Cross-sector partnerships need good brokers

Evidence shows that single- sector solutions to global challenges do not work because no one sector (whether public, private or civil society) is ever able to supply the necessary combination of information, innovation, reach and scale to bring about change. Not surprisingly, cross-sector collaboration (‘partnership’) is seen as a vitally important mechanism in building a sustainable and resilient world. Partnerships have the potential not only to offer options for mitigation and adaptation but also to bring in invention and innovation for sustainability.

But partnerships often fall far short of expectations and many fail.

Partnering is not easy. It critically depends on establishing strong working relationships between key individuals often from radically different working cultures. It requires a radical change of mind-set (individual and organizational) and behavior together with a willingness to think and act in new ways.  Partnering effectiveness requires specific skills, persistence, courage, tenacity and imagination in those involved – and leadership is also undoubtedly and possibly the critical success factor.

But what kind of leadership is appropriate in a collaborative model?

Traditional models of leadership tend to be located in single sector paradigms (making cross-sector work difficult); rooted in specific cultural traditions (making international work difficult); or hierarchical in nature (making shared decision-making and shared accountability difficult).

In successful partnerships, you will find an individual who has taken on the role of a partnership broker or facilitator.  They provide a behind-the-scenes leadership function, not only making a significance difference to the effectiveness and impact of partnerships but also role modeling a new form of leadership – facilitative or servant leadership.

This type of leadership shows some non-traditional set of attributes which are more suited to the global challenges of the 21st century: the capacity to create clarity and focus in complex, demographically dynamic, information-rich, politically and socially unstable and economically unequal world; willingness to take risk on behalf of, or for the benefit of others; as inter-cultural intermediaries, the skills at managing gender, age, cultural diversity issues, cultural norms and personal value systems within partnerships; modesty with regard to their own achievements so that others are genuinely empowered; skills at convening and facilitating practical, productive and tactful interventions.

But what do we actually know in reality about what partnership brokers do? Some answers can be found in the report entitled ‘What do Partnership Brokers do? An Enquiry into practice’.  It has been produced by the Partnership Brokers Association (PBA), (, the world’s first professional entity promoting and supporting cross-sector partnership brokering and brokers.

Drawing on the experiences of 250 PBA accredited partnership brokers, the report concludes that partnership brokers undertake a number of clearly defined roles which can make a significant difference to multi-stakeholder collaboration.  They help partners address a wide range of typical partnering challenges and improve a partnership’s efficiency, effectiveness and – sometimes – its capacity for innovation. They also suggest some important attributes for good brokering which fit the facilitative leadership hypothesis as the emerging, preferred model.






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