‘For partnerships to flourish, they must create spaces: space in which partners can connect, collaborate and ultimately create solutions.’ Andrew Boraine

The multiple challenges facing Cape Town are complex, persistent, deep-rooted and, sometimes, seemingly intractable. Which types of organisations therefore are best positioned to lead the city in dealing with such complexity?

Government organisations have the statutory mandate and possess many of the resources, but are not always sufficiently in touch with the fine-grained grassroots community issues, or the business and investment environment. In practice, they are often hamstrung with vexed inter-governmental relations and the current anti-development regulatory regime.

Civil society organisations are usually powerful advocates of the rights and needs of specific constituencies and sectors, but often lack both the resources and the strategic capacity to translate mobilisation into effective delivery.

Private-sector organisations are keen to be involved and often have resources, but can be out of touch with the complexities of community needs and the need for structural economic transformation. Business (and government) is often locked into a ‘race to the bottom’ stand-off with labour, given the intractability of our current industrial relations regime.

No one organisation can, on its own, hope to successfully resolve the structural problems of unemployment, inequality and poverty, or address the need for basic services and shelter in informal settlements, or the challenges faced by communities wracked by gang violence and drugs.

Faced by these types of issues and many more, there is a need to harness the collective wisdom, skills and resources for city development. Sounds obvious? Given the historical divisions and high levels of inequality in our city, it is not as easy in practice.

In some cities, cross-sector partnerships are becoming increasingly popular in areas of policy making and implementation that were previously the primary domain of the state. Partnerships, it is argued, can be seen as a “new model of governance”.

Professor Ralph Hamann of the UCT Graduate School of Business, who has studied a wide range of partnership initiatives globally and locally, argues that: “Cross-sector partnerships involve some form of structured collaboration between organisations from business, government and civil society on the basis of converging interests, focused on achieving joint objectives. Partnerships exist on different scales and take different forms, but they have in common the expectation that the participants can achieve their objectives more effectively and efficiently through strategic alliances with others rather than acting independently.”

Hamann further argues that “there is a compelling argument that cross-sector partnerships are strategically placed to lead urban transformation because of their ability to creatively juxtapose different and even conflicting interests, objectives and organisational cultures. Sometimes, the explicit embrace of tensions between partners or between perspectives acts as a catalytic force to identify creative ‘win-win’ options”.

Types of cross-sector partnerships

We can identify two types of partnership, namely implementation partnerships (predominately about financing and managing action to achieve particular, tangible objectives), and innovation and dialogue partnerships (which commonly seek to create a guiding or facilitative framework for action).

There are four simple lessons that can be drawn from the experiences of the Cape Town Partnership, a hybrid model of partnership, and its constituent partners over the past 15 years:

Lesson One: A partnership is only as strong as the partners

A cross-sector partnership does not substitute for or compete with its constituent partners. As important as being able to engage directly in provision of value-add services is being able to hold partners accountable for delivering on their own mandates. This is why roles and responsibilities within a partnership need to be clearly defined. Part of the work of a partnership is to build the capacity of the partners.

Lesson Two: Build and Maintain Trust

There is a need to constantly renew partnerships, and not to take them for granted. Within most partnerships “is the need to build and maintain trust between participants in a partnership… because partners will need to take risks when relying on other partners fulfilling their part of explicit agreements or implicit expectations” (Hamann).
Within a commitment to common objectives and a shared style of work, there needs to be room for differences. A partnership won’t work if you try and force all partners to think and act the same.

Lesson Three: Get the ‘right’ people 

In effective partnerships, “decision-making power is not held or exerted primarily by organisational hierarchy, state mandate or market competition, but rather on the basis of legitimacy brought about by the ‘right’ people being involved in authentic and solutions-orientated dialogue” (Hamann). This is the opposite of the ‘command and control’ or compliance-based accounting approaches that are prevalent.

Lesson Four: Partnerships change over time

Cross–sector partnerships have a varied lifecycle, and need to constantly adapt to changing circumstances. They therefore need to be flexible and light, to have ability to amend or expand the original mandate, and to take on new partners.

It was on the basis of these lessons that the Economic Development Partnership rather than a statutory agency was established in the Western Cape, to lead a common economic growth, development inclusion agenda for the region.


In his MT Budget Policy Statement (2014-02-04) Pravin Gordham said the following:

‘Faster and more inclusive growth calls for greater cooperation and better alignment between labour, business, government and other actors to get things done – hearing each other out, finding solutions, encouraging innovation, building a ‘smart’ South Africa.’

For a partnership to work, we have to learn to “leave our jackets at the door”, i.e. to temporarily suspend those identities that lock us into negative attitudes, habits and behaviours and find our common ground and purpose.