THE BEYOND vol. 2 / Article 1: Why
15 May 2019 - Impact Hub Berlin

Why do we need partnerships between unlikely allies?

Already in 2001, acclaimed economist and educator Peter Drucker stated: “The New Economy may or may not materialize, but there is no doubt that the Next Society will be with us shortly” (Managing the Next Society, P.Drucker, 2001).

In the industrialised world, mega-trends like an aging population, digitalisation, the importance of knowledge or the new protectionism increasingly affect organisations and their relationships to their stakeholders. To provide meaningful solutions, organisations need to adapt. These trends are clearly reflected in the emphasis put on innovation, sustainability, new management paradigms and the debate around “new work”. 

Value creation in networks is the “new normal” of Peter Drucker’s “Next Society” – especially in networks that span across sectoral, cultural and topical boundaries. In these networks, partnerships between unlikely allies are one of the most effective ways to adapt existing approaches, to co-create solutions, and to prototype new business models.  This does not only create value, it also supports the transformation of organisational cultures: e.g. government agencies that cooperate with start-ups to improve a service for citizens; NGOs that partner with corporates to address a societal issue; an activist group that becomes an active player in developing a neighbourhood together with local businesses and the city administration.

We understand partnerships between unlikely allies as cooperation projects between actors in the public sector, private sector and civil society, in which the participating organisations cooperate transparently on equal terms to achieve a common goal in sustainable development. For this purpose, the partners contribute their complementary competencies and resources, and agree to share the risks and benefits of the joint project.

We believe that people are essentially cooperative by default. The anthropologist Michael Tomasello has shown in extensive studies that our ability and the will to cooperate are at the root of our unique form of cultural organisation and a key driver of the evolution of tolerance and trust. To deal with the growing complexity of our problems, we need to raise the complexity of our solutions as well.  What is a better way of doing this than bringing diverse perspectives to the table? 

Unfortunately, partnerships are never easy – especially when they are built between organisations, not individuals. Unlikely allies differ on an organizational level in objectives, structures and processes, but also on a cultural level in their language, values and attitude towards cooperation. These differences are instrumental to the quality and success of the outcomes. At the same time, they create many challenges, especially in the early stages of a collaboration. 

Partnerships between unlikely allies – and this is a claim of this series – are actually somewhat like startups in the “pioneering stage”: often fragile, based on personal relationships and improvisation, exhausting and exhilarating. And all too often we are already talking about “scaling-strategies” even when the foundations have yet to be laid.

In our next article, we will take a closer look at those challenges and what it is that we can actually learn from startups when building partnerships with unlikely allies.

> Join us for the corresponding event to this article! We will host a workshop at this year’s Asia Pacific Week on May 16, 3:30pm as part of their “Corporates meet start-ups” track.

> 2 more articles for Volume 2 coming up! Those will answer the big questions of the WHAT and the HOW – so check back here again.

To deep dive into the topic, find our handbook on co-creating successful projects between public sector, private sector and civil society here.


This article is part of our THE BEYOND series – a series we brought to life to take you on a journey beyond the known allies, the countries we live in, the current methods and tools, the new technologies, the digital transformation and the unicorns. Beyond the buzzwords.

We’ll be sharing insights, learnings and research from our work and from within our ecosystem. Each volume of THE BEYOND will bring you up to speed about a core topic through a series of articles and a closing event. We want to inspire you to take a look beyond: step out of the framework, identify new opportunities, discuss the challenges of tomorrow and find solutions to create a future that works for all. We are on the transition team – we invite you to be part of it.

It’s time to explore BEYOND!