Molly Brech, Director, Cecily’s Fund
Tell me a bit about your experience with partnership working in international development?
I have worked for the past 5 years in international development in both Zambia and UK and my roles have entailed a great deal of partnership building and nurturing. I found the most challenging, yet rewarding partnerships, to be those which did not involve the exchange of money- or if money was exchanged it was very clearly managed.
What do you think are the key things that need to be in place for a partnership to work well?
Clarity of expectation for both partners, clear communication in relevant style (which takes into account cultural differences), timeframe (and budget if money is involved) is agreed, a formal partnership agreement and a regular check in on the status of the relationship. I would say respect for each partner is essential.
Can you tell me about an experience you’ve had which you felt was partnership working at it’s most effective?
In Restless Development (formerly SPW) the UK office acts as a fundraising hub, and country based fundraising officers have responsibility for both the local management of grants, and the sourcing of new grants. I was the fundraising manager for the Zambia office and when submitting to a donor locally, I liaised closely with the UK office. Practical problems with electricity, internet signal, time differences and conflicting job loads were ever present but a few factors helped the development of a well researched document (which won the grant!): 1) we had met face to face before which greatly helped overcome the limitations of email/skype and smoothed over misunderstandings in approach; 2) we had a weekly timetable for agreed deadlines; 3) the remits of each side were clear and the gain was mutual 4) the control was clear- it was a local project to a local donor so our project, but we needed external assistance in some areas. 5) The UK office was clearly thanked at the end for their input-, which helped when going to them again for help in future.
Are you willing to share an example of something that you were involved in that didn’t go well?
When I worked in sexual health outreach in one of London’s most underserved boroughs, we set up an afterschool club with a national drugs and alcohol service. The project had not been attempted before and we had not involved parents/guardians or teachers in developing it. The project was far better attended than we anticipated and the sessions quickly spiraled out of the control of the small team we assembled to manage it. The drugs and alcohol liaison person and I argued publicly over inappropriate content in a session. When I wanted to finish the partnership I realized I had no clear control over the ownership of the project and so the other partner threatened to take it over and run it alone. This miserable example was a result of a number of factors: lack of joint planning, lack of local stakeholder involvement, lack of clear agreement and authority structure and lack of timeframe for a pilot.
What are the key things you think need to happen to improve partnership practice across the sector?
I think more guidance on setting up a partnership with clear advice (such as the need for adequate budget to be allocated to planning a partnership rather than just to any resulting project) and I think that crisis resolution guidance would be helpful. I think a free advice line on what to do if you partnership starts to get into trouble would be great.
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