02/04/2014 06:07 BST | Updated 01/06/2014 06:59 BST

Donor Collaboration 101

I have writen this post in collaboration with Muna Wehbe, CEO of Stars Foundation

It is well documented that the fight against poverty can only be won if communities are in the driver's seat. Community participation is not only essential for individual projects to be sustainable, but it also necessary in order to reclaim the collective dignity that comes from taking control of the future of their own communities.

Those days where communities were seen as an empty tank that needed to be filled with donors' expertise is gone. People working in development are now appreciating that communities have skills and knowledge to take their agenda forward. Community development is now about partnership and collaborations.

Donors still have a huge role to play in community development. In a recent meeting with DFID where they invited foundations to share experiences, I met Stars Foundation and thought their new programme to champion the voices of small, grassroots organisations in collaboration with The Global Fund for Children was worth attention.

Muna Wehbe, CEO: Stars Foundation writes:

I agree with Kevin; there is a global consensus that community ownership is crucial for successful development progress. And funders (like us at Stars Foundation) observe this principle by putting local organisations at the centre of our grant making.

But that's not all. If we ever hope to overcome the enormous challenges posed by poverty and inequality, all stakeholders need to break out of their silos and start doing more together.

I' m talking about collaboration. Specifically, funder collaboration

Now, there is a tendency when talking about collaboration in development to elevate the language past the point of usefulness; to avoid discussion of the practical realities involved in favour of hyperbolic rhetoric.

This meant that, when Stars decided to partner with The Global Fund for Children (GFC) to pilot a new programme in support of grassroots organisations, the literature out there was very encouraging but not particularly instructive.

So, how do two organisations come together practically to combine their resources and relative strengths to achieve more than they would on their own?

Some key considerations before you decide to partner:

What do you have in common?

When you compare Stars and GFC, a partnership seems obvious: both organisations focus on children, recognise the importance of local initiatives and have global reach.

For the new programme, GFC wanted to support their strongest grantees to accelerate their strategic growth, and Stars wanted to support smaller organisations not eligible for the Impact Awards but able to demonstrate real potential.

What can each of you bring to the table?

Stars and GFC focussed on their strengths to share the workload:

  • GFC identified potential awardees from its current pool of grantees
  • Stars used its Impact Awards selection process to evaluate the recommended grantees
  • GFC will manage the on-going relationship and capacity building support
  • Stars will provide marketing and PR support for the Global Rising Stars
  • The US15,000 in unrestricted funding and US10,000 in consultancy support is split 50/50

Collaboration in action

With the announcement of the five inaugural Global Rising Stars - 2014 winners including outstanding grassroots organisations in Panama, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan - this marks the official launch of Stars Foundation's partnership with The Global Fund for Children. So, what have we learned from the partnership so far?

Well, for starters, it isn't as easy as it might appear. Even for two organisations so closely aligned in mission, there were hurdles to clear. Things that we will keep in mind for next time:

  1. Focus on the end goal and persevere: knowing that we were working towards the same objective helped to keep us both 'bought in' throughout the negotiation process.
  2. Be transparent and flexible: the sooner you put your cards on the table, the quicker you can reach an agreement that works for both parties. Flexibility is also essential. By signing a loose memorandum of understanding outlining the broad parameters of the relationship, we let the rest evolve organically. This allowed us to compromise when the need arose.
  3. Play to strenths: splitting the duties based on our comparative advantages made the arrangement practical and more cost-effective.
  4. include the team: bringing both teams together to work out the detail resulted in alignment and commitment to the pilot.
  5. Learn and adapt: while we have yet to see the ultimate success of the pilot, our initial review has highlighted areas that we can improve on for next year. It is a continuous learning cycle, but we remain committed; not only to supporting local organisations, but also to engaging in more funder collaboration.

Both Muna and I agree that donor collaboration will not only help in resource management, but will also avoid programme duplications. However, donor partnership would be much effective if the goal is guided by where community wants to go.