3. Best practices for successful partnerships

Recent survey feedback from CARE’s experiences working with partners reveals rich lessons learned, the most common of which are listed here as critical success factors.

DO:
Ensure the value addition for both parties is clear A clear decision-making process on whether and who to partner with will examine and clarify what value the partnership brings to both parties.
Set clear roles and responsibilities Be clear on the division of labor-which functions will be handled by CARE, which by partners, and what TA will be provided. Define this in contracts and project documents.
Delegate power Sharing power is often a challenge for CARE. While it might be necessary to support or handle some activities, partners also need room to work without being micro-managed.
Involve partners in all phases of the project cycle While not always possible, partners should ideally be jointly involved in the response strategy, needs assessments, program design and proposal development to avoid misunderstanding and increase ownership.
Consult and be transparent Decision-making should be as transparent as possible between CARE and partners, including on budget and finances. It is also important to share information and seek input on decisions-but without over-consulting.
Budget adequately Overhead and staffing costs are very real issues for CARE and this can hinder a fair partnership agreement. While partners are doing the bulk of the implementation, CARE often does not allow partners to adequately cover their operational costs. Investing in the partners staffing structure and overhead is a critical success factor for any response and key for a successful partnership.
Have good internal coordination Confusion on roles and authorities can lead to too many people getting involved in internal decisions and procedures, causing delays and mixed messages. Be clear who must be consulted and who signs off on what. Use a management model where a field-based team coordinates routine matters and a senior management team meets to resolve policies and issues.
Get the field team right

 

One field-based programme staff member should be the focal point for all dealings with a partner. Support and finance staff should also be placed in the field for assistance with the work. Try to use local staff with technical ability, good attitudes, and communication and negotiation skills. Ensure that they are mandated to take decisions, as well as to consult and inform senior managers.
Act as equals Local agencies often complain of being treated as servants by INGOs. While its resources and role as steward of donor funds do place CARE in a powerful position, attitude also matters. It can be too easy for staff to think, ‘We know better’ or ‘We can do better’. Even if CARE has expertise, partners also add value.
Accept and manage risk and imperfection Partnerships can be marred by risk aversion and perfectionism. Intense questioning of details can delay contracts, disbursement, programme design and implementation. A particular issue can be marred if support staff feels their main role is to protect CARE from partner mistakes. Staff should be encouraged to manage rather than just to strive to avoid these issues.
Learn from partners Partners have rich knowledge and expertise about the operational context we are working in, that CARE does not always tap into. CARE should engage in strategic and programmatic discussions with partners, discuss developments and scenarios of the context, and engage in joint preparedness as well as strategic planning processes. There is a lot more we can learn from our partners that can enhance the quality and effectiveness of our response.
Prepare and nurture partnerships outside of emergencies Pre-emergency is the prime time to invest in partnership. It is difficult to establish trust and build relationships during the height of an emergency when the focus must be on saving lives and alleviating suffering. Ideally, CARE will develop partnership relationships during times of non-emergency. Long term investments in capacity building will enhance the quality and effectiveness of response. It is important to have access to committed and consistent funding for capacity development for partners (or for CARE from partners!) in topics including security management, financial management, humanitarian standards, emergency preparedness and gender in emergencies.
Make sure support systems are responsive to partnership Current procedures are heavy on paperwork and reporting and not conducive to rapid emergency work; even less so when engaging and working with partners. Simplify procedures where necessary and keep things light for our partners where possible. But make sure to meet donors and auditors requirements.
Invest in building interpersonal relationships People need to trust and respect each other if they want to establish a fruitful relationship. The representatives of organisations are individuals, and therefore interpersonal relationships are central to a successful partnership between organisations.
Accept and manage different roles and tasks Working in partnership requires a different skill set amongst CARE staff. Moving away from that of direct implementer, the role for CARE staff will focus more on building relationships, monitoring, capacity building and contract management.

DON’T:

Create inflated expectations Discuss expectations with partners from the start. It can be dangerous if a partner sees simple sub-grant as something more than it is, or if promises to build capacity are not delivered. But it is good to have realistic visions for relationships, as they provide something to work toward.
Delay on payments and deliverables Ensure that the Country Office’s financial and administrative systems are flexible enough to allow for real time transaction of funds, resources and other support as required by the partner, in order to set them up for success.
Overfund or overstretch the partner It is important to have a clear sense of other projects and overall capacity of the partner to carry out the agreed upon work. Good partners are likely working with other NGOs and an effective balance needs to be maintained.