up-front. In working with unalike partners, you are likely to encounter different working styles and paces, and your ability to meet them in the middle will be key to the success of the partnership.
At StartSomeGood one of our most innovative and fruitful partnership has been with a very different sort of organisation, a major bank, ING.
After they came to us looking to get involved in crowdfunding inspiring projects we together invented a more highly leveraged way of doing philanthropy and cause marketing by challenging the crowd to match it, something we now call Crowdmatch.
Over the past six years ING have invested over $500,000 in early-stage socail enterprises and catalysed more than $1,000,000 in community giving through their Dreamstarter program, powered by StartSomeGood.
We have also found ourselves working with great global NGO’s, like Public Interest Registry, and even the United Nations, supporting social enterprises in the Pacific.
We started out wanting to offer a service to people just like us, other social entrepreneurs, but along the way discovered a whole other community of people interested in leveraging our technology and approach to make a bigger difference in the world. Working with these very different organizations, from non-profits to city governments, philanthropists to impact investors, major corporations to the UN, has created up incredible opportunities we had no idea existed originally.
What makes a partnership with an unalike organisation like ING work is that underneath that difference there were similarities that allowed us to work effectively together: a desire to deliver value to communities using technology, a willingness to try new things and an ethical underpinning focused on genuine impact. Without these we could not have overcome the gulf in our cultures and capacities.
Meaghan Ramsey, previously global director of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, shared a wonderful metaphor for why working with unalike partners is so important:
“Everyone lifting the same corner of a heavy table doesn’t make it easier to move.”
It’s when we get around the different corners, as established businesses and startups, non-profits and social enterprises, governments and the citizen sector, that together we can move the table, indeed the world, forward.
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