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Café Conversations: A compendium of essays on the practice and theory of brokering multi-sector partnerships for sustainable development

Book/book chapter

This compendium presents twelve very personalised essays on experiences in multisector partnerships for sustainable development. The perspective taken is that of a partnership broker or facilitator. The essays describe accounts of two different types of partnership broker:

  • Internal broker – an individual from an organisation who takes on the role of preparing their organisation for working in multi-sectoral partnerships, negotiating their organisation’s involvement in a partnership, or playing a role in maintaining a partnership arrangement or tracking performance; and
  • External broker – an independent third-party contracted to plan or facilitate consultation or negotiations to develop a partnering arrangement, or to research, maintain, monitor, review or evaluate partnerships over time.

From the perspective of an internal broker for example, Dorine Bosman, a Commercial Manager with Shell Development Australia, writes of a ‘shift’ from philanthropic partnerships to partnerships driven by more commercial objectives. As such, she identifies the need for a ‘re-schooling’ of line managers in brokering skills, in particular how to broker partnerships early in the development of oil and gas projects as a form of environmental and social risk mitigation. Julie Mundy, a Director of the reproductive health charity Marie Stopes, also takes looks at risk assessment, deconstructing the discipline and repacking it as a tool for facilitating more robust multi-sector alliances.

As an external broker of a politically sensitive public-private water supply partnership sponsored by the UK Department for International Development, Ann Condy highlights the importance of adapting brokering tools to ‘fit’ the circumstances. One particular ethical issue facing external brokers is how such individuals are to keep a distance from the influence of their funders. This problem is tackled in the essay by Ian Dixon, who runs a firm dedicated to providing external brokering services.

The authors’ brief for these essays was either to advance the theory of partnership brokering, or demonstrate innovation in the practice and tools of this new profession. For example, at the theoretical level, Andy Donnelly looks at the mutualistic behaviour of partnerships in terms of Charles Darwin’s principles of natural selection, and concludes new ways for brokers to assess partnership performance. In a complementary essay, drawing on experiences working with the Nike Corporation, Maria Bobenrieth offers a set of guiding principles for brokers to overcome problems of a ‘vernacular’ nature, not least in the meaning of the work ‘partnership’ itself. More generally, Bernie Ward, formerly of the New Economic Foundation, makes the case for brokers to have in mind, and adapt ‘their own’, theoretical frameworks and illustrates this with adaptations of Transaction Analysis theory.

At the practical level, Kate Bevin, now with the consultancy firm Environmental Resources Management, presents a framework for developing a strong business case for the private sector to participate in partnership projects; and looking across twenty years of brokering practice, Rafał Serafin, Director of the Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation, illustrates five key lessons on partnership brokering, from the importance of social capital to the short term nature of many successful partnerships.

All the authors in this compendium are accredited members of the ODI/IBLF Partnership Brokers Accreditation Scheme (PBAS). For the most part, these essays reflect experiences accumulated during the three months of mentored professional practice that is integral to the PBAS Scheme. Each essay is therefore highly personal. Many are written in the first person. For example, “Café Conversations”, by Trish Hall (from which the title for this compendium is kindly adopted), takes the reader through a four month journey of partnership brokering involving ‘large groups’. And finally, in an entertaining account, Akachukwu Nwankpo describes the challenging job of brokering partnerships for sustainable development in the Niger Delta of Nigeria.

Michael Warner, Ros Tennyson