Rethinking Partnership

by Vivien Suerte-Cortez

Partnership-building is one of the interesting challenges under ANSA-EAP’s Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA) project. Most standard legal references define partnerships as people or groups who share equal responsibility for profits, losses, debts, and liabilities in a business. Several governance books will introduce you to keywords like cooperation, mutual interests, shared goals and responsibilities. Research further and you’ll eventually stumble upon a definition that says -- “a collaborative relationship between entities to work toward shared objectives through a mutually agreed division of labor” (World Bank, 1998).

In a nutshell, one can say that partnerships are a means to an end. From here we can assume that certain pre-conditions must be met -- objectives identified and shared, motivations made clear, power and resources assessed and leveraged, and mechanisms for effective communication established. The concepts are easy to understand but putting this into practice raises the challenge several notches. In the realm of business, the nature of partnerships can be seen as clear as day because profits, losses, debts and liabilities are (relatively) easy to quantify. But how does one operationalize partnerships in governance when power, resources, benefits, and risks are unequally distributed among interested parties? At the risk of sounding poetic, we sometimes feel that just when we think that the answer is within grasp, it suddenly disappears like a mirage.

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