Ideas with Purpose: Partnering for Impact
November 7, 2023
Exploring the Power of Collective Action for Systemic Change
For the latest in our series of live events at the London office, our very own Dr. Corina Shika Kwami, head of office at Purpose EMEA, hosted a discussion with Jean Oelwang, founding CEO of Virgin Unite, co-founder of Plus Wonder and author of Partnering: Forge the Deep Connections that Make Great Things Happen. Together, the dynamic pair explored the art of building meaningful connections and collaborations to drive progress in the world, at the event “Partnering for Impact.”
Why We Need Meaningful Partnerships for Impact
Oelwang kicked off the evening by emphasizing the urgency of re-evaluating our current approaches to addressing global challenges. An alarming insight from the Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that 70% of individuals would not help someone in need whose viewpoints differed from theirs — underscoring the need for fostering open conversations across political and cultural beliefs and in the face of disagreements. She also outlined the profound negative impacts of loneliness, referencing the stat from Julianne Holt-Lunstad which shows it surpasses obesity and smoking in detrimental health effects. She asserted that partnerships not only hold the potential to infuse purpose into our lives, but also are the key to addressing the world’s most complex issues.
“We need to shift our focus from individual heroes to the intricate web of relationships that drive change,”
– Jean Oelwang, founding CEO of Virgin Unite & co-founder of Plus Wonder
Learning from historic collaborations and their impactful journeys
When writing her book, Oelwang drew from over 65 interviews and meticulously distilled specific observations on what makes partnerships work. In addition to trust, respect, and cultivating friendship, she highlighted the need to celebrate, the importance of recognizing friction and the power of holding space to disagree without being disagreeable. Kwami and Oelwang then explored two examples of incredible achievements that were powered by the human connection and collaboration of partnerships.
- Protecting the Ozone Layer
The ozone layer’s discovery and protection is a poignant story of collective achievement by a dedicated group of friends Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland – as well as Stephen O. Andersen and Mostafa Tolba. Their journey highlights the power of trust, mutual respect, and “magnetic moments” — traditions and rituals that bring people together — to build and sustain meaningful connections throughout long and difficult work.
- Ending Apartheid in South Africa
While Nelson Mandela is revered as the figurehead of ending apartheid, there was also a coordinated community of unsung heroes behind the celebrated anti-apartheid movement. Each individual played a specific role, recognizing their own limitations and considering how they could uniquely contribute to the collective cause. The profound love and connection among anti-apartheid activists demonstrates the strength that can arise from a shared purpose and working towards a clear vision.
Q&A Takeaways: Key Insights and Strategies for Nurturing Sustainable Partnerships
The ‘Partnering for Impact’ event included a lively question-and-answer session. The key takeaways that emerged were:
- Rethink Hero Narratives Across both Oelwang’s depth of experience in partnerships and Kwami’s examples from Purpose’s work, it became clear that the hero narrative, while often appealing for storytelling, is not accurate. “We need to shift our focus from individual heroes to the intricate web of relationships that drive change,” said Oelwang.
- Scale Up Partnerships Oelwang and Kwami noted several ways to help partnerships grow and multiply: celebrate cumulative progress, bring people together across sectors and recognize that magic often happens at the local level. Oelwang underscored her insights with examples such as the successful smallpox eradication campaign in India, where local collaboration led to monumental change. Kwami emphasized the centrality of trust in building movements, and the need for a long-term perspective that recognizes meaningful change as a marathon, not a sprint.
- Sustain Partnerships Keeping partnerships strong over the long haul is immensely valuable but requires clear purpose, personal connections and the ability to navigate disagreements without discord. A million small yet significant moments collectively form the backbone of enduring change. In some cases, partnerships that spring up to respond to a crisis recede once the crisis has passed. This doesn’t mean they weren’t successful, because the partnerships and lessons learned can in turn fuel future efforts. For example, Purpose’s Verified program to fight misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic gained many valuable insights on collaborating with community leaders and trusted messengers. While we’re no longer focused on driving Covid vaccinations, Verified’s learning and partnerships are now being leveraged to fight climate misinformation.
- Leverage Technology for Impact While technologies such as AI can be powerful, it’s essential to remember they are tools that should complement, rather than replace, human relationships. By harnessing technological capabilities in tandem with community wisdom, we can power solutions across issue spaces.
- Champion Authentic Co-Creation True co-creation means stepping back, letting go of preconceived notions and collectively forging new bonds. It’s a process that requires humility, open-mindedness and a shared commitment to the greater good. For full partnerships to form, you have to be willing to throw your own ideas away in order to find the right solutions collectively.
Throughout, the event illuminated the transformative potential of human collaborative efforts and encouraged attendees to reflect on opportunities for active partnership in their own spheres of influence. The stories shared by Oelwang and Kwami resonated as powerful reminders that meaningful change arises from sustained collective action. Reflecting on the evening, Kwami noted, “The energy in the room was palpable. It’s clear that there’s a collective hunger for meaningful collaboration and a recognition of the power it holds.”
You can find out more about Oelwang’s book, Partnering: Forge The Deep Connections That Make Great Things Happen here.
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