As Chairman of The Mary Foundation in Denmark, it’s a great pleasure to be here this morning and to participate in the Partnership 2012 conference. The Partnership 2012 conference is being held at an extremely relevant time, because right now the way we look at partnerships – whether it is commercially, from a humanitarian perspective, socially or a combination – is changing. My own foundation, which was established in 2007, is about creating innovative and new partnerships, where each partner contributes with their specific competences to achieve our common goal.
Briefly, the mission of The Mary Foundation is to prevent and alleviate social isolation. We strongly believe that everyone has the right to belong. The Mary Foundation is not an NGO or a company – nor a traditional foundation in the sense of supporting projects through donations. So what do we do? We develop and manage social projects using non-traditional partnerships as our platform. Our organization is small and our fight against social isolation is only made possible through strategic partnerships.
Partnerships are successful when all involved benefit. When different competences, ideas and cultures are combined, sometimes 1 + 1 makes more than 2. Vulnerabilities might be overcome. Expansion might accelerate. The chance of survival might increase.
Partnerships take many forms. Some of them, between what seems at first glance rather unequal parts. Take for instance the ox and the oxpecker. The oxpecker is a small bird, which feeds exclusively from the back of bigger mammals like an ox or a rhino. The bird eats ticks and other parasites and until recently, this partnership was viewed as an example of mutualism – meaning two different species interacting in a way that is mutually beneficial. I will come back to why this apparently happy couple is not quite so happy.
Successful partnerships between NGOs and companies share some of the same mechanisms as the interaction between the ox and the oxpecker. I will leave it up to you to decide, who the ox is and who the oxpecker is. The point is that both parties gain something they can’t achieve on their own. In this example, the ox is freed of parasites and the oxpecker is fed and kept safe.
This mutualism is the driver of partnerships of tomorrow. Partnerships between NGOs and companies have traditionally been philanthropic of nature. The exchange between the parties has been relatively simple and generally based on donations and sponsorships. But now, we are witnessing a trend towards building long-term partnerships; where both parties contribute with knowledge, experience and tolerance of risk.
On a Global Scale development policy is changing in a similar way. Earlier this year the 50 year anniversary of Danida, Denmark’s development cooperation, was celebrated. The Danish Minister of Development summarized in his speech how donations and passive recipients have been replaced by local actors taking charge of their own development through mutual partnerships. In the sixties our idea of good development was to send Danish engineers to build a bridge. Today we focus on building institutions, democratic governance and policy dialogue.
Our approach to partnerships is evolving. And these new types of partnerships are more complex and demanding – but when successful they are more profitable and sustainable as well. They demand more but also have the potential to give much more.
And today we are seeing that more and more NGOs and businesses are becoming aware of the potential strategic partnerships create. All of you attending here today confirm that interest. Partnerships across sectors are increasingly considered a legitimate endeavor and are slowly finding their way into corporate practice. Companies are beginning to see NGO collaboration as a way to identify new business opportunities and create legitimacy around their CSR efforts. NGOs on the other hand have been driven towards partnerships with the private sector in order to meet demands for improved efficiency and accountability, to create new funding opportunities, and to implement social and environmental improvements.
Doing good without wanting anything in return is honorable – but we shouldn’t undervalue that a commercial interest can also be a strong driver. The Danish partnership access2innovation, who is also speaking at this conference, has shown how sustainable and commercially viable solutions can be based on actual needs and demands in developing countries. Sky-Watch – a technically sophisticated unmanned helicopter that can be used for mine clearing – is an excellent example of the value of partnerships between NGOs, researchers and the private sector. Innovative solutions are developed, workplaces are created and the urgent need for safety in developing countries can be met.
A crucial factor for success is the identification of the right partner that possesses the right skills and motivation. Personal contact is particularly important as it provides the foundation for mutual trust-building. Commitment and a similar mindset are also essential. It is within this context that the Mary Foundation assumes an active role as a catalyst in social partnerships.
Let’s go back to the example with the ox and the oxpecker, under the assumption that it is still a happy marriage. If The Mary Foundation was to have a part in that picture – we would be the animal on the savanna, who introduced the ox and the oxpecker, who motivated openness towards differences and made the mutual interest evident to both parts. And we would – if the partnership was documented to have a positive effect – work hard to make every ox and oxpecker on the savanna aware of the mutual benefits of such a partnership.
So how do we work? We facilitate, we scale and we document. We are not experts on social isolation – we depend on others for knowledge and experience. We start by doing a thorough evaluation of an area. We look at what research is available and what current projects are running. We look at where the need is most urgent and unfulfilled. And we establish an expert group among, for example; prominent researchers, leading NGO’s, ministerial officials and the private sector. And we find the right partners to whom the project is both relevant and beneficial – thereby securing a long-term engagement and sustainability. Simply put, we bring people together.
Let me give you an example of one of our projects. Domestic violence is one of our three focus areas. Within that area we run a project called “Advice for Life”, a mentor-based program that offers financial, legal and social counseling to women who have been exposed to physical, psychological or financial violence. We aim to help women regain the power and strength to get back on their feet and ensure their future independence – and a life free from violence.
In violent relationships money is often used as a means of power and control and if you are financially chained to your partner, this makes leaving him even harder. However, victims of domestic violence have rarely been offered any financial advice. On this basis we established “Advice for Life”. The project has been a success, and we are expanding.
One of the main reasons for the success of the project is the unique setup based on the partnership between the Mary Foundation, Nykredit (a large-scale Danish financial institution), Mother’s Help (an NGO), the national organization for women’s shelters, and private law-firms across the country. Financial mentors and legal advisers are all volunteers.
The project has created a sense of community because everyone gains from it – whether it unites a company through social responsibility, creates new business solutions or helps victims of domestic violence to take that first courageous step towards a life without violence. Everyone contributes with their relevant skill-base. And an important part of our role here was bringing the right partners together.
In the afternoon program the director of the Mary Foundation Helle Østergaard and our project manager will present Advice for Life in greater detail.
Lets go back to the seemingly happy couple, the ox and the oxpecker. The oxpecker was eating away and the ox enjoyed being freed of those annoying little parasites. Unfortunately, this couple wasn’t the perfect match they seemed to be. The oxpecker had a secret. And it wasn’t that it was being unfaithful by eating off the back of other oxen. No, it turned out the oxpecker was actually a parasite itself – opening new wounds as well as enhancing existing ones. Furthermore, the oxpecker didn’t even reduce the number of parasites. Knowing the secret of the oxpecker, it is apparent that there is no mutualism in this partnership and that trust and transparency are lacking.
Had they come to the table and discussed their true intentions before entering the partnership, they would have realized this. With full knowledge of their situation they could have agreed to go into the partnership anyway or find a compromise where, for example the little oxpecker agreed to also eat a percentage of the parasites on the ox’s back.
In any case, this example illustrates – in a very clear way – why trust and honesty are essential in creating successful, sustainable strategic partnerships.
In order to meet the social, economic and environmental challenges of today it is clear that we need to look at partnerships differently. And that is what we are doing here today. I hope that the Partnership 2012 conference will inspire successful, profitable and sustainable partnerships for you all. Thank you.