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How Society Can Benefit from Multiplier Partnerships

Words by Leon Kaye
Multiplier Partnerships

The fear many of us now feel is matched only by uncertainty. Unemployment is soaring; countless businesses are shuttered, and many of them will never reopen; and the vast majority of us are isolated from our families, friends and colleagues. City streets that were once bustling such as those in New York City (shown above) are ghost towns. Organizations across all sectors are trying to keep their heads above water during this crisis, and when we finally emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, both businesses and nonprofits will be navigating unknown seas. During this time, the forging of multiplier partnerships is a tactic that leaders of organizations could consider in order to share knowledge and in the end, do good.

Multiplier partnerships: beyond the terminology

“In a nutshell, I would define multiplier partnerships concept as ability to identify unique synergies and organizational alignment around global issues and challenges to deploy impact-multiplying solutions,” said Anna Tunkel, who leads global strategic partnership initiatives and partnerships at the communications consultancy APCO. “In my experience, successful multiplier partnerships go beyond philanthropy or corporate sponsorships, and truly lean into organizational strengths, strategies and vision to unleash a broader societal impact.”

From Tunkel’s point of view, organizations now have little choice but to harness the power of partnerships to address society’s most dire needs. In a recent op-ed on the international affairs news site Diplomatic Courier, Tunkel insisted that the cooperation of companies, nonprofits, academics and government agencies can help take on challenges that are exacting a tool on people worldwide. Such coalitions can work together on the strengthening of public health systems; controlling the spread of diseases and rolling out treatment strategies; or finding new ways to protect jobs or provide a social safety net.

One’s first reaction to the concept of multiplier partnerships is that, well, we are witnessing impressive action, already, right? We have seen efforts including the fast action Governors Gavin Newsom of California and Mike DeWine of Ohio have taken; the largess of the Gates Foundation and Bill Gates himself; the huge donation to the COVID-19 fight by Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey; and industries blindsided by this pandemic, including airlines and hotels, which have lent their assets to helping healthcare workers fight the novel coronavirus.

But from Tunkel’s perspective, the sharing of people and capacity can result in an effort that could be far more effective than if each individual organization acted alone. “There are so many resources and initiatives that operate in silos, but this creates opportunities to connect the dots and mobilize better on today’s pressing issues,” said Tunkel.

Before COVID-19, multiplier partnerships were already paying off

Tunkel has argued that the world as we know it will be divided into two eras: BC and AC, as in before COVID-19 and after. Prior to this global pandemic, these types of partnerships certainly existed, but organizations’ leaders generally viewed them as a “nice to have.” Yet as the global economy tumbles toward contraction this year, hundreds of millions of families will feel pain at all levels for the foreseeable future; hence such coalitions will become a “must have.”

One “pre-COVID” multiplier partnership to which organizations can look as an exemplar is the Real Play Coalition, which Tunkel has advised in recent years. Founded three years ago, its members include the global engineering and design firm Arup, Ikea, National Geographic, the Lego Foundation and UNICEF. The group’s overarching goal is to pursue a global movement that prioritizes the importance of play – not only because it’s an important part of childhood, but because such interaction is important in children’s development and learning.

“It’s important to note that the importance of multiplier partnerships like the Real Play Coalition is that they are not about pouring money into such an effort, but instead driving collective actions and drawing on full set of resources and knowledge of each organization,” she added. 

Building bridges across borders and between silos

One example of a current multiplier partnership that has been proactive in addressing the COVID-19 crisis is the Committee of 100 (C100), which describes itself as a non-partisan organization of leading Chinese Americans in academia, the arts, business and government. Founded in the late 1980s, C100 is currently harnessing its resources on several fronts. On one hand, the organization is working to drive awareness and find solutions to the outbreak of racial slurs and violence against the Asian-American community. In addition, the group raised $1 million to acquire personal protection equipment (PPE) and then arranged for an airlift to take those supplies to the U.S.

That may seem like a drop in the bucket at first glance, and true, we’ll need many more drops to fill that bucket. The good news is that evidence suggests that in the midst of all this chaos, we’ll hear more about such coalitions in the weeks and months ahead. Unilever, for example, has retooled its timeless handwashing campaign and is working with a partnership that includes the United Kingdom’s government to showcase the importance of this habit to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“What Unilever and its partners are doing as they turn their resources to developing markets, thereby shifting focus to the most vulnerable is a testament to the impact of multiplier partnerships,” said Tunkel. “After all, global multinationals, many which often have a GDP larger than the world’s smaller nations, can generate huge impact with their capacity to reach citizens worldwide – and that’s magnified with the expertise and resources that a broader universe of actors – smaller companies, start-ups, universities, multilateral organizations, NGOs and governments can share.”

Image credit: Paulo Silva/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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