Strategic Pillar 3: Partner to Develop Dynamic Offerings
By Robert Phillips
Partnering has always been a founding principle of, and a strategic advantage for, Social Interest Solutions. In fact, SIS was conceived and born through a partnership between four California counties, the State of California, the California Health Care Foundation, The California Endowment, Deloitte’s Technology Consulting practice, and the 100% Campaign (a partnership between The Children’s Partnership, Children Now, the Children’s Defense Fund of California, and the United Ways of California). And, because our roots are in addressing a challenge that needed all these sectors to join together — to overcome a huge barrier to kids getting health coverage — our driving force continues to be more ambitious and more comprehensive than any of these sectors alone. Our aspirations are limitless because we see how meaningful partnerships can extend our creativity, our capacity, and our impact.
Partnering at its root means being open to collaboration. Recent stories about work done here at SIS highlight how our achievements come about through partnerships. This way of working requires creativity from each of our four new functions, as well as SIS as a whole. It isn’t a straight one-to-one correlation. Rather, the orientation is: “We have a problem. We both have an interest in it. How do we solve it?”
As I look around the social tech and policy sectors, I know SIS is one of many like-minded organizations striving to address big social challenges using the power of policy or technology. But our particular advantage is that SIS has always been in it for one reason — purpose. What I mean by purpose is how we approach our work, which is focused on:
- Creating a positive impact: Making concrete near- and long-term impact on people’s lives
- Connecting with others by building meaningful relationships: Working with and helping others who appreciate us
- Achieving continued personal growth: Getting support toward exploring our personal interest and goals
In short, you have to have love in your heart to do this work with us. We have built longstanding relationships with people and organizations in many sectors. For instance, our four pioneering California counties – Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara – have been working with us since 2004. These partners trust us, and we them, because from the beginning, SIS’s approach was relational and not transactional. Or said differently, our goal is to build our connections to, and for, people on purpose. For me, this is key.
Whereas transactional relationships are based on short-term advantages such as saving money, gaining a competitive edge, and getting the most for one’s own benefit out of a deal, relational partners prioritize building trust and respect over the long term, investing in shared best interests, and respecting partners for guidance and expertise.
When partnering with others, we look well beyond the short-term question of, “What do we get out of this venture?” We want to develop dynamic offerings in service of our purpose, which is grand by design: “To create connections between people and the lives they dream of.” While we may work on narrow issue areas, we do not limit ourselves to them because we have proven that through partnership we can develop big dynamic solutions that delve into big social challenges.
In terms of developing dynamic offerings, the input we receive back from our collaborators is invaluable. When we are working a task or developing a new idea, what is the best way to test a hypothesis? Get feedback — from people who use and benefit from our solution, co-workers, other departments, and other organizations. This is how we make sure that people are helping us address challenges that could lead to a solution, and push our thinking on whether or not our solutions work. Partners help us to test our hypotheses and refine our ideas; they help us become better. A primary example of this is how we engage with the users of our products and those who benefit from them to test our products and incorporate that feedback into development, as we talked about in the column on Pillar 2 – a deeper connection with those we serve will help get better results.
In this vein, our clients and other organizations help us scale our reach as we both develop a deep connection with the people who use our solutions and benefit from them, as well as scale our reach in operationalizing those solutions. Without our clients and other collaborators, there is no impact. They are our strongest allies in our efforts to connect people to opportunity, security, and time.
As we continue partnering with organizations, our approach is not simply, “I do one thing and you do another, so let’s partner.” Instead our approach will be about building long-term relationships, understanding our partners, their needs, and their wants. Then and only then should we even think about trying to work together. We should seek those collaborators — the disruptors and innovators and incubators — who maybe aren’t doing the same thing as us or are even in our same field. But their intentions and motivations are very similar to ours. The outcome we want is shared: to use the power of policy and technology to ensure people have more agency to help themselves; to make more informed decisions; to connect and participate in their communities; to address their health, social, educational or economic needs; and to find life-saving information and resources more easily.
In this way, partnering is not just about two organizations that complement each other and fill each other’s gaps. It’s about extending ourselves to achieve our shared purpose. I see the potential in mashing up with other organizations in ways that range from informal knowledge sharing to joint ventures to combining administrative or governance functions to mergers and acquisitions. As long as the effort supports long-term benefits for the largest number of people possible, SIS is open to collaborating with anyone.
This approach to partnering also enables us to spread and defend our philosophy of working for people for a greater purpose. SIS will continue to be staunch proponents for our vision — in the larger community of social policy and technology for good. We will lend ourselves to those organizations and efforts who are working to find new ways of connecting the existing fields and domains of technology to solve increasingly complex social problems. By networking and organizing fragmented groups around a shared vision, we can achieve more. SIS will contribute more broadly by sharing our physical space, sharing our expertise, sharing our workforce, and giving what we can to others’ efforts.
I want us to think about partnering as a part of everything we do. When we think about our first pillar, the work environment, that’s a partnership with employees. Our second pillar, deepening our connection to the people we serve, that’s a partnership with the folks who use our technology solutions and those who benefit from them. When we think about policy and tech, that’s creating a partnership between two fields that tend to see each other’s work as separate rather than as complementing one another.
Partnerships remain critical to our ability to develop innovative solutions, expand our reach, and embrace the next big challenge. In today’s hyper-competitive, hyper-connected marketplace, partnerships have taken on even greater strategic importance and complexity. In this changing environment, SIS’s future as an enterprise depends on the capabilities, functions, channels, and insights we can tap into by partnering with others.