What is it that you’re trying to get off the ground? Are you launching an alliance of like-minded organisations working together for collective action? Building a platform inside your organisation that will facilitate cooperation and collaboration across workgroups, country operations and external partners? Setting up a ‘hub’ for multi-sector partnering?
No matter your context, how can you establish your initial structure and how to get from idea to execution? In this module we share why and how we got started – our story of building a multi-sector partnership hub from scratch, what worked well and what we learned when Asia P3 Hub was being set up.
- We need safe spaces for all sectors to come together and collaborate.
- A ‘combinatorial’ approach – combining resources with others through co-creation – allows you to tap into existing resources.
- Partnerships are crucial to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In the beginning...
In the beginning there was an idea – a hypothesis that different sectors can find shared passion and common ground, share core competencies, benefits and risks to build equitable, creative solutions which produce a multiplier effect for all involved. The hypothesis was that the different sectors desired to come together, they just needed an invitation, an opportunity, a safe space to meet new people and organisations.
Our founding partners wanted to see an active incubator for innovation targeting the base of the pyramid, and more avenues for social investment that tap the business ecosystem. What is the ‘base of the pyramid’, or BOP? 4.5 billion people, representing a huge market of creative and resilient consumers and producers, according to the BoP Innovation Center. These people live primarily in Asia, Africa and South America. The BOP is defined as those people that earn less than US$8 per day.
Community, Collaboration, And Unconventional Partners
From the beginning, we decided to be as open and transparent as possible with the process of building this enterprise, for three key reasons:
- We had looked for an example of a partnership hub and hadn’t found many examples we could benchmark or learn from. We decided if we were going to try something new, others could possibly learn from our experience, regardless of whether we succeeded or failed.
- To harness the power of generosity and generative resources. Aaron Maniam, the award-winning Singapore civil servant and poet, wrote about the power of generative resources, the idea that many things flourish and multiply when they are not held tight but given away.
- To adapt for the future and address the growing relevance gap– we must “innovate or die”.
The Hub started as an idea and evolved through a number of iterations. We were motivated by Impact Hub’s definition of a hub: “a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration and collaboration opportunities to grow the positive impact of your work.” We were fueled by ideals of openness, community, collaboration, and the power of creative and unconventional relationships.
Drivers & Landscape - Why P3?
Why ‘P3’ – people, public and private? The boundaries between the sectors has blurred. Business and government and the civil sectors working hand in hand, with communities, to tackle challenging problems just makes sense in our complex world.
Traditionally, the relationship between these sectors was like this:
Now, it is a dynamic, interconnected relationship where we need each other in many ways for all of us to be successful at our responsibilities.
Sure, each sector has its own motivations and priorities. At Asia P3 Hub, we believe that everyone is able to contribute to building a better world. We bring companies, governments, academia and NGOs together to solve poverty issues, facilitating multi-sector partnerships to create solutions which multiply resources, break poverty cycles and benefit families, communities and societies.
Partnerships for the SDGs
Partnerships have been recognised as crucial to the realisation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so much so that they even got a goal of their own – Goal 17.
“The importance of partnership has been recognised fully by the UN, by business and by all leading institutions in international development. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the blueprint for global development – represent a fundamental shift in thinking, explicitly acknowledging the interconnectedness of prosperous business, a thriving society and a healthy environment. They name all societal sectors as key development actors and require an unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration among civil society, business, government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), foundations and others for their achievement.”
- Maximising the impact of partnerships for the SDGs
Given the complexities of the challenges in the world today, there is a need more than ever for collective action, leveraging diverse and innovative resources to bring about systemic and transformational change. New cross-sector models for collaboration are necessary to address the challenges of our increasingly complex world and to innovate and co-create solutions that transform lives.
Collaborations provide opportunities to rethink how organisations within a community relate to each other and how they can collectively respond to the growing needs of their members and the community, often in the face of scarce resources.
The Evolution Of Our Hypothesis
Our early hypothesis evolved as we built the hub structure and became operational. Our first two years indicated that many organisations and individuals from government, business and not-for-profit sectors did indeed welcome the opportunity and ‘safe space’ Asia P3 Hub provided for unconventional conversations and meaningful partnerships.
After working through our second iteration of our Theory of Change (see more in our Theory of Change module) two years on, we landed a more concrete hypothesis, which is:
Multi-sector partnership can be a vehicle of choice to:
- Provide a frame for unconventional partnerships
- Tackle existing problems in new and sustainable ways
- Wrestle complex issues
- Achieve scalability and generate a multiplier effect
We have discovered that a ‘safe space’ is valued and needed – a neutral, no-obligation zone where fresh thinking can create value for all sectors – public, private and ‘people’. What does each sector value? We can get a sense of the answers to this question by looking at what their core mandates are.
Our partners at The Partnering Initiative (TPI) write: “Partnerships are intended to deliver value to all partners involved, as well as create additional value by virtue of the collaboration, thereby defining ‘value’ as:
- the benefit each individual organisation gains, and
- the value-add of the partnership as a whole.
It’s helpful to start by considering the value each individual organisation can obtain from partnering. This value can be either mission value – towards the achievement of an organisation’s strategic objectives, or organisational value – either leveraging direct resources for the organisation, or in the form of intangible gains that support the organisation’s future ability to deliver.”
We also thought about mission and organisational value when we chose to build and validate our structure and operating model with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). We established our Hub in Singapore, a hydrohub with significant resources and networks across the water value chain, which has been a terrific geographic location to incubate the Hub. In addition, we have been able to make the most of the competitive advantage and convening power of Singapore as a geographic and knowledge hub in Asia Pacific for shared value creation between the public, private and civil sectors for co-creation of new business and socially impactful opportunities that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Setting yourself up for success (with a combinatorial approach)
The ‘secret sauce’ for the Asia P3 Hub model and one of our core values is combinatorial innovation. We cover this approach in-depth in our module on Combinatorial Innovation, but it’s also highly relevant when you’re setting up.
When you’re launching an organisation from scratch with limited resources, a ‘combinatorial’ approach – combining resources with others through co-creation – allows you to uncover and tap into existing resources, and unconventional partners.
From the beginning, we saw our grant funding differently than the usual ‘grant to fund a specific project’ perspective. In the non-profit world, the traditional approach is that a grant funds a project, and when it is completed, there is an evaluation and the work is ‘done’. Instead, we took a social enterprise-inspired approach: we saw our grant as an investment in a new model that could produce exponential returns over time.
This meant that our budget needed to stretch further to cover things like brand design, communications and marketing, and professional services/advisory. Combinatorial innovation and partnerships are not just the core ‘business’ of the Hub. They became a powerful vehicle by which we got things done. We found that people and organisations are open to bartering! We value differe nt things, and we entered into many creative ‘shared-value agreements’ where we exchanged services and products that were mutually beneficial, but no money exchanged hands.
Initial structure (sailing the ship while you build it)
To get started, we tapped one of our core values and beliefs: the power of combinatorial approach: combining resources with others through a co-creation approach.
We convened 3 co-creation workshops to design and develop the Hub operating model.
Each covered a different theme:
- Basic framing
- scope and engagement,
- Considering what success looks like, and methods, processes & systems.
These co-creation workshops produced a trove of input for us as we iterated the initial design, and we produced a simple first “Strategic Blueprint” in the month after launching in July 2016. We were, indeed, sailing the ship as we built it.
Vision, Mission and Core Values
Our initial vision, mission and core values articulated in our first public event at the end of December 2016 gave way and were updated in early 2017 as the focus of our purpose, goals and values continued to sharpen.
Our refined core values continue to anchor us. Asia P3 Hub has 4 core values:
- Combinatorial Innovation: the art and science of creating something new from a diverse range of available resources, pooling tried and tested ideas, resources and assets together in new ways.
- Co-creation and shared value: success is co-created, market driven solutions for changed lives, driven by partnerships that generate value for each stakeholder with shared benefits & risks
- Excitement & energy: people are happy and fulfilled working together, energized by the promise that new opportunities, trusted relationships and partnerships can bring
- Safe space: a neutral gathering place where people can relax and be able to express and brainstorm ideas without fear of feeling uncomfortable, unwelcome, or pressured – a place to spark fresh ideas and build new relationships
We drafted workstreams to organise ourselves and our band of advisors.
Funding and resources for getting started
For the multi-sector hub to work, resources are required to kick-start the process. There are a few important considerations to establishing initial funding for getting started.
Funding for Getting Started
- Identifying potential funders – The multi-sector hub is likely to be funded or co-funded by a hosting organisation, a foundation, a bilateral/ multilateral agency or a government. While it is possible for funding to come from a corporate, we think it is less likely, and they may have certain restrictions like disallowing the hub to work with its competitors.
- Calculating funding amount and duration – The absolute funding amount would vary depending on the operating environment of the hub. We would recommend a funding runway for 3 years for the hub to gain some significant momentum. A basic budget for the funding should cover (including but not limited) to following elements:
- Salaries and benefits (the biggest expense item)
- Professional services
- Space rental, or any overhead cost charged by the hosting organisation
- Travel and accommodation
- Business development/ social-related expenses (e.g. food and beverage, gifts, marketing collaterals, etc.)
- Hardware, equipment, software and IT-related expenses/subscriptions
- Other expenses tied to operational plan (e.g. event venues, sponsorships, booth space)
- Miscellany (transportation, postage and courier)
Alternative Funding Models
In the event full funding for a 3 year start up period cannot be attained, some possible options than can be explored include:
- Robust Revenue Plan – If the hub can at least obtain 50% of the funding, the hub can attempt to generate its own income in the hopes of being able to be self-sustaining after 18 months.
- Internal Secondment – If the hosting organisation is not able to provide funding, it might be able to channel resources from other parts of the organisation. Some restrictions may apply such as the seconded person only work remotely or part-time on the project
- Shared Value Arrangements with External Partners – This calls for some serious creativity, where the multi-sector hub will have to figure out a way to get work done through other non-monetary arrangements, such as trading access to a network of partners, providing recognition or agreeing to share intellectual property.
Building a team
For a multi-sector hub to succeed, it is crucial to get the right team in place. With limited resources, it is unlikely to be able to get a full team with everyone on payroll, at least when starting out. Multi-hatting and taking an ‘all-rounder’ approach typical to a start-up environment is a likely scenario.
In our case, here’s how we structured our team when we were getting started:
- Core Team – The core team are people on the hosting organisation’s payroll and working full-time on the multi-sector hub project. The core team’s main duties are to come up with the overall strategy, and managing all stakeholders. All core team members should ideally have experience with at least 2 sectors in order to provide a more holistic view of multi-sector partnerships.
- Consultants – Consultants are subject matter experts who can assist on defined projects, functions or domains within the hub (e.g. IT, communications, events, etc.). Consultants are also great for kick-starting certain initiatives if the core team is not yet fully formed.
- Volunteers and Pro-bono Consultants – People who are willing to give of their time and talents with no other expectation than contributing to a good cause (but they are usually rewarded in other tangible ways as well). Can be both short-term (< 3 months) or mid-term (>6 months). Pro-bono consultants can also include pro-bono secondments from corporate partners.
- Interns – Interns are great short-term, full-time and low-cost resources. With a solid on-boarding process and training, they can quickly provide a return on investment. From our experience, interns that can commit at least 3 months full time provide the best value, but we have benefited from part-time individuals working on discrete projects.
- Internal Partners – Internal partners are those within the hosting organisation that are not on the multi-sector hub team. Usually they are willing to provide support because they believe in the value that the hub is trying to create or they see potential synergy with their job scope.
- External (Shared Value) Partners – External partners are people or organisations who are willing to work on a shared value arrangement with the hub. They provide a range of expertise, from professional services (design, copywriting, event management, etc.) to office space, in exchange for access to networks, publicity, hub-facilitated events and exposure.
Collective action through multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approaches holds promising potential for meaningful, sustainable change at scale. Our organisational and individual ways of thinking and ways of working need to adapt, expand and innovate to enable us to respond to today’s multifaceted challenges. Navigating the complexity of an ever-changing world and finding ways to join forces means developing new skill sets, new mindsets and building new types of relationships.
A shift in mindset is needed - moving from a more traditional management approach to one that is more expansive, that values connectedness, shared ownership, and distributed decision-making, and a willingness to share and be open. We’ve found that while most people agree that partnering and a collective approach makes sense and is the logical way to take on problems, many of the people we engage with still favour a traditional mindset. It takes energy and intentionality to think, act and cooperate beyond our usual boundaries to make headway on complex social problems.
“Unleashing effective collaboration requires viewing the problem as what Ron Heifetz calls an adaptive challenge, rather than a technical one. An adaptive challenge is one which requires individuals to change their way of thinking about themselves, their work, and the situation at hand,” writes Shani Harmon and Renee Cullinan
In the end, this is all about connecting actors and resources in order to create greater impact than an individual or organisation can achieve on its own. And this requires a partnering mindset.
Here are some key resources on Getting Started. Our downloadable Hub-in-a-Box guide also includes useful and relevant tools. And we’ve compiled additional tools and resources, that Asia P3 Hub has found the most useful in its journey so far on the resources section of the Asia P3 Hub website.