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This article is taken from the January 2000 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

Development programmes and the challenges of partnership

Much has been said and written about partnerships in development initiatives , between government, civil society and business. There is space to enhance such initiatives. However, experience shows that many partnerships are not thought through carefully. Partners discover too late that they do not all share a common vision regarding roles and deliverables.

Entering into partnerships

In most tendering processes, companies are encouraged to enter into partnerships. The argument is that the client can access a broader range of expertise and services.

However, people from different sectors have different perspectives. Private sector companies judge performance by time and money spent in delivery. People from the development sector use these measures but alongside, local participation, sustainability and so on. These are not merely questions of style or surface: they are fundamental.

Some companies that enter into partnership are either an emerging empowerment or new company, or well-established mostly white-owned firms. In the development arena one encounters a scenario where engineering firms want to collaborate with an emerging black company to maximise PDI scores. (PDI scores are the points given to 'previously disadvantaged individual' status by government departments and tender boards.)

Unfortunately, however, in many cases companies such as these have difficulty in accepting a slower, uneven and more developmental approach. These issues may be discussed while tender documents are being prepared, and all sides may claim to be fully committed to empowerment. Once implementation begins, however, many partnerships begin to struggle.

Faced with what amount to ideological differences - not merely questions of style, as often suggested - partners suddenly find themselves in a legalistic relationship, governed by Terms of Reference which become guiding principles. Budgetary concerns, if not absolutely clear beforehand, can become the central issue.

One side of the partnership expects the key concern to be delivery within deadlines and budget, regardless of the extent to which communities are on board. They voice concerns about foot-dragging and an over-concentration on consultation. The other side points out that consultation is critical to sustainability, and that delivering within time and budget is irrelevant if the assets are left to disintegrate because the community does not feel part of the project. Both are right, and the challenge is to find a balance of both views within a single partnership.

 

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