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Building resilient cross-sector collaborations for social good

Updated: Apr 22

Cross-sector collaborations used to be all about NGO-corporate partnerships in bilateral relationships. This has quickly evolved, not only in academic perspective but also in practice: now there are several multiple partners and stakeholders involved in collaborationsfor the good of all, often including social entrepreneurs. And this trend has happened fast! Read this blog if you are interested in finding out more about how to build resilient cross-sector collaboration.


Ashoka Nordic Community Calls: Learning together in times of social isolation


Social isolation comes with many downsides, but it can also allow more time and space to learn together. Last week Ashoka Nordic invited representatives from its community, including social entrepreneurs, partners, ecosystem players and investors, to share experiences around “How to build and strengthen cross-sector partnership so that they weather crises and challenges”. 

From the start we knew we wanted the community to not only participate online but to co-create the content with us. For this round, we reached out to Jennie Perzon from our partner Accenture in Sweden. She has vast experience from working with Accenture’s NGO partners for many years and now pursuing a PhD at Stockholm School of Economics. In other words, a perfect co-host!

For an hour we talked about what drives cross-sector collaborations and what is required to make these collaborations functioning well, both in good and bad times. Here are some highlights from our conversation:


Tension of worldviews, demographic changes and power shifts are macrotrends driving the need for more cross-sector collaborations


A few macrotrends are currently pushing us to collaborate more across sectors. Tensions in worldviews are increasing and we see a growing and clear divide in worldviews between different groups of people. Moreover, there is an entirely new demographic shift around the world that puts pressure on people and resources. Power has also shifted to a more individual level, much than before which opens for new players to participate in sustainable development. For example, civil society & NGOs now have more power in relation to the private sector than in earlier years.

We have reached a new stage for collaboration. We are standing at a crossroads when it comes to our society, our corporate direction and what technology can do for sustainable development that we need to take into consideration. There are some imminent risks but also enormous potential if we work together. Most importantly, we need to figure it all out together as one team, this is not a solution that can be given alone. Collaboration across sectors is needed for long term sustainable development to happen, even though it may take a lot of resources such as timeto build, especially in the beginning.

Need for innovation, non-likeminded perspectives and limited resources are driving organizations to enter collaborations!


Most organizations today need to disrupt business as usual by looking at innovation and new ideas to achieve impact and results, and often that can’t be done alone. We need partners to innovate in order be relevant as organizations and reach impact today and tomorrow. We need to talk about social issues with very unlikely partners from ourselves and present these challenges while expanding our networks and contacts. 

Not to get stuck in old path is another reason for collaboration. Starting small and thinking about unlikely partners that otherwise we may not be talking to is a good way to begin. We often want the same things; we just speak in different languages. Meeting people with very different agendas, and not coming with final idea nor plan, but rather present the challenge at the center, can help us to will figure out the plan altogether and create ownership and motivation. 

It is important to leave room in the collaboration to learn together and build relationships, which is often harder to fund. The brave funders and organizations are the ones daring to invest in those uncertainties. They will succeed more in innovation and some of those risks can be mitigated by partnerships and collaborating with people that have different worldviews than any of us. The protectionist view is not a long-term strategy that would be successful. We need to include a system change approach when designing these partnerships.

Leadership, generosity and honesty are required for a collaboration to survive good and bad times  Based on several examples, these are three common elements that can make collaborations across sectors a success: 

The basis for all was interdependence. Partners are engaged because they get something out of it, but everyone agrees that it is valuable. We need to try, to start small and to build upon it and create a win-win situation.

Another key element is authenticity: being honest and open from the start on what you need out of the collaboration. Make sure to make that very clear towards your partners in the discussion from day 1. 

It is also important to team up with unlikely allies. For instance, having conversations with people that you didn’t expect before. Driving bigger collaborations, with people with experiences on that. Building your network and brainstorming ideas. 

What will make the partnerships survive difficult times like these?

The leadership that is required to run this type of partnership is key. It often requires a backbone organziation and leader that can balance space for co-creation and direction ahead. The leader also needs to keep in mind an ethical perspective in the choices that we make in who we partner with. You can be open-minded about diversity, but you also need to be authentic in your mission and on the solution. 

The value stays in how you reinforce and build your vision, it's about building something bigger and disrupting how we think. This requires having a generous mindset: you need to be very comfortable with others succeeding. The success of others is a core. 

To have that mindset of the ecosystem and the collaboration to work, we need to be generous with our values and what we want to take out of it. Being generous and having an honest discussion, it’s not an easy task. It is about how you articulate that value: to talk different languages and be very authentic and honest in those conversations. Humility is also key in the conversations. Then the value of collaboration can multiply.


Don’t think alike: have the patience and tenacity to keep going and to keep challenging. That is when the greatest solutions come out; when you don’t want to work together, this is when you build stronger relationships and ties. Over time as we get to know each other through collaborations, we manage on take on more and more complex challenges togetehr!

What’s next? 


Ashoka offers a couple of courses that can be relevant to work on the necessary leadership skills for organizations that participate in multi-stakeholder collaborations. 

Ashoka Europe Live #2

We want to invite you to Ashoka’s pan-European co-creation session Ashoka Europe Live”, happening this Wednesday (22nd of April) from 10:00-11:30am CET

All information about it can be found here.

You can register directly here.

New leadership workshops

Co-learning spaces around leadership for change leaders to reflect, question, innovate, and deepen their ways of leading, organizing, and being that are required for shifting systems and mindsets. The first workshop is happening already next week (27th – 29th April) and the second in June (24th – 26th June 2020, only for Ashoka Fellows and their team members).

Find out more here and register here.

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Ashoka Nordic

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Rosenlundsgatan 31

118 63, Stockholm,  Sweden

nordic@ashoka.org

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