November 19, 2020
By Zaida Bastos
We use so much the words “partners” and “partnerships” that I decided to look into its origins. This is what I found: “Middle English alteration of parcener ‘partner, joint heir’, from Anglo-Norman French parcener, based on Latin partitio(n-) ‘partition’.”
The Oxford Dictionary also defines partnership in terms of a relationship between people or organisations. Other associated words include association, cooperation, collaboration, participation, joint decision-making and long-term relationship. Yet, there exists a lack of clarity surrounding what exactly is meant by partnership, and the principles which underlie a partnership approach. In the international development scene, every non-profit organization adapted this word(s) to its own interpretation on how partnership is implemented. It could be argued that commitments to partnership are tokenistic in some instances.
As I am wrapping things up and get ready to say goodbye to friends, colleagues and partners, after 22 years of working at PWRDF, I thought that it was a good time to reflect about how throughout all these years I have lived the words “partner” and “partnership” as I represent the organization around the world.
Often, international development staff are the only face of PWRDF that partners will ever get to meet. We are the “official” PWRDF. What we do, how we behave, how we interact with partners and communities on the ground is how “partner” of “partnership” is perceived. Making “partnerships” requires significant time, effort and maintenance. PWRDF’s model of delivering international aid is through the development of these essential partnerships. It is why time devoted to build and strengthen partnerships is so significant.
Partnership has become a central concept in development co-operation since the mid-80s. This was often associated with a Western style package of development, complete with gender equality, human rights, economic progress and other development indicators that continue to evolve.
PWRDF Partnership policy states that “… Communication will be conducted in a manner which is respectful, collegial, collaborative, open, and sensitive to local social norms.” Partnership is a term that evokes much sensitivity with its implicit connotations of sharing and trust. While aid and charity may refer to a more unequal aid relationship, the term ‘partnership’ suggests equality, respect, reciprocity and ownership (Gutierrez, 2008).
Finding the right balance to achieve all of that when there is the imperative of looking at effectiveness, efficiencies, and let’s be honest, sometimes having to fight corruption, is an art that some of us in the NGO scene have achieved better than others. In my interactions with partners, they have let me know that sometimes there is a very unequal relationship, underlined by power imbalances, and that the word “partnership” has become just a word, stripped of its real value of cooperation, equality, mutuality and balance of power. Often partners felt they were only the conduit of a pre-set agenda where they were not part of the conversation or decision-making processes.
PWRDF should continue to aim for the values stated in its Partnership Policy. As an institution, the words “partner” and “partnership” should have the same meaning to everyone: PWRDF and Partners. And, this refers to partnership as the highest stage of a working relationship between different people brought together by the commitment to common objectives, and a vision of working for justice, peace and respect of the dignity of every human being. Respectful partnership is about equality, reciprocal obligation and shared responsibility.
During my 22 years at PWRDF, the organization achieved the best when working with partners who felt they had a voice and every decision was made from a point of equality. I also learned that poorly managed partnerships are bad for everyone. They create dependency and are harmful because do not lead to healthy institutional growth.
When it comes to partnership, PWRDF has a secret weapon – our volunteers across the Dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada. Diocesan representatives and parish representatives work so hard to share the wonderful stories of PWRDF. I am grateful for their dedicated and generous support.
Jesus says “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another,” (Mark 9:50) he is not giving a culinary instruction. He’s claiming that we are the salt of the world, enhancing and revealing the true nature of life. So then, is partnership the salt of international development.