Business Sustainability through Collaboration and Partnership

Doing everything yourself can be tempting in the beginning when funds are few and ambitions high. While there’s nothing wrong with a hands-on approach, taking on more than you can handle, especially in areas where you lack experience, can be damaging. Sustainable growth is among the biggest challenges any business leader faces, but it isn’t a problem if we find right partners to collaborate with.

Collaboration is one of the keys for unlocking sustainability. No single organization or sector has the knowledge or resources to “go it alone.” Leaders from all sectors of society agree that solving sustainability challenges will require unparalleled cooperation. This report is a comprehensive review of what we know about partnering for sustainability. Many companies are actively integrating sustainability principles into their businesses, according to a recent McKinsey survey

Sustainability is “the primary moral and economic imperative of the 21st century,” according to Mervyn King. It is also considered to be “one of the most important sources of both opportunities and risks for businesses”.

Business collaboration benefits  

Key benefits of business collaboration fall under several categories:

  • Financial benefits – for example, the ability to boost domestic or export sales, to tender for larger contracts or cut costs by sharing resources.
  • Human capital – for example, the ability to develop employees’ skills and capabilities, safeguard jobs, increase employment and encourage staff motivation.
  • Physical capital – for example, the ability to share facilities, resources, equipment and raw materials.
  • Intellectual capital – for example, the ability to tap into combined expertise, knowledge and capabilities.

Types of business collaboration

Collaborative networking can take many forms. From strategic alliances and partnerships to business networks, development networks or even regional and national collaboration.

Business networks

These involve businesses working together for specific purposes where the collaboration has identifiable and measurable benefits to all participants in the network. Key features of a business network are:

  • a group of businesses as the core (although members may include academia and other organisations)
  • a restricted membership
  • agreed co-operation between members
  • common business objectives likely to boost mutual competitiveness and financial gain

Development network

These are the most basic forms of networks consisting simply of businesses associating with other businesses. Their activity is often confined to:

  • networking
  • the exchange of information
  • shared services

These networks are usually informal and unstructured. They are also less likely to have a purpose linked directly to financial gain or competitive advantage for the members.

Regional business network

These are geographically defined groups of companies, educational institutions, local councils and economic development agencies connected by linkages across sectors. They can make up business clusters which share a common regional location, where ‘region’ is defined as:

  • a geographical area
  • a labour market
  • an economic unit

Regional networks often bring benefits to businesses but this is not always their sole purpose.

Successful business collaboration

Some common elements make collaborative networking success more likely. For example:

  • mutuality and solidarity – working together for the benefit of each other
  • information exchange – communicating openly about problems and ways of working

Businesses that collaborate may also find it helpful to have a similar culture, operational synergies and a desire to make collaboration work. Support from top management and key people within a business will also contribute to successful collaboration.

Stages of business collaboration

Collaborative networks are often achieved in stages involving:

  • Exploration – looking at the potential benefits and ways of collaborating
  • Assimilation – transforming the ideas into a working collaboration
  • Exploitation – pooling resources and knowledge to create new processes or products

Challenges can emerge at each stage of this life cycle

Planning for collaboration

A foundation of any collaboration is establishing:

  • a clear purpose
  • an agreed business opportunity
  • clear rules of engagement between members

This will allow you to set clear expectations regarding the inputs and outputs of members. It will also enable you to align the interests of the initial membership. Once you define the focus of the network, you can assess and design the criteria for additional members to bring the greatest benefit.


The following recommendations pertain to all partners: • Adopt a problem-centric rather than a firm-centric model of stakeholders. • Frame the partnership as a learning process. • Construct fair processes and manage conflicts. • Don’t expect to come up with a quick solution. • Ensure voice for all participants. • Set evaluation criteria. • Allow time for representatives’ constituencies to review and ratify agreements. • Develop leaders competent in partnership skills

Eight key partner or partnership characteristics are important for choosing a partner and have the potential to impact partnership outcomes. These are: (1) a potential partner’s resource profile, (2) a potential partner’s previous partnership experience, (3) the type of NGO, (4) representation of stakeholders, (5) power dynamics, (6) cultural fit, (7) time horizons for the activities and (8) a potential partner’s reputation.

Dr. Kiran Kumari Patil

Professor & Director REVA NEST
REVA University, Bengaluru
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