What is a ‘smart’ partnership?

We define a ‘smart’ partnership as one that is built around a vision not around a partnership member or leader. Why is that important?

The concept came out of our work with Ashoka on our globalisation plan where we were introduced to the concept of  ‘smart’ networks. These, again, are built around a vision not an organisation. From the outset, we have wanted to achieve a lasting impact by working in partnership with others – co-creating, rather than displacing those already working on the ground locally and those who have global responsibilities for public health. So, we built on the principles of self-sustaining development, particularly the need to work through existing organisations and systems.

In a smart partnership, although one organisation may be the catalyst for the partnership –  the convener – and it may provide the necessary secretariat or a channel for funds, it is important that this organisation does not place itself at the centre of the partnership. This is because, generally speaking, a partnership centred around one of its members is unlikely to survive if that partner leaves or if, as is often the case, it moves onto the next funding opportunity or project. A partnership built around a vision, on the other hand, will be more resilient to individual organisations leaving (or becoming less active), more open to others joining, more likely to move in the same direction, to ‘own’ responsibilities and successes and hence be less likely to fall apart.

The vision statement should be developed together, for greater buy-in, from the outset. In our case it was: “Saving lives through better access to ORS/Zinc for the treatment of diarrhoea in Zambia”.

You won’t find ColaLife’s name in the smart partnership diagram that we created several years ago, shown below. In Zambia, we purposely did nothing to insert ourselves unnecessarily into Zambian systems. We were the catalyst, the convener: we were the strings that drew the partnership around the vision and we help actors to fulfil it.  We are very proud be entirely invisible in this diagram, as we were almost entirely invisible in Zambia. ColaLife’s name has never been on the Kit Yamoyo product, nor was it on billboards nor marketing materials. We did not buy or distribute the kit, which it is now owned by the local manufacturer, bought by the government and by NGOs, supermarkets and retailers, and distributed entirely without us. Our absence from this diagram anticipated what we wanted to achieve: a self-sustaining ‘smart partnership’ that would last, long after the funded projects that we helped to manage on the ground in Zambia came to an end. ColaLife left Zambia in 2018, but the vision and the systems that support it are, we hope, a lasting legacy.

For a partnership, that’s smart!

Smart Partnerships diagram v2 vision centred
Click on this image to view it full-size on Flickr.