Partnerships in the Development Sector: Reflections on the year gone by

Posted by Carpe India on 2021-01-22

2020 has been a remarkable year on all accounts. The buoys that kept us afloat in this ever-changing scenario deserve special attention. At CARPE & EcoSattva, we have been fortunate to have some stellar partnerships. Our programs have always been partnership-driven. Harnessing existing experience and goodwill of partners like Bajaj, JBGVS, UNDP, Coca-Cola etc. and maximising on capacities of local government leadership (municipal governments, gram panchayats,  Zilla Parishads) we’ve been able to deliver impact in solid waste management, green cover management and waste water management.

In 2020 we counted on such partnerships to take our projects through the turbulent lockdown period. But we were also able to build on them to spring into disaster management mode and assure 12,68,640 meals by providing ration to people in need during the lockdown, and arrange the transportation of 7500 people (migrant workers) to all corners of the country. The Collector Uday Chaudhari (IAS), Municipal Commissioner Astik Kumar Pandey and Commissioner of Police Chiranjeevi Prasad went over and beyond the call of duty to enable the relief work, giving us  urgent solutions sometime past midnight, and over many Sunday afternoons.

We believe even more strongly now that it is not only possible but indeed imperative to build government and private sector partnerships based on trust, competence and mutual respect. We’d like to dedicate this blog to the individuals and organizations behind these partnerships, and share some of our learnings about partnership and collaboration.

Professional Human Relationships

In March 2020, we had just begun to brainstorm on our scaling model and we soon realized that we would need external assistance for this. During the same time, the CEO of Unltd India, Anshu Bhartia called to refer, “a passionate, smart, focused person wanting to impact the waste space – Anish Malpani” to us. We met Anish and it was an immediate fit. Anish is a professional with 8+ years of experience spanning finance and data, and a remarkable two year journey of preparing for his very own social enterprise in the waste sector. In our association, he has gone over and above our ask and helped identify issues and work on specific organizational processes. He also got deeply involved in our COVID-relief efforts. This association evolved organically into him accepting a board membership  while launching his own venture called Ashaya in post consumer waste processing.

For the CEO of one of India’s most well known incubators to remember our small organization two years after we had completed their program, and to make this timely connection, and for Anish to take a leap of faith and come to Aurangabad, showed us the power of professional relationships based on a shared human connection of wanting each other to truly create impact & succeed.

Partnerships are Hard Work

Over the past few years, we’ve found that partnerships take time and effort and lots of patience. Whether they are partnerships that have been established with successful projects under our belts, or those that are in the pipeline. Organizations, like their people, are dynamic, and need special attention. Ego clashes, gender dynamics, misunderstandings & mismatched expectations can crop up at any time and place. And keeping these at bay is intense work.

But the hard work pays off. Regular appraisal and nurturing has given us some successful partnerships this year with organisations such as Collective Good Foundation, rePurpose and Sugi – who helped us scale impact in on-going projects and also partnered in COVID-relief beyond the terms of regular engagement. The time and trust involved in an ongoing partnership goes a long way. This has given us  solid lessons for our other partnerships as well.

The ATE Chandra Foundation and Grind Master Machines Private Limited deserve a special mention, as their founders truly exemplify the spirit of partnership and collaboration and through these most complex of times, they reached out to with all the unconditional support we needed.

Partnerships can Fail

Like everything else, partnerships are not always a safe, predictable ride. This blogpost would be pointless if we didn’t mention our failed partnerships, and all that we learned from them. We had counted on two big projects to come though, and they didn’t. While “paucity of funds due to Covid” is an explanation, the real reasons are more complex. From our inability to build a professional relationship based on trust and competence with a regional manager of a funding organization, to our lack of clarity getting into a partnership with an incubator; we realized our mistakes, and in some cases, our lack of skill set (which could range from not being very social people outside our work space, or asserting our position too strongly or not asserting our position strongly enough, or simply the gender dynamic) some partnerships fall through before they take off, and others, more heartbreakingly fall through the cracks even when we think we did everything right.

In the professional setting, we hardly speak of the trauma that comes with such partnerships falling apart. Some people view these objectivity, others tend to wallow in what could have been done differently. What we’ve taken from the partnerships that failed is the importance of being clear in our communication and the art of disagreeing respectfully. Why discard the chance  to work with an organisation/individual in the future?

All said and done, partnerships and collaborations have been the lifeblood of new things happening at our end. The world needs more and not less collaborations. However it is important to see beyond the hype. We’ve learned to approach partnerships with pragmatism and mutual interests clearly stated and sealed with a thorough contract. Like any other, even this process has plenty of ups and downs. At CARPE/EcoSattva, we strive to put  these lessons into action and to gear up for new partnerships, new challenges, new solutions. Let’s take on the new decade, together!