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On Collaboration

Collaboration stems from humility. It comes from knowing that I alone cannot achieve it (whatever that ‘it’ is).

Collaborations are hard but necessary if we are to achieve our goals. They can cover a range of possibilities –

  • Mergers

  • Partnerships

  • Joint ventures

I have gone into collaborations with the idea that two minds (entities) are better than one and that ‘more hands make light work’. Let me explain. I know that my organization or I bring a specific set of skills, so a partner with complementary skills or resource make for a good partnership. It can be permanent or temporary. Permanent as in the case of a merger – in the case of my experience at Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) with the Eleanor Foundation. Time-limited as with the Alphawood Foundation. In both cases, this has led to long lasting effects for Chicago Foundation for Women. It brought resources, talent, and new or expanded programs. These partnerships led to being able to work on issues at a scale larger than individual entities could, with more efficient processes and use of resources.


Joint ventures like CULTIVATE involving more than one partner begin to get more complicated. At the same time, there is an opportunity to limit the involvement and resources which could be detrimental to the venture. Sharing responsibility equitably can be a challenge. In this case, the key is to have the responsibilities, resources and activities clearly defined, distributed and documented.


Some lessons I learned from partnerships –

  • Conduct due diligence. Do this even if you think you know your partner. This means legal, financial and programmatic reviews.

  • Ensure that the cultures are aligned. These partnerships are like a marriage, you have to be aligned on fundamental values. This does not mean that you and your partner have to see eye to eye on every issue, but at least on the important ones.

  • Build trust. While building trust takes time, it is important that you enter the partnership with trust. It is key to work together, be open about all aspects of the partnership.

  • Communication is key. Keeping each other informed not only on the big issues, but on the small ones is import and one way of building trust.

  • Have an exit strategy. This is an important one, even if you think the partnership is going to last forever (perhaps as in the case of a merger). An exit strategy helps to make decisions that are not swayed by emotions, urgency (real or imagined) and offers some peace of mind.

If it sounds like the steps going into a marriage and making it work, it is! It’s totally worth it for the impact you can achieve.

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