Hearing from the Experts on the Challenges of Forming a Partnership – Part 1

When starting out on the road to a partnership, it can be valuable to gain some knowledge from someone who has already overcome obstacles and gone through the processes of establishing a successful partnership with a community group or business.
As part of the Community and Business Partnerships Brokerage Service section of Our Community's website, some of this country's most successful partnerships have answered our questions and shared their knowledge with the aim of encouraging others to form beneficial relationships.

The full list of these case studies can be found here, with each one either winning being short listed for the finals of the 2003 Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Community Business Partnerships.

This series of two Help Sheets summarises some of their thoughts on the challenges faced in forming their successful community business partnership.

What the Experts Say …


Melbourne-based family advocacy and support group Kildonan Child and Family Services and Yarra Valley Water (YVW) established a partnership in 2000 so they could work together in developing programs to help YVW customers who were having trouble paying their bills.

This successful partnership has seen YVW develop new hardship policies to help those struggling to pay their bills, as well as offering free advice to those customers on how to reduce those bills.  The partnership won an Encouragement Award (Vic) in the 2003 Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Community Business Partnership.

Susan Fraser from Kildonan said some of the challenges they faced and worked through included:
  • Understanding the different business priorities and "drivers" in both organisations.
  • Continuing to work on their partnership, including the evaluation of its work and its outcomes for customers, and.
  • Creating opportunities for growth and learning among partnership partners.

YVW's Allan Cole said the water company also felt the pressure of some challenges in setting out the progressing through the partnership:
  • The main one was recognising and then addressing the potential risks the partnership could throw up.
  • He also noted the initial difficulties in defining the partnership – how it should operate, its objectives, how it could be evaluated and ensuring it was delivered in a value-for-money way – as another challenge to overcome.
  • One other challenge that had to be looked at and worked through was the potential for there to be "competing objectives" between the two partners – one coming from a business background, the other from a social/welfare background.


Blackwood Centre for Adolescent Development and international consultancy firm Centre for Executive Development (CED) Pty Ltd have worked together to forge a partnership that has seen CED use its contacts and expertise to help Blackwood establish new leadership and education programs for its target audience – young people at risk – as well as improve on existing ones.

All this has been done within a tight funding framework through CED and Blackwood working together to help Blackwood improve on what it already did well. The partnership's success saw it win the top national award in the 2003 Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Community Business Partnership for the Small Business Category.

The Blackwood Centre's David Hayes said one of the first challenges Blackwood had to overcome was the feeling they had nothing to offer CED:
  • "Initially we felt as if we had nothing to offer CED. We soon learned that our passion was contagious and that the people the CED brought us into contact with gained more than just a sense of corporate responsibility. What they gained was a sense of social belonging and empowerment which reinforced their commitment to their workplace.''
  • He added that Blackwood's main challenge remained the same in many ways – to maintain its high standards in teaching and youth leadership despite "continuous financial challenges".
CED's Denis Bourke said one of the key challenges it faced was balancing the partnership and its own operations:
  • "The main challenge facing CED is to continue to assist Blackwood while developing its own business enterprise,'' he said.
  • He said another challenge was ensuring CED has a good understanding of what Blackwood Centre did before a partnership model and activities were finalised.


Zoe's Place is a Queensland-based program which provides respite and hospice care for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Its partnership with builder AV Jennings has seen progress on the construction of a new "home away from home" for sick children, which offers them support while allowing their families respite. This partnership won an Encouragement Award (Qld) in the 2003 Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Community Business Partnership.

Zoe's Place said it and the partnership had faced a number of challenges before and during the progress of works.
  • Zoe's Place said there had been a bit of resistance from the local community to any new development in the area.
  • Once that resistance was addressed, the fact that both partners were so busy was another challenge. Because of this, Zoe's Place said both parties had to consciously make the effort to make time so they could meet and plan their partnership activities.


The Age Newspaper and Hume City Council joined forces in partnership to create The Age Library within the Hume Global Learning Centre

The library is the first such facility in Broadmeadows, a multi-cultural working class suburb in Melbourne's north-west, with the Global Learning Centre itself a partnership between the council, State Government, The Age, Ford Australia and the Pratt Foundation.

The library boasts a growing membership and a wide range of multicultural books and materials. The Age works with the council to run programs at the library for schools and young people, while there is access to The Age's resources and personnel for educational and training activities.

The partnership won the Large Business category (Vic) of the 2003 Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Community Business Partnership. Both The Age's Nigel Henham and Hume Council's Vanessa Little said the partnership had run very smoothly:
  • Both said there had been no real challenges in setting up and working within the partnership – probably something all partnerships wish was the case!
  • However both detailed a range of discussions dating over a long period of time that laid the groundwork for the partnership. From this, the message is simple – solid and thorough planning early in the partnership is a must if you are to achieve top results.
  • Since the opening of the library in May 2003, Little said the main challenge now facing the council was in trying to schedule all the projects both it and the Age wanted to do together.

For more experts advice on the challenges that can face community business partnerships, refer to the Help Sheet Hearing from the Experts on the Challenges of Forming a Partnership – Part 2, also available at the partnership Brokerage Service section of the Our Community website.