Maximising Impact through Partnerships: Collaborative Advantage

by Ian de Villiers and Mike Wisheart, World Vision International

Asia P3 Hub
5 min readJan 25, 2019


The Sustainable Development Goals assume that partnerships are critical to success, but we know that many times partnerships don’t make it — they don’t achieve their desired impact. The transaction costs are too high, the return on investment too low. The partnership itself was not different enough from what could have been achieved in single actor approaches.

In negotiation language, too many partnerships “leave value on the table” and result in relationships that don’t create enough value for any partner. So, with The Partnering Initiative and UNDESA we’ve been working on two tools that can help, all explained in Maximizing Partnership Value Creation Guidebook. The first is a tool for organisations to dig deeper in deciding what kind of value they can get from a potential partnership — whether that be enhanced reputation or the likelihood of making big progress on a social goal. The second is a tool to help work out just how the partnership itself can generate “collaborative advantage”.

In early testing, we’ve had people report that these tools help them move from one-dimensional and uncreative negotiations, to being able to explore new opportunities to create greater partnerships impact. It helps move beyond more transactional and asymmetric relationship to more equal and dynamic, added-value partnership.

For example, World Vision Bosnia-Herzegovina (WV BiH) recently employed these tools when they approached a highly-reputed national organisation to collaborate on a program to improve the lives of most-vulnerable children and their families. “We had a bit of a struggle between ourselves knowing that transactional relationship would be so much easier, but we wanted a transformational relationship” shared Dragana Bulic, WV BiH’s Advocacy and Partnering Specialist. They entered into an open dialogue with the potential partner and developed a meaningful and specific list of ways that the partnership could create value. This is now proceeding, first through blending complementary strengths and learning (Collaborative Advantage categories 3 and 5, see table below), and integrating child participation, empowerment and peer support with the elements of the life skills programme for vulnerable youth. The partners are planning for an even more ambitious second phase.

The guidebook identifies ten major ways through which partnerships have the potential to create collaborative advantage (see table below) and includes examples of each. From testing the model with various groups, we find that many partnerships have one or two main value-creating mechanisms. Partnerships and collaboration with more actors and working on more complex issues are more likely to have three or four.

Collaborative Advantage categories (© 2018 The Partnering Initiative)

Over the next few months, we want to test this approach and tools systematically to find out how helpful they are. First, in planning the partnership approaches that will create value; and second in being able to show just how it was that being in partnership enabled impact beyond the sum of single actor approaches. It should also assist with partner portfolio management, as organisations can choose systematically which partnerships are likely to be most beneficial and where to invest their time and energy.

In this recent webinar More Than the Sum of its Parts: Maximising Partnership Value Creation, Dr Darian Stibbe, Executive Director of The Partnering Initiative explains the background and the use of the tools. In addition to examples from Unilever and Pearson, you can also learn how UNICEF and GSMA, the mobile phone operators’ alliance, have turned a small partnership into a much more ambitious, value creating approach addressing several child protection issues.

Download the book, use the tools, and let us know how it goes. If you are interested to participate in testing the tools and sharing your feedback, please contact Ian De Villiers.

Article was written by Ian de Villiers, Senior Partnering Advisor, Advocacy and External Engagement, and Mike Wisheart, Senior Advisor, Business Sector Engagement and Partnerships Advocacy & External Engagement at World Vision International.

Ian’s career focuses on building collaboration to address the issues facing vulnerable children. He joined World Vision in 2011 to promote and enable World Vision’s engagement in cross-sector partnerships toward children’s well-being. He leads the development of organisational and staff capabilities for partnering, including design and implementation of a partnering blended learning system (and a new course with The Partnering Initiative). Part of World Vision’s new global strategy, he has been involved in the redesign of the transformational development policy to guide its development work with partners, and a new fragile context programme approach — addressing the humanitarian / peace-building / development nexus. Prior to that, he worked with Viva, a UK-based NGO, to develop and lead its work in Asia from 1997–2011, catalysing and supporting networks and partnerships of faith-based organisations in making a difference to children in risk. He has Masters degree in Children and Families Social Work from University of Birmingham, and Masters of Science in Development Management from UK’s Open University. Ian has guest lectured at Singapore Management University’s Masters of Tri-Sector Collaboration and presents in other peer and academic forums.

Reach out to Ian via LinkedIn or email.

Mike has worked for World Vision in various partnering and collaboration roles for the last 10 years. Currently, Mike leads business sector engagement within World Vision’s global campaign to end violence against children and heads up a team working with country offices to strengthen their partnering capabilities. He has co-authored five SDG-focused policy papers on the role of business in development, cross-sector partnerships, and multi-stakeholder platforms. Prior to working with World Vision, Mike worked for in Tanzania for a local faith-based development organisation and before that, in the private sector for Rover/BMW and Mars UK.

Reach out to Mike via LinkedIn or email.

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