“With rare exceptions, all of your most important achievements on this planet will come from working with others—or, in a word, partnership.” ―Paul Farmer, To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation
Partnerships are difficult. Whether corporations are partnering with NGOs, government agencies with corporations, or NGOs with other NGOs, building successful partnerships requires an investment of time, people, and patience. But partnerships are also the only option for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
I spent four years at Partners In Health (PIH), an organization dedicated to bringing healthcare to the poorest places in the world. Although many NGOs in the developing world choose to work without the support of national governments, at PIH we worked in partnership with the government, even when that made it harder than going it alone. There was no starker example of this than in Haiti.
Haiti, often referred to as the “Republic of NGOs,” estimates that 20,000 nonprofits are operating in the country. Given Haiti’s under-resourced government, NGOs often end up inadvertently exacerbating the country’s problems by allowing much needed funding to circumvent the government system. Often, and especially after the devastating 2010 earthquake, we saw NGOs set up parallel systems for the delivery of basic services (access to housing, clean water, health care, and so on).
In contrast, PIH leveraged its long-standing, successful partnership with the Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population (MSPP or Ministry of Health). When Hospital of the State University of Haiti, the largest public—and only teaching—hospital in Haiti, was destroyed in the earthquake, PIH worked with the MSPP to build a new teaching hospital in Mirebalais. During a time of incredible loss and devastation, through literally hundreds of partnerships—corporate, foundation, government and non-profit—PIH was able to secure the funding, equipment, labor and expertise required to build a state-of-the art public healthcare facility in rural Haiti. Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais stands as a shining example of the power of partnerships and what we can achieve together.
Similarly, at JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide, partnerships are in our DNA. As a federated organization with a structure that consists of legally separate, independently governed entities in over 100 countries, JA’s local, national, regional, and global levels are officially united only by a mission and operating agreements. But instead of going it alone, we focus on building strong partnerships across our network literally every day.
In addition to our close collaboration within our network, a key objective of our global strategy is a focus on increasing partnerships with entities outside of JA. For example, at JA we recognize the vital importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills for the future of jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer occupations alone are expected to increase by 12.5% from 2014-2024, leading to nearly half a million new jobs. Yet we also recognize that the delivery of STEM education is outside our core competencies, which center on helping young people learn the soft skills that allow them to adapt to whatever the future of work brings—skills such as communication, critical thinking, resilience, and adaptability that ManpowerGroup’s 2018 Talent Shortage Survey says are most needed.” So we partnered with experts in STEM. Johnson & Johnson, FHI360, and the Smithsonian Science Education Center work with our team as part of a collaborative effort to expose girls and young women around the world to the possibility of STEM-focused careers through the WiSTEM2D initiative. They benefit from JA’s unparalleled access to classrooms around the world; JA benefits from their STEM-education expertise.
Similarly, in India, JA is working with the Global Education and Leadership Foundation (tGELF) to help expand its reach and introduce JA youth to programs that develop them into ethical leaders and agents of change. Although ethics are woven throughout JA’s programs, tGELF’s curriculum is focused, specialized content that will provide youth exposure to this topic at a greater depth than JA can provide alone.
Partnerships have never been more important than they are today. When the UN outlined the SDGs in 2015, it was noted that the 2030 Agenda was “deliberately ambitious and transformational.” If, as a society, we are truly committed to reaching the SDGs, partnerships will be the only path to success. We need all the talent, all the resources and capital, and all the vision and big thinking globally to move in unison to achieve the SDGs. The world has never been faced with a more urgent challenge or a clearer moral imperative. I believe we can rise to meet it, but only if we do it together.
About the author: Brandie Conforti is a senior nonprofit leader with nearly two decades experience. Since 2008, she has focused her work in the international-development sector at organizations working to achieve the SDGs, including Partners In Health, Accion, and now as the Global Chief Development Officer at JA Worldwide.