Greater than the sum of our parts: the power of partnerships

Published on Mon, 01 Aug, 2022

In 2015, the United Nations convened in New York to coin the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to improve the wellbeing and prosperity of people all around the world. It was during that same year that Sawiris Foundation undertook the necessary internal restructuring to create the partnerships department, in order to support the foundation in mobilizing partnerships towards the quest for impactful socio-economic development. 

There are many reasons why we enter into partnerships, and we like to think of these reasons from both the conceptual and utilitarian lenses. From a conceptual perspective, collaborating on addressing social causes strongly aligns with SDG 17, which is to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”. Working together also fits well with Egypt’s 2030 vision – which places considerable importance on cross-sectoral collaboration for sustainable development. As committed partners to the global development agenda and Egypt’s national strategy, we naturally adhere to building partnerships. 

On the other hand, and when looking through a utilitarian lens, we seek to partner with other reputable and established organizations with whom we share similar values and a relentless focus on impact. This is because through collaborating with other like-minded organizations, we would reach mutual benefit in a multitude of ways:

1. Reducing redundancies in the field of social development and saving tremendous resources in the process.

2. Having greater reach, scale and impact.

It is quite encouraging to see how pooling resources may help partners do more, and at a much larger scale than they would have otherwise. This impacts more lives in the process.

3. Sharing best practices and experiences, paving the road for cross-learning opportunities.

Tightly-nit partnerships provide an excellent formula for cross-learning, where each organization can draw from the learnings of their partners. This is a valuable quality to leverage on, especially for institutions that are working in the field of social development and delivering public goods.

4. Complementing each other’s strengths by focusing on what each partner brings to the table.

Effective and efficient partnerships can prove to transform partners, in that they could provide the public and civil society sectors with valuable industry-related skills, and on the other hand, could nudge businesses to incorporate social values into their models and value chains (which is what some have dubbed ‘creating shared value’).

The objective of creating and maintaining partnerships is, therefore, not limited to maximizing financial investments, but more importantly to enriching developmental interventions through the exchange of experiences, knowledge, resources (whether financial or otherwise), and best practices. This helps in the design and implementation of more effective and holistic programs, and aligns well with the notion that “no one institution or individual knows everything.

There are a number of additional clear-cut benefits when it comes to venturing into partnerships. To begin with, partnerships should be razor-focused on addressing the specific priorities of the involved stakeholders. Moreover, partnerships have a significant capacity (if properly designed to avoid allocating too much decision-making power in the hands of one entity over another) to give all stakeholders involved a voice, which results in well-rounded solutions to developmental challenges that incorporate the perspectives of all the players involved – in effect generating stronger levels of ownership. Moreover, ensuring a cooperative mindset between partners when launching a collaboration can support later scaling up initiatives, as well as enlarging the scope of work should the program prove successful. These outcomes are hallmarks of successful partnerships. 

To that end, Sawiris Foundation has partnered with close to fifty organizations and corporations to date, in order to co-fund numerous projects and programs that aim to serve disadvantaged Egyptians. 

It is not all roses and butterflies, of course. The creation and maintenance of quality partnerships require significant and sustained effort, both in the planning as well as implementation phases. We must ensure that in every partnership, we are committing the necessary financial, technical, and administrative resources. This is an often-underutilized approach, as organizations may shy away from committing the resources needed to create and maintain partnerships (often doing so in the name of efficiency). Moreover, the design phase of a partnership is of critical importance for the sustainability of that collaboration, in the sense that all stakeholders must think and plan alongside one another, and to do so in an inclusive manner. This means drafting clear, well-defined objectives that all stakeholders can agree on, outlining how the partners will reach these objectives, as well as clearly stating the roles and responsibilities of each player. We should supplement this with a continuous process of reflection in order to measure progress when it comes to these defined objectives. Of course, this is much easier said than done, where liaising between numerous partners to move things forward, especially considering the administrative requirements and policies of each entity, can prove to be a significant challenge. 

However, we can address these bottlenecks related to moving partnerships forward by utilizing new and innovative ways to coordinate between stakeholders, such as shrewdly utilizing technology while keeping efficiency in mind. A simple example of this may be collaborating on shared documents in parallel in order to save time. Another would be to align on internal procedures early on, as opposed to a continuous back and forth mode of communication. A final one would be to ensure that calendars are shared in order to liaise meetings effortlessly.

When partnerships are more smoothly coordinated, there tends to be an increased appetite for the creation of even more productive collaborations. Maintaining flexibility is also an important tenet of working with numerous partners, where the procedural requirements of each partner (an example of which can be the reporting conditions for donors) can prove to be an administrative hassle for entities that implement on the ground, distracting them from actual execution. It is therefore vital for co-funding partners to have the necessary flexibility to hybridize and combine administrative requests in a manner that eases the bureaucracy for implementing partners. 

Finally, we must highlight that partnerships disconnected from a clear objective and function, should not in themselves be pursued, and that the reason behind the establishment of any partnership should be the fundamental belief of involved stakeholders that there is a certain, definitive developmental challenge that needs to be addressed. Indeed, partnerships are a powerful tool in the arsenals of organizations that could (and should) be leveraged in order to collectively reach common goals. There are important caveats though that we need to keep in mind when it comes to conducting partnerships, such as the slower pace and the administrative hurdles. 

That being said, Sawiris Foundation reiterates its strong commitment over the upcoming years to continue expanding its collaborations with co-funding partners, in the hope of bridging the gap between stakeholders in development through maximizing the utilization of resources. We firmly believe, as is often terrifically captured through an age-old proverb, that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.


Rosa Abdelmalek

As Director of Partnerships, Rosa is responsible for the establishment of partnerships with NGOs and other donors. Prior to SFSD, Rosa was the Executive Director of SPAAC/The Human Empowerment Center (1988-2008). She also worked as project coordinator for the Marketing Management Workshops to SMEs in partnership with PEP-MENA, 2004 – 2007 and as Quality Advisor to IFC/PEP-MENA in the Middle East Region 2005-2006. Rosa was selected to participate in several international workshops organized by the World Bank on strategic management, marketing and training. Rosa holds a B.Sc. in Commerce, Cairo University, 1987 and is alumna of the Mubarak Professional Development Initiative Program.

Mohamed Lotfy

Senior Partnerships Officer, Mohamed holds Bachelor’s Degree from the American University in Cairo (AUC) with a major in Political Science, specializing in International Relations and a minor in Economics. Then he joined a digital advertising agency for a year working on uplifting and strengthening clients’ presence on digital platforms as well as on their digital strategies; he left from there as Senior Account Manager, joining SFSD’s cornerstone partnerships department.