Thao Lam (2nd, R), executive director at LIN Center for Community Development, poses for a picture with guests at a networking event in 2020 - PHOTO: LIN CENTER
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” So goes a favourite African proverb for many of us involved in community development and social impact works. It reflects our philosophy of community philanthropy - in promoting sustainable development through promoting collaboration across sectors. Dealing with social, economic and environmental issues that are often complex and multi-dimensional should not depend solely on any singular force. In fact, it requires involvement and collaborations from various sectors including business, nonprofit and academic experts working together towards a common goal.
Cross-sector partnerships can benefit everybody
On the surface, nonprofits receive funding or supplies for social innovation, as well as valuable networking opportunities. If they collaborate with a for-profit company, they will have the opportunity to develop a nonprofit marketing strategy and build their reputation. Involving business-minded groups can also assist nonprofits in becoming more organized and actionable in their mission.
On the other hand, the greatest benefit for corporations is that nonprofit partnerships significantly increase employee engagement and morale. Employees are happier and more motivated when they believe they are working toward a meaningful goal. Meanwhile, executives are frequently pressed to participate in social ventures, and collaborative philanthropy can make this obligation both profitable and fulfilling.
The days of top-down approaches are over. These methods are not assisting the communities that require them the most, and there are far too many examples of things not changing as quickly as people require, or worsening. We should engage more effectively with communities and individuals who are directly affected by social challenges. We should learn with these communities and people in a respectful manner, determine which of the numerous approaches to enabling social change will work best, and build the capacity for local empowerment to sustain the measured progress we make along the way.
The universal agreement is that trust plays a crucial role in any successful and impactful relationship. More than that, we could also see the need for trust-based collaborations have become even more essential, especially in the moments of uncertainties and changes, or when our society is in crisis mode posed by pandemic outbreaks or natural disasters.
For instance, the Covid-19 pandemic is more than just a health crisis; it is affecting communities and economies at their core. While the impact varies by country, the pandemic will almost certainly increase poverty and inequalities on a global scale.
The onset of a global pandemic has forced many in philanthropy to recognize the importance of trusting nonprofit organizations and community leaders. In fact, 800 foundations globally have signed a pledge to use more trust-based practices to move money more quickly and with fewer constraints. Local nonprofits and communities need more freedom to act accordingly upon specific circumstances without being confined within boundaries of terms and conditions in budgeted action plans, in order for them to adapt to the New Normality while still being able to serve the marginalized groups in need.
Or when the floods hit the Central provinces and caused long term damage to lives and livelihoods, we witnessed thousands of local socioeconomic missions initiated by local communities in response to the crisis, with heart-warming stories of neighbors helping neighbors and a resurgence of compassion and solidarity abounding. Those small-scale local groups mobilized quickly to provide immediate assistance and ensure that basic needs for food, medicine, and information were met.
Informal local networks sprung up quickly, using social media to coordinate activities and stay in touch with the most vulnerable. Local groups and networks were frequently the first line of response, prior to the development of more formal schemes. Their local knowledge proved invaluable. Their local knowledge was crucial in identifying service gaps and combating social isolation. New connections have been formed within communities, which may well outlast the current crisis, allowing for the emergence of new forms of self-organized collective actions.
Those prompt rescue efforts could not be done and accomplished solely by the local nonprofits without receiving the financial and moral support and empowerment of the business sector and the public. Needless to say, we could agree that trust based partnerships have helped to build resiliency for those local communities through difficulties and continued to strive for better impacts.
Trust based partnerships for social impacts
When talking about trust-based collaboration and partnership we do not and will never mean “blind trust”; it is a rigorous practice rooted in relationship-building, learning, and mutual accountability.
At the interpersonal level, it is impossible to deny the inherent power imbalance that exists between donors/ sponsors or we often call “funders” and “grantees”. Funders get to decide how resources are allocated and disseminated, and nonprofits need those resources to do their work.
Despite its best intentions, traditional philanthropy has inhibited its grantee relationships by perpetuating structures and practices that treat grantees as supplicants rather than partners. In fact, a recent study from the Open Road Alliance found that funder-created obstacles account for nearly half of the roadblocks that prevent nonprofits from achieving their intended impact.
Many experts have suggested some principles for trust-based partnerships, which include navigating with the right mindset; embracing transparency and open communication; collaborating with humility and curiosity; sharing power with grantee partners and communities; and working for systemic equity.
LIN’s Annual Cross-sector Conference promoting the trust-based partnerships
Understanding the importance of the trust-based partnerships in community philanthropy and the challenging factors posed upon the matter, LIN has set out to hold annually a Cross-sector Conference on the topic of partnerships for social impact in Vietnam, which is scheduled for August 26.
This conference aims to provide an insight into the philanthropic and community development efforts in Vietnam through the lens of cross-sector collaborations. First and foremost, it provides both high level knowledge sharing and practical skill training via workshops and keynote speeches from community and business leaders on how to build trust based cross-sector partnerships.
The conference also features inspiring trust-based partnership stories in the formats of panel discussions with representatives from all ends of partnerships, who will then share their own challenges, questions, the aha moments along their power sharing journeys, and what it takes to build a collaborative culture of trust for your organizations, to how corporates should approach in order to search for social impact partners as well as how to conduct talks of budgeting to reporting without damaging the relationships.
(*) Thao Lam is the Executive Director at LIN Center for Community Development, a local nonprofit organization with the mission to strengthen the community philanthropy ecosystem by advocating, connecting and providing resources for local nonprofit organizations, donors and volunteers to contribute towards sustainable development in Vietnam.
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