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What do long-term business and civil sector partnerships in Serbia tell us?

For 16 years, Trag Foundation has been awarding the VIRTUS Philanthropy Award to the best long-term partnerships between the for-profit and non-profit sectors. In order to find out more about in which areas and according to which principles the business sector and civil society organizations cooperate to solve a fundamental problem in the community, we conducted targeted research. Based on the collected data and the conducted analysis, we prepared the publication “Who collaborates, wins”, with the financial support of the Balkan Network for the Development of Civil Society – BCSDN.

The publication provides an insight into the characteristics of 13 partnerships that stood out as the most successful in terms of quality and duration. When compiling the necessary information, we combined several methods: desk research, a conversation with long-term members of the VIRTUS award selection jury, and a survey of both partners; all in search of an ingredient that makes a successful and long-term partnership between these two sectors. During the analysis of 115 partnerships nominated over the years for the VIRTUS award, we took into account the criteria that were crucial for awarding the award itself: degree of involvement of the business entity in the partnership, results and effectiveness of support, quality of communication between partner parties, the perspective of that cooperation, innovation in the approach to solving a problem or need.

Among the most successful were the partnerships realized by the representative offices of foreign versus domestic companies, while foundations in Serbia were more often chosen as partners than citizens’ associations. Among the dominant areas in which cooperation was achieved were encouraging entrepreneurship and career development and improving the quality of life of socially vulnerable groups, while even half of all partnerships, regardless of the area of ​​cooperation, were aimed at children and young people. As important factors that influenced the longevity and quality of the partnership, responsible behavior towards external collaborators and the environment were singled out, as well as those collaborations that did not jeopardize the credibility of their partner on the way to creating a good society.

We have concluded that those partnerships that reflect an equal contribution to intersectoral cooperation, fostering a democratic approach and open communication in joint work, have proven to be successful. Successful partnerships between the business and civil sectors enable each of the parties to cooperate with the public sector as well, striving for systemic social changes. They survive thanks to even a symbolic exchange when there are no actual joint projects. Last but not least, in a successful partnership, both the civil society organization and the business entity understand that the bearers of the cooperation are actually enthusiastic individuals and the collaboration is marked as an overall positive experience for both sides.