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Ingrid Helsingen Warner speaking on “Strategic partnerships for change” at the University of Oslo event 22ndof March 2018 with (left to right) Kari Helene Partapuoli, Development Fund; Lise Albrechtsen, Section for Development Policy, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Hildegunn Gjengedal, Norwegian Farmers’ Union and Nikolai Hegertun, Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM), University of Oslo.

People form partnerships when they see the potential to solve a problem. During the past decade I have helped partnerships solve communication problems, and in the process, I have seen three success criteria.

  1. Partnerships are a people business
    You will often see the same people spark partnerships, run them and hand them over once they either achieve their goal or become formal organizations. A successful partnership brings passionate people together. But passionate people do not always agree. Focus on solving the problem – whether potential or present – and invite those who view the issue from different perspectives. Recognize that partnering is a people business and that diversity makes you stronger. That is when real change happens.
  2. Secretariats move partnerships towards their goal
    It is effective to have a neutral and lean secretariat that unites the partners, keeps the vision and drives the partnership forward. The secretariat should not have an agenda, should listen to all the partners and should have the partnership as their sole focus. When partnerships are co-hosted by the partners it often becomes an additional task to their existing workload which slows down the partnership. That’s why a secretariat, that brings out the value of the cooperation, is important.
  3. A united and distinct voice sets the agenda
    Despite the partners’ different views in the working partnership, the partners need to speak with one distinct and united voice when speaking externally, e.g., websites and conference, and communicating internally, e.g., goals and milestones. Communicate progress, not perfection. An effective secretariat helps the partners, reach different audiences efficiently. This means getting the website up and running, voicing achievements to the press, and sharing lessons learned to build trust. Partnerships are not quick fixes, it is a long-term commitment. It takes effort and time to build trust. But it is this trust and long-term commitment that is at the heart of any successful partnership.
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