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The Infinite Value of Stakeholder Engagement and Relationship Building

InnovationInsights
Hands
Oct 7, 2021

A Q&A with Lovesun Parent, the director of external partnerships at USAID’s New Partnerships Initiative Incubator.

What is the first thing you tell new and underutilized partners?

Partners need to recognize that while they may offer some unique services, they are not working in a silo. Your organization is never truly isolated; rather, you are in a universe with others who are tackling the same development issues, share the same vision, and pursue the same mission. 

The real first step is understanding how and why stakeholder engagement is essential to elevating your organization’s cause. You can do this in a formalized process by developing an engagement strategy. Once you see the value of collaborating with various stakeholders, it becomes easier to dig deeper in building partnerships within your sector. Part of that strategy would focus not only on future stakeholder engagement but also on a reflection of your past engagement. 

How do we gain that insight—learn more about stakeholders?

Within your organization’s universe, you need to identify who is who within your ecosystem and begin thinking of ways to strengthen your organization’s relationship with these stakeholders. That can happen through a more formal mapping exercise. This exercise will require you to set some criteria on how to define stakeholders. In more general terms, stakeholders are often categorized as primary, secondary, and tertiary. You have to figure out how your organization’s vision and mission align with those with whom you are currently working, those who support your efforts, and those who are collaborators. 

Another benefit to building out your strategy and conducting a mapping exercise is that it also allows you to develop an engagement mechanism focusing on long-term goals, such as policy alignments to a USAID Country (or Regional) Development Cooperation Strategy. Once your organization has those pieces in place, you can start devising an approach and assessing the logistics needed to collaborate with these critical stakeholders. Then the fun part begins: You explore your network and begin tapping into partners.

On WorkwithUSAID.org, there is a library that offers a variety of tools and resources to support stakeholder mapping. These tools will help you determine who your stakeholders are and how you might collaborate with them. Additionally, you will learn how your stakeholders might support your organization as allies, partners, or network members with resources, funding, business opportunities, and more.

Lastly, you want to integrate the stakeholder strategy and mapping into your regular program cycle. While this may be a new way of working for many organizations, it allows your organization to ensure that its programs are designed, implemented, and evaluated according to the needs of your stakeholders. Explore our many resources and learn about the policies, platforms, and guidelines that ensure successful partnerships and engagements.

Aren't they competitors?

While it may seem as if you are competing for the same pool of funding opportunities with some of your stakeholders, I suggest approaching stakeholder engagement from a partnership-building point of view. Seeing your stakeholders as competitors instead of partners can cause fragmentation in your sector and hinder your efforts to achieve sustainable development outcomes.

I think it is useful to plug into your “competition” and build bridges for the future. Effective collaboration among organizations will yield better results. Think of it as the same strategy as networking: Learn about your partners, build partnerships and coalitions, work together where you can, and stay in the know. After all, as the saying goes, “Together we are stronger.”

What do you mean by "communities of practice"?

Think of your relationships with stakeholders, nongovernmental organizations, funders, and beneficiaries as communities of practice. A community of practice is simply defined as a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. They offer a constant information exchange when you stay connected. 

The people with whom you are working in your community are the most important stakeholders. They will provide you honest feedback and a nuanced understanding of what works and what does not. Always remain connected, and see them as a source of advice and valuable information. 

Any last thoughts, particularly for new and underutilized partners?

Through the resources on WorkwithUSAID.org, organizations can build capacity in stakeholder engagement and relationship-building. The Pre-Engagement Assessment is a great place to start. It helps organizations to identify performance gaps. 

These Incubator resources can help you lay out your organizational road map and figure out how to achieve your stakeholder strategies.