Collaboration, partnership and the network mindset

Ideasclusteringbizmodel It is a time of significant change in the world of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship, where markets shift, cuts take hold, and new opportunities beckon from the horizon. And as available finance becomes constrained, so the focus rightly becomes cost effectiveness. Sadly, in the case of many local authorities, the emphasis has been on the ‘cost’ (and offloading those that are easiest) rather than the ‘effectiveness’ part of the proposition. Matthew Pike makes this point in a recent Guardian article, citing the short-term view of local authorities and the problems this is storing up for the future.

The constrained finance and focus on cost effectiveness is also creating some interesting formal partnerships and mergers, and more informal clustering and networking alongside them. Examples include the Locality merger of BASSAC and DTA, and the Guardian’s recent purchase of UnLtdWorld. The former is an example of a trusted partnership built over time (and through practical collaboration) that became formalised by merger; externally, at least, it seems like an object lesson in how to merge minimising ego and pain, and maximising impact and effectiveness. Something that will be tested by their recent win to deliver the government’s Community Organisers programme…

The Guardian / UnLtdWorld deal has happened more rapidly, and is more about a clustering or joining up of networks, recognising that there aren’t necessarily the room for several of these in the current market conditions; and that more can potentially be achieved together. It could well be a very interesting mix of Guardian content + UnLtdWorld’s people/networks, of theory and practice, and I’m sure will be an interesting place to watch and engage with in the coming months for social entrepreneurs.

The organisations that are a step-ahead in this context are those that have cultivated a network mindset. By which I mean those that have always looked to share, collaborate, partner and empower; genuine trusted relationships (the foundation of successful partnerships; for more, see here) can’t be built in a day. For every successful partnership I’ve heard about recently, there is one that has fallen through or not worked.

Finally, it is also those who relentlessly focus on the impact and the mission who can see beyond organisational boundaries to the greater good. This is more difficult when times are hard, but even more necessary. Now more than ever for social entrepreneurs, it is a time to get the head up, take stock, be real with yourself and ask how you could be more effective in your work; and who you might want (and need) to collaborate with to make that happen.

[Nick Temple can now also be found blogging at]

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