Building partnerships and annoying purists

Patrick Shine

I am very excited at the way our new venture – Retirement Transition Initiative - is coming together. Mona and I are criss-crossing the country talking to our local delivery partners (in Wigan, Stoke-on-Trent and Coventry), and simultaneously increasing our engagement with national players. Today Mona discusses the venture at the Age Action Alliance, next week I’ll be attending a seminar hosted by the Cabinet Office. Right now the partnership includes well known commercial businesses, specialist charities, a university, social entrepreneurs, grant making trusts and faith groups.

During the process I have had three recurring thoughts:

1. We are being the change: RTI is all about helping people to use the transition of retirement to develop resilience by building diversity into their social capital. As with National Citizen Service, social mixing is seen as a good thing, increasing choice and opportunity. In building the partnerships we are adopting and modelling exactly the same mind set we want to nurture in the participants in our programmes

2. To do these we need to be multi-lingual: Business uses a different vocabulary to faith groups, and they are both different to policy makers. In order to engage successfully with the different sectors, we have to take responsibility for communication. We have to understand the way that an employer values its people, and how differently an advocacy charity might phrase the same point. Even the humour varies – in the faith sector I can get away with terms like “speaking in tongues”, which would leave policy makers baffled and rather worried.

3. We annoy people on the way: Not everybody is willing to engage with people like us. The social enterprise sector can be very sniffy. Recently, UnLtd (we are partners with UnLtd in Big Venture Challenge) was condemned by CAN and Senscot. I get fed up when the first question I get asked is “what is my legal structure?” and I’ve seen projects become seriously compromised because of such arguments. And it’s not just the social enterprise sector that encounters this wariness - many in the faith sector agonise over talking to government, a feeling entirely reciprocated by many in government!

It is easy to be cynical about partnership. It has been defined as”the suppression of mutual loathing in the pursuit of government funding”.  In that context it’s worth noting the list of partners for RTI doesn’t include any government agencies.

But cynicism doesn’t make things better. At the Shaftesbury Partnership our passion is to pioneer ways of doing “what works” in tackling inequality and exclusion, and that passion means we want to keep learning how to do it better. Our partners share those goals, and we find common cause with them.

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