A Recipe for Good Collaboration

Collaboration is like making a cake. You can have the best ingredients and the best intentions, but without taking the recipe seriously, it can all go horribly wrong.

For the With and For Girls Collective, collaboration has been a learning process. As a group of eight funders, we committed a combined $1 million to develop an awards initiative identifying locally-led grassroots organizations worldwide working with and for girls. Twenty winning organizations will receive up to $50,000 each in flexible funding and capacity building support.

Now at the end of its first year, the Collective has an opportunity to take stock, look back, and reflect. We now have recognized our own recipe for collaboration to take forward to next year’s award process.

The secret ingredients

There’s always a secret ingredient (usually fatty but oh so good) that makes a recipe stand out from all of the others. From our experience, there are a few "fundamentals" to collaborating successfully.

To start with, everyone must have a clear idea of why they are involved. Acknowledging a set of core beliefs is vital. For us, three driving ideas emerged:

  1. Championing locally-led development is essential.  We believe that locally-led organizations are best placed to respond to issues within their communities, not external actors.
  2. Flexible funding allows organizations to invest in core costs and respond to changing circumstances on the ground more effectively than targeted support.
  3. Girls are vital agents of change and must be empowered. Their voices must be present in the awards process, and more broadly, this believe must be upheld above all else by the collaborative and used to drive our entire approach.

The next ingredient: all partners need to get something out of the collaboration. Throughout our process, partners have benefited in different ways from the Collective. We at the Stars Foundation were able to successfully trial youth participation in an award process. This was suggested by partner Plan UK based on their expertise in youth-led development and, as a result, we are looking at how this approach might be adapted for our other awards programs. For other partners, the Collective has presented the opportunity to test flexible funding as a new way of giving, or in the case of Novo Foundation, funding in a new country. While appetites may vary and key takeaways might differ, everyone at the table should be able to get something from the same recipe.

Equally, each member of the Collective needs to provide their own element or flavour.  For example, Stars has a track record in delivering awards processes; Mama Cash has worked directly with grassroots organizations; and EMpower regularly supports capacity building and so on. Working groups were set up to push forward key objectives and benefit from the varied expertise held by different partners. Our Brand Working Group led the development of the With and For Girls brand, involving girls at key stages in its development. Likewise, we set up Working Groups for Advocacy, Capacity Building, and Reporting, all of which benefited significantly from focused sharing by partners derived from their experiences.

Meeting and valuing partners at the level of commitment they want is beneficial. As a group, we have varied levels of involvement in the Collective – some partners can and want to give more time than others. That is fine as long as this is well communicated, understood, and appreciated. At critical milestones, however, it is imperative that all partners get stuck in. For us, this has included designing the assessment process, scoring applications, and of course agreeing on the funding model. Communicating this expectation from the outset is imperative.

Sticking points:

Along the way, we’ve come across a range of challenges. Some of the every day challenges have included differences in UK vs US vs EU laws in grant-giving, the logistics of connection across time zones, and the realization that the more partners you have, the more layers of review there are!

Some of our bigger challenges have included different opinions on what meaningful participation means, different ways of assessing organizations, and diverse approaches to addressing development challenges. These can’t be avoided, but by being open about your non-negotiables, you can make sure the tin is well greased before baking begins.

Our recipe

Our collaboration goes beyond just engaging funders. We’ve worked hard to make this a truly collaborative initiative. Partners have worked together, pooling resources and expertise to design and deliver an awards process within the space of year. We still have a lot to learn and are looking forward to seeing what we can cook up next year! Here are our top tips for good collaboration:

  • If you can't take the heat... take a moment and think back to why you are collaborating. Remember your shared vision and keep the end goal in sight – it’s worth it.
  • To avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen, have a lead person managing the process, and be prepared for the amount of time and effort this person will need to invest. At Stars, Collective convener, we hired a full time member of staff to lead us through the process.
  • Manage group expectations, and manage your own expectations. Every partner will have their own priorities and reasons for taking part; put it all on the table early.
  • Set a minimum requirement for joining. For us, this was a funding amount; for others, it might be participation on-the-ground.
  • Have fun! The process needs to be enjoyable or you won't want to do it again.

Editors note: Stars Foundation is the convening partner of the With and For Girls Collective, made up of: EMpower, Mama Cash, NoVo Foundation, Plan UK, The Global Fund for Children, Nike Foundation, The Malala Fund, and Stars Foundation. This is the second of a three part series exploring aspects of the With and for Girls Collective. (Read the first post here.) Subscribe to GrantCraft updates to make sure you catch the final post when it goes live. For more on the Collective, please visit http://www.starsfoundation.org.uk/awards/girls-awards

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