Ten years ago, Ralph Hamann was researching corporate social responsibility in the mining sector in Rustenburg. He quickly noticed what he calls “a vexing problem”. Due to the employment opportunities on the mines, there was a huge influx of people into the town and informal settlements sprang up with their inherent social problems. All involved - the mining companies, the Bafokeng traditional authority, and the municipality - agreed then that something should be done, but there was a failure to collaborate effectively. A decade later, the problems persist.
“All the key stakeholders understood that collaboration was necessary to deal with a complex problem like the growing informal settlements – but achieving such collaboration has been elusive,” said Hamann at a recent research seminar at the UCT Graduate School of Business. He is the research director at the school.
This experience led him to do research into the success factors in different types of cross-sector partnerships.
“Cross sector collaboration is required to fill governance gaps. If there were no governance gaps there would be little need for these kinds of partnerships,” he said.
“Yet governance is also a key challenge within partnerships, as the participants’ involvement is voluntary and particular organisational and leadership skills are required to keep participants engaged even when things get a bit difficult.”
According to Hamann, his research, which analysed a number of case studies from around the country, shows that successful cross-sector partnerships often involve leaders who find opportunity in difficulties and differences, leaders who thrive in tense and problematic situations.
“Leaders need to be comfortable in a space of ambiguity and complexity. Good leaders see a state of conflict as a challenge, as an opportunity for creativity,” said Hamann.
According to Hamann, The Cape Town Partnership is a good example of how effective cross-sector collaborations can be and he noted that this research finding preceded his joining the Cape Town Partnership Board in recent months.
Andrew Boraine, CEO of the Cape Town Partnership, said to Hamann in an interview for his research: “Tensions do emerge. We need to communicate and to work through them. We need forums for these issues to surface. Differences and tensions are fun. They give rise to the dynamic. We try not to shy away from them.”
The partnership formed when the City of Cape Town, South African Property Owner’s Association, Cape Town Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and other stakeholders all realised their joint interests in addressing issues of urban degeneration and disinvestment in the city. It is a collaboration between public and private sectors working together to develop, promote and manage Cape Town Central City.
Their projects include the recently launched Economic Development Partnership; the creative industry incubator project Creative Cape Town with The Fringe as its bustling hub; the social entrepreneurial incubator, Safety Lab; and the CCID Social Development project, which supports skills development and job creation to alleviate poverty and assist homeless people in the City Centre.
The CTP’s CCID security partnership has been especially effective. This partnership pulls together the resources of the central city’s business community, the South African Police Services and other security organisations and stakeholders, to prevent crime in the city.
The effectiveness of the partnership is illustrated by the results in the latest City of Cape Town annual Community Satisfaction Survey, which show an upward trend in resident satisfaction, and growing trust in the City management to deal with city issues.
The survey took place in October and November last year, where 3000 face-to-face interviews with residents and 700 telephonic interviews with businesses were conducted. Five focus groups were also set up with residents to probe the more resilient issues further.
Overall, 63% of residents said the City of Cape Town’s performance was good, very good or excellent, up from 62% the previous year, and up 13% since 2007. This year 62% of residents rate the City as good, very good or excellent in fulfilling its role as a public service provider; up from 58% last year. Trust in the City has grown as well with 69% residents rating their level of trust as strong, very strong or extremely strong.
Businesses in Cape Town hold higher regard for the city than residents do, with 84% of businesses saying overall, the City of Cape Town’s performance was good, very good or excellent; up from 80% last year, and 69% in 2007. Up from 81% last year, 83% of businesses rate the performance of the City in fulfilling its role as a provider of municipal services as good, very good or excellent. Lastly, 84% of businesses rated their level of trust in the City of Cape Town as strong, very strong or extremely strong.
Yet while positive examples like the Cape Town Partnership exist, many such initiatives struggle to achieve their objectives. Though there are many reasons for why partnerships fail, and many have been represented in research, Hamann’s focus is on the leadership required to make them work.
“The frustrations inherent in running or managing partnerships like this come from power struggles within the partnerships leading to a break down in negotiations and communications. And although all involved have an interest in sorting the problems out, the difficulties of sharing resources and expertise become a major barrier to the success of such partnerships,” said Hamann.
“When I visited Rustenburg, and invited all the stakeholders to meet and to discuss my emerging research findings, I was so surprised to hear that they had never sat down together to discuss their common challenges,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. Rustenburg faces particularly challenging problems, but arguably there was also a lack of the right kind of leadership. I would love to return there to see what has happened in the interim.”