The GHC Landscape Symposium Partnerships Panel

On 8th December 2017, the Global Health Council (GHC) Landscape Symposium Partnerships Panel, entitled ‘What’s in it for Everyone?’ invited participants to have an honest discussion about the practices and pitfalls of partnerships, and how to best align agendas and outcomes for shared success. Panelists were Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet (Merck for Mothers), Dr. Claudia Morrisey Conlon (USAID), and Dr. Roopa Dhatt (Women in Global Health), with Kirsten Gagnaire (FSG) as moderator.

Women in Global Health (WGH)’s different approach to partnerships is rooted in its relatively recent unique inception. WGH’s Executive Director Dr. Roopa Dhatt, emphasized core to WGH’s philosophy is working as a movement.

Three Key Questions, We Ask Before Partnering

1. Do we align on a shared vision? 2. Do we share values? 3. Do we have common goals we can achieve together?

WGH values collaboration and partnerships to co-create and innovate, which for WGH requires a shared vision for gender equality in global health leadership and alignment of values such as being visionary, inspirational, mindful, inclusive, equitable and gender transformative. Our partnerships are further supported by cultivating relationships, building trust, and pooling resources.

Even with this approach, there are unavoidable pitfalls, some examples of things we have encountered:

  1. Brand visibility: receiving credit when due. It is easier for long-standing big brands to bulldoze over start-up groups. It is often linked to many levels of power and privilege, unfortunately this can undermine a partnership easily.

  2. Addressing existing leadership bias: fit for the role “expert” vs “top” leader, who should be the visible representative? While many groups will commit to values of inclusion and equity for greater gender balance,diversity and empowerment of young people, operating by these values happens less frequently. Whether it is driven by individual, interpersonal, institutional or community biases, it is a reality of the very hierarchical, competitive global health space; in-turn, challenging the foundation of a partnership.

  3. Mobilizing resources: obtaining and negotiating financial resources is a challenge for start-up groups unless they are backed by existing well-funded entities. Initial uncompensated time invested is a norm in global health, especially for women, who are already unpaid, un-recognized in this field. However, for start-up groups this can accelerate a group reaching a breaking point. While time is the most valuable investment that both partners make; financial investment is often considered an after-thought. However, transitioning into a relationship where financial resources, especially unrestricted funds, are mobilized for all partners is needed to cultivate more innovate partnership models (i.e. WGH is globally to support, unrestricted funds are made available to support the development of less financially robust partners is under acknowledged and underestimated.

We also have to be mindful that as more private sector is being utilised in the (public) health space, the leadership disposition means that females' influence on decision making spaces is also impacted. Private sector at the most senior positions has the worst track record when it comes to women in leadership, and meaningful roles. So what does this mean for gender parity and gender equity in leadership but also health overall in the future? Applying a gender lens to partnerships allows us to create more impact of our work and achieve shared goals in global health to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

At WGH, we are working to shift this paradigm through directed:

  1. Advocacy

  2. Thought leadership/dialogues

  3. Reframing what partnerships mean - we operate as a movement and an organisation

Overall, the session emphasised the following key takeaway points:

  1. Strong governance and resource management is key to multilayer partnerships to really keep them growing and make them strong

  2. The private sector needs to be more fully utilised and can actually help get better results when it’s more than just a cheque. We need the honour the full suite of what they can bring to the table and really think creatively in partnering with them to help define what they can bring to the table

  3. Giving layers of clarity in action not just words, of shared values, goals, and visions, and again, I think that action part is what I really heard and you were saying, Roopa, not just people saying that they agree with it all, but having many conversations, and really seeing them bring their time and resources to the table to co-create

  4. Turf wars can diminish the overall use of resources and impact and I would just add to that to say that we should be self reflective about how you are maybe contributing to those turf wars and making sure that you are not, and really reaching out and looking at others who are maybe overlapping in the sphere that you're working in as partners rather than competitors. And reach out to them with that spirit

  5. Money shouldn’t necessarily drive there policies and there is a need to think about how you navigate funding partnerships, so that just because someone brings money to the table, doesn't mean they get to drop their or contain your agenda

  6. Engaging the host country governments in partnerships and also as talent, is key

  7. More gender equality actually makes more sense in terms of money and it ultimately leads to better health outcomes for both men and women, if we take a gendered lens

  8. If we know how to do something let’s not figure out another way to know how to do it and let’s communicate what we know so that other people can access that and don’t have to find themselves in the position of replicating something you might have already figured out

  9. We need to get out of our old funding paradigms and we really need to think differently and creatively about how we approach this work.

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