This excerpt from Oxfam Canada’s Partnership Policy showcases Oxfam Canada’s work with partnerships. Section 3 outlines the key principles it aspires to achieve. That list can be useful to consider when creating or reflecting on your own organization’s principles or policy around partnership.
Excerpt from Oxfam Canada Partnership Policy
Approved by the Oxfam Canada Board of Directors, 25 February 2011
Section 3: Partnership Principles
Oxfam’s partnerships are based on six core principles. Whilst recognizing that these principles are not equally applicable to all types of relationships along the partnership continuum, we nonetheless aspire to follow them in all our working relations with others.
1. Shared vision and values
Partnerships between Oxfam and other organizations are built on a shared vision of a fair world, free of poverty and injustice, which implies solidarity beyond the implementation of specific programs and activities.
Whilst recognizing and respecting differences – and welcoming dialogue and debate – sufficient common ground must be found for our partnerships with others to be viable. At a minimum, Oxfam and partners with which we work must share both a belief that people living in poverty should enjoy their fundamental human rights and an organizational commitment to gender equality and respect for diverse identities. Our shared understanding of change processes should encompass the agency of poor and marginalized people and the importance of movements and organizations representing their interests, while affirming state institutions as ultimate duty bearers.
2. Complementarity of purpose and value-added
Oxfam works in partnership with a variety of actors in a diverse set of relationships. Across the partnership continuum, the emphasis will be placed on identifying the common goal to which we are working, whether in long or short term relationships, looking to build on the distinctive contribution of all actors and ensuring that our combined efforts bring about change.
We recognize that each partner brings different capacities and resources to an interdependent relationship. We believe that working with others towards common objectives creates synergies and the potential for real collaborative advantage. For this potential to be realized the diverse knowledge, experience and skills which each partner brings to the relationship must be valued and acknowledged as essential to ensuring the success and sustainability of joint efforts. The value-added Oxfam brings to the relationship will vary across our continuum of partnerships as well as our diverse roles, and must be clearly stated. Funding is understood as only one aspect of partnerships, however determinant, with Oxfam increasingly engaging non-funding relationships with a variety of partners and allies.
Partnering processes must create opportunities for partners and for Oxfam to articulate what is important to them and what they believe they can contribute to the partnership, and to arrive at a common understanding of shared purpose, mutual benefits and interests. In making decisions about with whom to partner, Oxfam will always consider the contribution the partnership will make to bringing about positive outcomes for people living in poverty.
3. Autonomy and independence
Our partnerships will strive for mutual respect for institutional integrity and autonomy. We are aware that, in many of our partnerships, particularly in funding relationships, power imbalances exist that may undermine the principle of autonomy and independence. Oxfam will work to manage this tension through our partnering processes and accountability systems.
Oxfam must not impose its views on partners. We take responsibility for clearly communicating our positions to partners. We are open to being challenged and will create opportunities for dialogue and debate around goals, values, results and impact. While there must be some commonality in vision and values in order for the partnership to be viable, we accept that partners may not share all our views. The right of each partner to determine their own institutional identity, directions and priorities should be respected. In our capacity strengthening work with partners, we must be attentive to the challenge of balancing respect for institutional autonomy and independence with program support for institutional growth and development.
We are open, within the limits of our mission and mandate, to being influenced as to where, how and with whom we work, and on the messages we convey through our campaigns. This includes being open to learning from different experiences of, and approaches to, development, campaigning and humanitarian work which may challenge us to question our own assumptions about effective practice – and to change the way we do things. Every effort is made to build mutual respect for different viewpoints, values and beliefs within the partnership.
4. Transparency and Mutual Accountability
Oxfam and partners have multiple accountabilities to a variety of stakeholders, including supporters and donors, and – most importantly – to those women and men living in poverty who are engaged in and benefitting from our programs. We will strive to achieve a balance between upward and downward accountability in our own systems and processes, and improved mutual accountability within our partnerships. As part of the process of developing partnerships, we explicitly discuss how Oxfam is accountable to partners and how we and our partners are accountable to people and communities with and for whom we work.
In funding relationships, Oxfam and partners recognize and are committed to high standards of financial management, as we hold in trust money which others have offered in good faith and for which we are jointly responsible. Oxfam also acknowledges and strives to address accountability issues associated with all our partnerships, including those involving non-funding relationships.
Oxfam and partners have a mutual interest in demonstrating impact and in designing accountability systems that support this need. Within the limits imposed on Oxfam by back donor requirements, Oxfam will not oblige a partner to adapt its own planning, management and evaluation systems to those of Oxfam. Oxfam will attempt to coordinate financing and reporting requirements across affiliates and with donor agencies. We will support partners to develop and implement monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) approaches that reinforce the partner’s accountability to their communities, giving women and men living in poverty ‘voice’ to provide feedback on partners performance. We will lead by example by putting in place feedback mechanisms that enable partners (and other stakeholders) to assess Oxfam’s performance. Such systems will be supported by formal grievance procedures or complaints mechanisms. We are committed to openness and transparency about how decisions are made regarding partnership, and will establish regular consultations and communications with partners.
Oxfam has an obligation to ensure that our partners are aware of various international accountability charters and quality standards to which we have adhered and to clarify how these codes and principles are applicable to partners’ work.
As part our power analysis, Oxfam and partners discuss the power imbalances that exist between us, created by funding discrepancies, size, experience, access to information, and North/South dynamics. Where we are in the position of power, we will act with humility and aim to reduce such imbalances. We acknowledge that such power relations have often led to women’s civil society organizations (CSOs) being marginalized or side-lined and will fulfill our commitment to strengthen partnerships with women’s organizations, networks and movements.
5. Clarity on roles and responsibilities
Partnerships are built on clear understanding and robust partnership agreements. For funding partnerships, all the elements of the partnering process and decision-making are discussed and agreed by partners (partnership appraisal and assessment processes, contractual and financial arrangements, program implementation, monitoring and evaluation, joint learning and exit). Oxfam understands that the credibility and trust required to sustain healthy partnerships comes from good communication, competence and reliability.
Oxfam and partners are co-strategists of programs and activities on which they jointly work, though the extent to which they are co-owners of program will vary according to the nature and maturity of programs and partnerships themselves. Whatever the nature of the relationship, Oxfam will create opportunities for regular consultation with partners, ensuring that such spaces enable all partners to voice their issues.
Partner relationships, and with them the roles and responsibilities of each party, will evolve over time. The understandings and agreements that define a particular partnership shall need to be revisited at regular intervals. This evolving reality will require flexibility and responsiveness on all sides as organizational circumstances and social contexts change.
Oxfam will discuss its understanding of its roles (see Section II) with partners and clarify the ways in which we will work together within and across these dimensions. At all times we will work with local and accountable organizations and/or towards strengthening or facilitating the establishment of such organizations or structures. Whatever can be done with sufficient quality, effectiveness and efficiency by local organizations must be done by them. We will support efforts to increase partners’ visibility across all areas of our work and will explicitly acknowledge the work they have done.
Every effort will be made to live up to the aspiration embodied in OI Program Standard 6 which states that “effective partnering is a fundamental strategy through which Oxfam seeks to become redundant”. We will deepen, by discussing with partners and amongst ourselves (being particularly attentive to the perspectives of Southern-based Oxfams) our long-term vision of partnership and related to this how we can contribute most effectively to strengthening local organizations and a sustainable civil society.
6. Commitment to joint learning
Oxfam, as a learning organization, promotes continuous and systematic learning. In partnerships this requires upfront agreement on how Oxfam and partners can learn from their joint work, and from each other, with the aim of incorporating learning, communications and knowledge sharing into the relationship. How program results and learning will be shared outside the partnership will be agreed by Oxfam and partners so that no misunderstanding arises.
Our learning agenda with partners will explore both partnership processes and outcomes.
As Oxfam works primarily through partnerships, we have an interest in understanding the factors, including ways of working, that condition successful partnerships. We will work with partners to ensure that joint learning is used regularly to adjust our strategy and plans as we strive for increased impact.