Track Sessions II

F. Collaboration:' How can we unleash the potential of greater collaboration in tackling metropolitan social issues?'


  • Ananthapadmanabhan GURUSWAMY CEO, Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives (APPI)
  • Yana KAKAR Global Managing Partner, Dalberg Global Development Advisors
  • Bradford SMITH President, Foundation Center


  • Bryan WONG Executive Manager, Charities (Strategy and Business Management), The Hong Kong Jockey Club

Collaboration could be seen running through virtually every aspect of the themes touched upon at PBC. The issues facing cities involved a vast array of stakeholders across multiple sectors. Running essential services like health and transport effectively required constant co-operation. For foundations focused on metropolitan issues, therefore, there was no option but to collaborate.

Mr Bradford Smith of the Foundation Center commented that, despite collaboration being imperative, foundations were not always the most natural candidates for collaboration as while they had great freedom and the opportunities that went with that, this lack of accountability could often make them more inward-looking.

Another challenge reflected upon by the speakers was that collaboration, although it led to clear benefits, did not come without costs. For this reason, we could often see organisations in the social sector encouraging others to collaborate but not necessarily practising what they preached by investing time and energy up front to ensure that collaboration was at the heart of what they did, rather than an afterthought.

Each of the speakers discussed the opportunities foundations and others in the social sector had at their disposal. Mr Ananthapadmanabhan GURUSWAMY from APPI spoke about the value of foundations exploring ‘green fields’ in metropolitan issues. New or unaddressed problems were often easier to collaborate on, he said, because they tend to be less affected by vested interests that could slow down progress. Some overlooked metropolitan issues he cited were (1) the needs of seasonal migrants to cities, which remained poorly understood; (2) the effect of the sharing economy on migrants and urbanisation; and (3) the essential role played by informal economies in building cities.

Ms Yana Kakar of Dalberg Advisors took the audience through what she saw to be the core reasons why foundations should collaborate. Doing so increased their access to funding and the diversity of capabilities they could draw on, she said, while allowing them to accelerate their learning by sharing ideas and best practices, and reach a broader range of social causes. She opined that the impact created by collaboration tended to be more lasting, a perspective drawn from her experience at Dalberg Advisors while working with the public, private and social sectors.

Panellists were asked to share their advice on how to get collaboration right. Ms Kakar spoke about the importance of all parties involved being transparent about their interests, capabilities and needs. In addition to this, building trust between groups, which could be done by repeated interactions, could be an effective way of offsetting any potentially competitive dynamics between groups.

Mr Guruswamy emphasised the importance of collaborators rallying around a common cause. He echoed Ms Kakar’s point about aligning capabilities, citing an example in which his foundation, APPI, chose to collaborate with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) so that they could blend APPI’s understanding of grass-roots work in India with CIFF’s expertise in policy, advocacy and nutrition. Mr Smith added to this by explaining that understanding accepted processes could be essential to successful collaboration, as it helped parties navigate the political dynamics of working on multi-stakeholder initiatives. 

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