When social change efforts use the word “partner” to describe their funders, saying things like, “We are seeking a partner to help fund this effort,” what does that say about us as organizations? And what does it say about our efforts to create a community that is whole and vibrant and healthy?
Words contain so many assumptions that we rarely take time to consider. And so, when we talk about our funders as “partners,” what are we really saying – about them, and about us?
- A friend who shares a common interest or participates in achieving a common goal
- A Significant other in an intimate relationship
- A member of a partnership
- A business partner
- Partner (business rank), a member of a law firm or accounting firm which is formed as a partnership
- A participant in a partner dance
Reading through Wikipedia’s links to all those entries, it is striking that even in the case of “business partner,” money is only one of many other factors, all of which have to do with alliances and mutual goals.
When I think of true partnership, I think of a good marriage. A strong marriage is rooted in honoring the other person despite (or even because of) their flaws. A strong marriage is about commitment to the same goals and values. In a great marriage, both parties realize that when they are together, it is as if there is a 3rd person in the room – a powerful whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Sadly, in the world of social change, this sort of partnership is rare. And I say “sadly” because if there is anything that will create change, it is the power of what we can create together that none of us can create on our own.
When Creating the Future says “Partner”
Being in start-up / scale-up mode, Creating the Future is seeking all sorts of partners for all sorts of efforts.
- As we move our Immersion Courses into communities, we are seeking partners to not only help make those courses happen, but to help those courses have the impact they have the potential to create in those communities.
- As we work to scale our efforts from “start-up” phase to “program development” phase, we are seeking partners to not only help make that happen, but to participate in as many ways as possible, to ensure those programs have the most impact possible.
- As we seek to demonstrate how various components of social change work can be more effective, we are seeking partners to help make those demonstration projects happen, walking alongside us to be the future they, too, want to see in our world.
In every effort Creating the Future is initiating, partnership will determine how successful this movement for change will be. Here is how we described this approach when we announced our desire to reinvent philanthropy as Love of Humanity:
The only way to accomplish our mission is to engage our community (the whole world!) to collectively make that happen, all of us together in all kinds of ways, with all our combined talents and gifts. If the effort belongs to Creating the Future, it will fail. It must be owned by all of us.
Therefore, instead of asking people to “fund Creating the Future’s project,” we will seek Stone Soup sorts of partnerships, where everyone brings what they have, to nourish and nurture an effort that belongs to all of us together.
So then, what might that look like in action? Let’s use the issue of “bringing our immersion course to communities” as an example:
- Perhaps partners might provide food or a venue for the course…
- Perhaps they might provide funding to bring us to the community to teach the course…
- Perhaps they might join the class as participants in learning how to transform their own work, to create more significant impact through that work…
- Perhaps they might invite local Creating the Future grads to help guide their own internal transformation, to reach for more of what is possible for their own community…
- Perhaps they might become a demonstration project partner, working side by side towards our shared goals, and sharing what they learn along the way…
- Perhaps they might partner with others in their community, whether simply to provide the course to the community, or to work as a cohort of funders and others who wish to bring their collective work to its highest potential for creating change…
Deep meaningful partnership. Partnerships that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Because we are exploring this as we go, we confess that we are not certain what these partnerships might look like in practice. There is, however, one thing we do know:
If we want a future where we all nourish the potential in each other, we don’t have to wait. We can be that future right now. And we can model to others both what that looks like and how it works, even as we discover that very thing ourselves.
If you have seen deep, meaningful, mutually nourishing, whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts partnerships in action, please share those stories with us. And if you have ideas for how our own partnerships can be more meaningful, walking that talk right now – please share that as well.