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Knowledge Transfer

Why collaborate? Three frameworks to understand business-NGO partnerships

Kerina Wang's picture

Nowadays, forming strategic alliances across sectors has become the new operating norm. But the blurring of sectoral boundaries among governments, businesses and NGOs makes it increasingly difficult to assess functions traditionally performed by a certain sector, since conventional boundaries have dissolved, and power and influence are distributed in networks. One sub-set of such collaborations – business-NGO interactions – has attracted much attention, as NGOs begin to move away from their informal, social roles and venture into economic and political territories.

Business-NGO collaborations may come in many forms: NGOs could partner with firms to function as “civil regulators”, primarily by addressing market and government failures through the development of soft laws, social standards, certification schemes, and operating norms; leverage social capital to transfer localized institutional knowledge to firms; mobilize collective action between governments and firms; and serve as information brokers to connect otherwise disparate groups.

How do we assess business-NGO dynamics? Why are they are established? And in what forms are they governed? I source a few inspirations from business, political science, and public administration theories and offer three theoretical lenses through which we can examine business-NGO partnerships.

The Wellspring of Ideas: Tacit Knowledge

Maya Brahmam's picture

Tacit knowledge has emerged as the “holy grail” of sorts, with many organizations (including the World Bank) seeking a way to capture and deliver it.  Tacit knowledge is a difficult concept, which I thought was worth exploring a bit.

The origin of this idea has been widely credited to Michael Polanyi, a Hungarian scientist of the 20th century. In his book, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Polanyi examines how individuals gain knowledge and share it, arguing that knowledge is highly personal, saying “into every act of knowing there enters a passionate contribution of the person knowing what is being known.” He goes on to say that we can see personal knowledge (tacit knowledge) at work in the area of skills and connoisseurship and that some types of knowledge have limited capability for transfer – hence the difficulty of this quest for tacit knowledge. A useful analogy for this kind of knowledge transfer is the master-apprentice relationship, where the master’s knowledge is passed along to the apprentice in practical ways. What’s more, there is a wide body of evidence to show that tacit knowledge is substantially correlated with job performance.