Proactively Manage — or Avoid — Politics

CASE at Duke
Dec 2, 2020 · 3 min read
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

One concern we often hear from those who are considering engaging with governments is the risk of getting caught up in potentially contentious politics. But the enterprises with whom we spoke found a number of ways to focus on their technical work, maintain a variety of relationships throughout the government, and spread their risk.

Advice from the field on proactively managing — or avoiding — politics

1. Ensure strong relationships with civil servants and technical experts.

The enterprises we interviewed reiterated the importance of building relationships beyond those individuals associated with a particular party. Elected and appointed officials are important leaders to engage due to their decision-making power and influence, but technical experts and lower level staff are more likely to weather elections and party transitions. One of Fundación Capital’s strategies is to be sure to invite a technical person — in addition to the higher-level policy maker, such as a minister — to events or trainings. Code for America, like most social enterprises, tries not to be associated with any one party. It works hard to get people with different political ideologies on board, with the core belief that everyone can get behind a solution that provides better service at a lower cost.

2. Spread out risk.

Risk is inherent in government partnerships as political parties or the political climate may change and/or governments may experience instability. If possible, social enterprises can spread out their risk by, as Elizabeth Hausler, Founder and CEO of Build Change, said, not having “all eggs in one basket.” She spoke of running programs in multiple countries because disruptions can occur at any time, such as when the President of Guatemala was imprisoned while Build Change was implementing work with that government. MyAgro’s Founder and CEO Anushka Ratnayake shared her experience of piloting their model in Mali, where major political unrest ensued before they had replicated the model in any other country. MyAgro quickly identified a nearby country with similar demographics where it could initiate an additional pilot, so as to continue learning while building the model.

3. Be wary of promises made before an election.

One interviewee shared a warning about promises made by government officials ahead of an election. Ventures should be wary about these promises — often made to rally voters — as these often do not come to fruition, especially in the absence of MOUs or more formal agreements. Additionally, ventures should be aware of — and transparently communicate with funders about — implementation and sales slow-downs common in the months before, during, and immediately after election cycles.

Read next: Maintain quality of impact over time, Manage the “What Ifs?” of government partnerships, or return to see all articles in Government Partners.

Access the full PDF of Leveraging Government Partnerships for Scaled Impact here or the key takeaways checklist here.

This article was written by Erin Worsham, Kimberly Langsam, and Ellen Martin, and released in September 2018.

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Scaling Pathways

Scaling Pathways is a partnership between the Skoll Foundation, USAID, Mercy Corps Ventures, and CASE at Duke to curate and share scaling insights from the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.

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The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke University leads the authorship for the Scaling Pathways series.

Scaling Pathways

Scaling Pathways is a partnership between the Skoll Foundation, USAID, Mercy Corps Ventures, and CASE at Duke to curate and share scaling insights from the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.