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Why Does Attention to Capacity Make a Difference?

It Requires Asking: Do we Have the Capacity to Support our Work? 

Capacity building is not always about staff skills and knowledge. It should be viewed broadly to include resource requirements like personnel, technology, finances, communications and marketing, and the ability to provide products and services. The advantage of a partnership approach is that many of these factors can be jointly provided, so that no single entity bears the full burden of supporting an initiative. It is the responsibility of the intermediary, however, to map the evolving needs of the partnership and to match capacity accordingly. There will be times when needs are unmet, in which case the partnership will need to make decisions about how to add to their ability to carry out their work.

It Establishes the Culture for Sharing Across Partners 

It is easy to assume that employers may struggle to come together in a sector partnership because of their natural inclination to compete with each other. This is often overstated. Employers have convened naturally and in every industry for decades. This is why industry associations exist, for example. Employers recognize the benefit of leveraging expertise, creating a unified voice, and in some cases sharing resources. Some employers even recognize the value of promoting competition for the sake of their own and industry-wide innovation. It is also easy to assume the opposite for the public sector: that they somehow do not harbor competition. This is also a myth. Competition across public systems is often understated, and is an unfortunate reality when funding streams are perceived as uneven or insufficient overall.

To counteract both these myths, the intermediary has a responsibility to establish a culture of information and resource sharing within the partnership. Consider that the process of building your partnership will achieve some of the initial comfort with sharing, and that as the initiative evolves, individual public and private partners will begin to realize that their collective power is significantly more effective and synergistic than trying to achieve similar goals as individual institutions, agencies, or companies. Look for "quick wins" to demonstrate the impact of shared knowledge and resources. For example, if any products or tools are developed that are being successfully utilized by some employer members, ask if they can share with others. Help facilitate the process so that tools are shared without violating propietary information.

Institutionalizing Individual Partner Capacity to Participate Ensures Sustainability 

How many times have you witnessed the success of an initiative or project to be largely dependent on one individual's leadership or involvement? It is typical for one person to become and stay involved because they are personally passionate about the vision and activities. Unfortunately, their passion does not necessarily mean they have fully recruited their peers or colleagues into the work, or that others even fully understand the theory behind the work. As a result, all too often when one individual transitions to another job or leaves a project, that project soon falls apart. For sector initiatives, it is common to hear similar testimony: "When I leave this organization/company/college/(fill in the blank), no one will replace me at the table." To avoid having to build the partnership from scratch, the intermediary should help each partner to develop talking points to bring back to their home office. Your initiative should address this just as any organization effectively addresses succession planning.

Additionally, partnerships should consider utilizing a "situational" or "shared" leadership model. This allows several people within the partnership to play leadership roles throughout the life of the partnership. Depending on the focus of the activities, different players can play a leadership role based on their expertise or area of interest. This situational or shared leadership model provides more buy-in by more partners, and lessens the effect of losing the one individual who had been seen as the sole leader or champion. The development of several "business champions" can also help in lessening the negative impacts of these transitions when leaders leave the partnership.