I’ve been reflecting on further lessons learned from our project that I could share with everyone. I’ve come up a number and they’re all interlinked. The first is that inevitably when you’re implementing innovative projects in complex contexts, you’re going to need to work with partners. It is rare that a project will be operating in such isolation that there are no partners you could use to help you – you should always use partners with specific expertise to help you think outside the box but most importantly, to help you during implementation. It’s tough to do everything on your own. Secondly, choosing your partners is a very – very - important part of the process. As a DM winner, by definition, your project is innovative and will face challenges during implementation. As you’re facing those challenges, you need to be sure that your partners are there beside you, working hard for the same goal and not running away when it’s too tough. You need to get on with them personally; we had tough times in our project where tough decisions needed to be taken and people literally were facing off at each other; tempers flared, vested interests challenged and more than once we reached a point where we all had to look at each other and remind ourselves that the focus was on the project and not on our own positions. Had we not all had respect for each other and had we not all been 10,000% committed to the project outcomes, everything would have collapsed – choose your partners with great care!
Next – develop a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from all your partners. This was really helpful for us. There were many issues to discuss before we even started project implementation – steps, budget allocation, responsibilities. These things are seldom well developed during the DM proposal phase; everyone just agrees that the project’s a good idea, that they’re ready to work with you and that all details will be worked out should you be lucky enough to win! When you do win, then the hard work starts – OK, how exactly do we do this now? And that’s where our Steering Committee was really useful.
The Steering Committee was really critical when we hit implementation challenges. The path to innovation in social entrepreneurship is not easy and no project ever goes smoothly; when problems happen, the Steering Committee becomes the fall back position where you can re-gather, analyze, brainstorm and come up with a way forward (providing there is trust and respect amongst the partners!).
And lastly – for today’s posting at least – expect and plan for problems, even I would say, expect really big problems. You’ve won a DM prize because your project is proposing something radical, innovative and ground-breaking; you’re going to change the order of things somewhere in the world, perhaps only at a micro-scale initially but DM prizes are awarded to projects with the potential to scale-up and replicate and so there will be people that are threatened by this and they will work against you. Expect it, plan for it and work through it.
Remember Machiavelli who said back in the 16th century:
And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly.
You WILL hit against these issues so in choosing your partners, make sure you’ve got people prepared to defend you and work with you through tough times. Keep your project goal foremost in your mind and remember (and be ready to remind your partners) that your project beneficiaries need you to keep going, to overcome all obstacles and deliver on your project outcomes. You can do it!