What COVID-19 taught us about collaboration


COVID-19 spurred a new spirit of collaboration and unusual alliances involving frontline actors like social entrepreneurs.

Multi-sectoral, ‘global’ partnerships can furnish exponential impact results.

Although a few people would disagree that the pandemic has pushed world systems to the brink. As development gains of the last 20 years deteriorated, supply chains disrupted, and health systems clasped, a new urgency has risen to do things differently – not just to overcome the pandemic but to address a tsunami of global challenges. It is evident that collaboration is important but also difficult to get right.

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Social entrepreneurs have directed the way in shaping inclusive responsiveness – often operating on the frontlines of the problem, but also in forging innovative, phenomenal collaborations. Conversations with Members of the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, a multi-stakeholder platform of more than organizations, presented themselves as some lessons learned from Covid-19.

Here they are;

1. Staying clear about changes one would want to see is Important

There must be not only a shared philosophy on strategy but also “a laser-sharp focus” and a set of jointly agreed goals. “Without a common denominator, it can be hard to keep a collaboration on track,” says Neelam Chhiber from Catalyst 2030 – NASE, Cofounder at the Industree Foundation in India. A typical example of this would be between Catalyst 2030 and NASE. The Alliance published its World Economic Forum’s India Top 50 Last Mile Responders – an effort which mobilized support for social entrepreneurs in the region during the second wave of the pandemic in India.

2. Flexibility and agility are important

Collaborative efforts cannot be seen in isolation from the networks they operate in and – much like these networks – will, by definition, always be inconsistent. So, while all parties want to be clear on where they are moving, there also needs to be built-in flexibility and agility that would include how they get there.

SAP adopted a highly flexible and agile funding process, deploying much-needed unrestricted funding within weeks when the crisis erupted. Furthermore, when an opportunity arose for Members of the Alliance to engage with the Forum’s community of Chief Supply Chain and Operating Officers, it was clear to make a compelling case to ‘Buy Social’ – i.e., to work with social entrepreneurs to transform value chains – they had to alter their narrative to make the case for doing so that it matched the priorities of this community.

3. Stay open and dare to be vulnerable

Trust cannot be given when competition or competing priorities exist between collaborators. A great start to building trust is to make a conscious effort to put one’s agendas aside, showing vulnerability and openness to learn from other perspectives. Typically, it takes a bit of time until collaborators can be honest with each other.”  Van der Ploeg said When collaborators understand ‘why are they interested in this, and why are they doing this,’ that way the trust can begin.

4. Always Distribute time and resources

Collaboration is important to tackle the vast and continual global and institutional problems that we are facing. To drive transformative and systems transformation we need a collaborative perspective and approach. This would require a substantial investment of time and resources. To collaborate effectively, identifying and empowering partnerships is necessary to build trust and share knowledge and networks to achieve impact and results.

In conclusion, with COVID-19 being confused one step at a time, we are still battling its disruptive influence and are not sure how this chapter will end. At the same time, we know that the challenges the world is facing go beyond the pandemic. Whether working to attain racial justice, get the energy to last-mile communities, or slow down the melting Arctic, we need to maintain collaboration to build a just, inclusive, and sustainable world.

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