What Skills Do I Need to Partner with the Private Sector?
Good facilitation is key to strong partnerships, as it allows you to have a structured conversation with your partners that ensures their collaboration in making decisions, addressing problems, or planning ahead. As the investor, it is your responsibility to solicit opinions and ideas from partners in an open, constructive way that encourages them to speak freely with you and gives them ownership over the decisions you make together. When facilitating TEC meetings, partner negotiations, or monthly check-in calls, partners will look to you to manage the conversation, so it is critical that you act as a more neutral outside voice, making decisions about the process the group goes through, but allowing the group to focus on and control the content of the discussion. Some concrete tips for this approach are to always start with the simplest questions before building up to more complex ones. Avoid yes or no questions that allow partners to give an easy answer without scratching under the surface of their ideas. Instead, ask how or what questions to facilitate a more productive conversation. At the same time, avoid asking why questions, which might cause participants to get bogged down in too many details that don’t contribute to decision-making. Finally, try to avoid summarizing participants’ responses, which can put your words in someone else’s mouth; instead, ask them clarifying questions to help develop their ideas
As the investor, you hold more power in the partnership relationship, so it is your responsibility to take a proactive approach to partnership management that builds trust, facilitates open dialogue, and fosters collaboration. To achieve this kind of relationship, it is crucial that you go beyond simply ensuring compliance with a subaward agreement, and that you also work constructively with partners to maximize outcomes, address challenges, and ensure partner sustainability. This approach also requires you to view partners as equal parties working toward common development goals rather than as contractors being paid for services rendered. You can facilitate this approach through regular phone check-ins (even –especially – when there are no challenges to discuss), site visits and in-person meetings, and sharing of relevant resources like conferences or reports that may be of interest to the subawardee. Also, it may sound trivial, but chatting with partners about weather, current events, or even favorite TV shows can put them at ease and help build trust. By investing in an open, collaborative relationship, the partner will be more likely to involve you in overcoming challenges, and therefore increase the likelihood of the partner’s success and improve the activity’s outcomes and impact. By reframing your relationship with partners, you can transform your role from compliance monitor to hands-on manager, capacity builder, and creative problem solver.
As an investor, you bring a lot of experience and expertise to your partnerships that could help partners think through specific problems or think strategically about their long-term growth in a sector or market. Note that you are not expected to know more than the partner about the daily ins and outs of how they should run their company or product line. The partner should be the expert in their own business! Rather, you may have regional expertise, local contacts, and smallholder insights that will help them enter the smallholder market with their products or services. In fact, you will start adding value in terms of business acceleration during the negotiation phase of the partnership when you start assessing the strength of the operational, administrative, and financial systems the partner already has in place, and making recommendations for improvements they will need in order to effectively manage your investment funds and achieve your negotiated funding goals. In addition, your investment will require the partner to do some long-term planning such as developing a five-year business growth plan or a strategy for staff development. Few of us devote the time needed to long-term planning unless it’s required, so you as an investor provide significant value in this area. Finally, by using the lessons you’ve learned across multiple investments and partnerships, you should be able to spot certain problems on the horizon before the partner does — especially gaps in management capacity, the lack of adequate staff training, the need for more developed distribution networks, and overly generalized marketing messaging.