3 lessons on building effective partnerships

23 November 2016
Author: Nick Aveling

In the wake of DFID’s recent Civil Society Partnership Review, which recommends that DFID, “encourage new ways of working [between NGOs] and provide funding for innovative and collaborative projects, especially in more challenging environments,” it’s time our sector looked at sharing our learning about partnerships.

Here are three lessons from Hand in Hand’s 2013-2016 partnership with CARE, which was designed to promote entrepreneurship among 100,000 members of CARE's Savings Group in Rwanda.

Lessons Learned

1. Know your role

CARE and Hand in Hand aren’t so different at a glance. Both organisations work in financial inclusion and women’s economic empowerment, and both mobilise Savings Groups (or ‘Village Savings and Loan Associations’, in CARE’s parlance) towards those ends. Our first challenge, then, was to figure out just what we could bring to the table.

Knowing our roles in the partnership was key to our success. Business training is our specialty and given that CARE’s model had already included business skills and livelihoods training, maybe it would jibe with our particular methodology, too. This is the thinking that went in to our partnership.

By focusing each on our specialties and ignoring the rest, an independent review says that Hand in Hand and CARE: 

  • created 115,000 jobs (44 percent above target), 
  • boosted average business incomes by 75 percent 
  • increased asset accumulation by 61 percent.

2. Go big

None of this would have been possible if we hadn’t gained access to CARE’s immense Savings group infrastructure, at least not as quickly or as cost effectively, so the lesson for smaller NGOs is simple: Focus on partnerships that deliver your intervention as widely as possible, as quickly as possible, in places you wouldn’t otherwise reach. 

For bigger NGOs, the contrapuntal consideration is: which potential partners’ methodologies are most apposite to your own? Whose intervention can you ‘plug in’ most efficiently, causing minimum friction and maximum impact?

3. Think long-term 

Before entering any new partnership, ask yourself: will teaming up with Partner X further my organisation’s stated goal – directly, and without succumbing to mission creep – or will it deviate from that goal?

Hand in Hand’s 2013 Strategic Plan set a long-term goal of 10 million jobs created. Ten million, it turns out, is also the number of Savings Groups members worldwide, according to the SEEP Network. Together with CARE, we’ve proven that each and every Savings Group member represents an opportunity to create jobs, raise incomes and empower women – cheaply and quickly. 

Context is everything, of course, and Rwanda’s growing economy no doubt played a role in the programme’s success. But at the very least, similar joint-programmes deserve testing in other locations. With our project in Rwanda behind us, Hand in Hand is expanding into Tanzania. And you can bet we’re looking for partners.

Hand in Hand is hosting a seminar on job creation and financial inclusion at the London School of Economics on 5 December. Speakers include CARE UK CEO Laurie Lee and experts from the financial and other sectors.

For more information please visit the Hand in Hand website.

Nick Aveling is Editor at Hand in Hand International.

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