How do organizational partnerships support building ground for coexistence?

Very often, more so in the development sector, we are asked why do organizations partner (or don’t)? 

Consider this world as an ecosystem. An ecosystem is a geographic area where plants, animals, and other organisms, as well as weather and landscape, work together to form a bubble of life. Ecosystems contain biotic or living parts, as well as abiotic factors, or nonliving parts. Biotic factors include plants, animals, and other organisms. Abiotic factors include rocks, temperature, and humidity. 

Every factor in an ecosystem depends on every other factor, either directly or indirectly. A change in the temperature of an ecosystem will often affect what plants will grow there, for instance. (source)

In the development ecosystem then, each organization and individuals are the factors that co-depend on various other organizations and individuals. We are grateful to have worked with so many organizations in the past 10 years, and in working with them our belief in this partnered co-existence has only deepened. In this article, we are exploring how our partnership journey has been in all these years.

In the last few years, we have seen partnerships emerging in so many diverse ways:

  1. Knowledge partners:  In our ecosystem, many organizations and individuals have been there for a very long time before we came into being. They have gained experience and understanding, and have developed expertise which is translated into developing resources that are meaningful and relevant to use. So we asked. And we were given! We have partnered with an organization that can support us with their curriculum for our school initiative. This created an opportunity to bring a window to our learning and possibilities that both the organizations co-exist and work together for the common purpose and don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 
  1. Service partners: We have often benefited from other people’s work, and we are also able to offer our work to students and communities of other organizations. In these partnerships, programs are implemented for the students, youth, teachers, and different organisations or communities of learners directly for particular skills that the organization has expertise upon. Our partners have been working with us in the capacity of training the team, directly implementing programmes for children, working with youth, etc. Sushree from Udaan India Foundation, Mumbai shares, “Together we achieve more is a core value that Udaan believes in. Our partnership with Apnishala has enabled us to enrich the learning ecosystem of children and focus on socio-emotional well-being.”
  1. Community as partners: “Nothing About Us Without Us,” an idea that informed disability activism during the 1990s, is core to our thinking about partnerships. While we partner with other organizations and individuals to serve the communities we work with, it’s equally, and at times more, critical for us to partner with the communities (caregivers, teachers, students, and other members of the community). While in the classrooms and schools, our teams partner with the students and teachers are ongoingly to design, implement, review and revise the programs, we share below two specific partnerships in thinking about the community as partners: 
    1. Caregivers as partners: A child does not grow in only an educational space, or as in many African cultures it is said, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Caregivers are the most integral part of any child’s life. They spend so much of their time at home hence it becomes critical not just to give instructions to parents about do’s and don’ts but to partner with them to collaboratively understand the needs of a child and respond to them adequately. In one of my conversations, says Aditi, with a caregiver during the COVID 19 crisis, she referred to the learnings her daughter shared with her from Apni Shala’s classroom and said, ”I am trying to keep my calm and patience as my daughter says you teach the importance of these at Apni Shala’s session.” This conversation highlighted how caregivers act as partners and embed the nuances of SEL in their lives. 
    2. Community stakeholders: Since the inception of Khoj (an Apni Shala initiative), we wanted the space to be community-driven where the community takes ownership and understands the criticality and need of the school. In the last few years, the community members, be it parents or otherwise, have supported Khoj in finding a place, found ways to support our students with the internet or phones so that their learning is undisturbed during COVID, and have stood up for each other to ensure that learning continues for the children. Over the years, working together with caregivers and various aspects of their own social and emotional skills, a caregiver said in their reflection, “now I understand hitting is not the only way to make a child understand something and why we talk so much about hitting is not the way at Khoj.” 

Such partnerships with the community have ensured that we educate ourselves before educating our community and caregivers. Making this partnership relevant organisations unbiased, and being mindful that we will have differences of opinion, but having a compassionate approach is important when we co-exist. 

  1. Donor as partners: It has taken some time for us to truly unpack for ourselves and recognise that it’s equally critical to nurture partnership with donors, with trust, equity and compassion, that we see them as partners too, so that together we can co-create better spaces for our children. In so many spaces we have witnessed our donors speaking about Apni Shala’s work with passion and resonance that it reassures the belief in nurturing relationships.  A donor-partner shared during a partners’ gathering,” I am very thankful that Apni Shala allows me to do something for a greater cause!” Donors are not just contributors but they are collaborators too toward the common purpose in the ecosystem. 
  1. Government as Partners: Government institutions work on many aspects of education, for example, mental health, quality education, nutrition etc.  It presents an opportunity to collaborate between the private and public sectors.  At Apni Shala, we aim to work with the system and not against it. This has re-emphasis our trust in harmonious coexistence when over the years through our collaborative work, we see that students’ attendance is becoming better, or govt. teachers and students’ wellbeing is being centered.  This invited windows for growth and learning within the system. 

In our diverse partnerships with organizations and the community, we notice that when there is co-existence, the impact of it also co-exists. Lekha Menon, Social Worker at Khoj, shares, “when an organization approaches a community, to tap the untapped resources they bring their strength and the collaborating partner or community brings theirs to create balance thereby creating an impact for the community.”

Nurturing partnerships requires time, effort, learning, unlearning, letting go, and change. This in turn asks for a relational space, where different individuals and organizations come together to work for a common purpose. Partnership means trusting the ecosystem where we don’t feel the need of reinventing the wheel. Inviting diverse people/perspectives/ideas together to build co-existence and leverage upon the relationship towards the purpose has always been Apni Shala’s way of approaching partnerships as Hellen Keller said, “together we can do so much”. And to do this, we learn that we will have to move beyond the transnational understanding of partnerships. It must involve emotional connection with compassion, understanding, trust in each other’s work, empathy, curiosity, joy, and happiness as it brings solidarity.

Nirmala Venkatesan, Founder of Spark A Change Mumbai, shares,” Our collaboration with Apni Shala over the last 3 years has helped enhance the universe of development and wellbeing for our students.  We believe effective partnerships between like-minded organizations is the only way to achieve a greater good.”

“I have been a role for organizational partnerships for a couple of years at Apni Shala now,” writes Aditi, “I have always associated this word, ‘partnership’, with making something happen together or working in sync/ in collaboration with one another. The term’s meaning has been explored since I have been in a role at Apni Shala, where engaging with partnerships has been my core work. In my journey of working with different kinds of partners at different levels, I feel it is safe to say that to make something magical it is important to build partnerships with people and develop relationships of trust and compassion. A partnership does not mean just looking for mutual benefits but making it more relevant and contextual to have meaningful co-existence. Diverse partnerships add value and build a strong foundation to be able to work together. Making partnerships more meaningful and giving importance to the context and the relevance it brings creates an opportunity to flourish together be it, knowledge partners, implementing partners, service partners, etc. When I took up the role as a partnership associate I kept asking myself, ‘can the art of collaborative relationship-building be learned or does it happen naturally as we begin working together?’”

Towards Apni Shala’s vision of “Building social and emotional competencies among individuals to constructively engage with society and has a harmonious co-existence,” building strong and healthy partnerships not only paves way for the work we, rather it becomes central to our vision that we come into a community of partners with trust, equity and compassion with one another. This results in balancing power, increasing ownership and co-creating a world of harmonious co-existence.

About the Authors:

Aditi Ganguly works with Apni Shala as the Partnership Associate. In her role, she leads non-government partnerships for various functions at Apni Shala and supports fundraising initiatives. Aditi holds a Master in Social Entrepreneurship from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

Sangeeta Zombade is a certified educator in Early Childhood Care Education (E.C.C.Ed) and Experiential Education. She holds a B. Com degree and comes with more than three years of experience in teaching Kindergarteners. She has also taught elementary students in an after-school program at Akanksha Foundation for a year. She worked with Akanksha’s service-learning program for over seven years. She led the school-based service-learning program at Shindewadi Mumbai Public School. Before co-founding the Khoj, she led content development, trainers’ training and Alumni engagement with Antarang Foundation. Currently, Sangeeta works with Apni Shala as the Director for Khoj (Apni Shala’s SEL-informed school initiative).

Aditi Ganguly works with Apni Shala as the Partnership Associate. In her role, she leads non-government partnerships for various functions at Apni Shala and supports fundraising initiatives. Aditi holds a Master in Social Entrepreneurship from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

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