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What is true collaboration?

‘Collaboration’ the golden word of today’s times. Every time you read about an event or read about any kind of work that gets done; you read who collaborated with whom. The best part about collaboration is that you do what you are best at and let the other partners do what they do best. 

However many times when we collaborate we feel frustrated, irritated or unhappy. Why so? For the past 4 years Baithak has collaborated with a large number of individuals and organisations and here is what I have observed and learned from these ‘collaborations’. I intent to share my experiences so that you may choose your true collaborators. 

Giving funds is not enough. 

I am sure all organisations will agree that there is always a paucity of funds. Our ideas are infinite and funds are always finite. To convince someone to financially support a cause is not very easy. Out of a hundred options that a donor may support ‘why’ your project? Thus funding is always important and one needs collaborators who can provide  enough funding to actualise ideas. However finding funds is relatively easy than finding a sensitive patron. A patron who supports the cause must be sensitive to the intent behind the work. Is it just another cause that he/she is funding because he/she has lot of unspent money or does one feel for the cause? Is the funding available unconditionally or has strings attached? We have seen collaborators who start dictating the program terms without even understanding the purpose and the depth of the intervention. Is such a donor/patron a true collaborator? Do we accept funding from a partner who is not sensitive to the cause? We have come to a realisation that implementing few ideas in a manner that you intend to implement is better than doing multiple programs where not even a single one is in-line with your vision. Thankfully Baithak has some highly sensitive patrons!

Mutual marketing has limited results. 

In this  digital age everyone is looking for collaborations which bring more followers, more likes, more comments and more views. We want to be on each other’s pages so that we are noticed by a pool of people who don’t know us. We want some celebrity to share our story, tag us and say we are doing good work. Does this work? Maybe yes…maybe not. 

If we intend to be famous then it’s a yes but if we intend to touch people then it’s a no. A post shared by a celebrity gets hundred or thousand more likes than usual but that does not translate in funding, or increase in the number of volunteers or passionate interns. We may create a social media hype but that does not mean anything on ground. Sometimes you may lay hands on a unique opportunity but that’s not a guarantee. Personally, I also find this deceitful. If someone likes the work they will share about it; why do we need to say we are collaborating to promote the work? Why this obligation that in return, one will get a program or a token of appreciation or anything like that? 

Providing four walls and a roof is not a venue partnership. 

There are multiple venue partners with whom we have worked and it has been great joy to work with people who have created spaces out of sheer passion. Pune’s Pagdandi Bookstore Cafe is one such happy place. They are diligent about marketing the event and are equally invested in it as the curators. The space is well set-up before the event. The mats are clean, there is water for everyone and a cup of warm chai. They do this without you asking. When one provides a space (for free or rented) what is that one is truly providing? I have always felt that a space holds energy; when we enter it we are infused by it. All these small gestures, smiles and love; give you the energy to deliver an event. We will give the space, you do what you want; does not give the same energy. There are multiple people who offer us collaboration opportunities by providing their space; however in only few spaces we feel equal involvement. It is always wise to choose your space and not the other way round. Fortunately Baithak is blessed to have found multiple such partners! 

Content collaboration is the toughest. 

Sometimes the funding is readily available and you are requested to work as the content curator. This is my favourite place. It saves you the energy that is sometimes drained in organising things and managing funds. However this is the toughest one! When you have ideas and a detailed execution plan communicating your vision is difficult. At every step you need to ensure that you communicate the ‘why’ behind your work. You must always devise mechanisms to share openly and clearly state the non-negotiable elements. 

When do two organisations or individuals truly collaborate? 

I like to think of collaborations as relationships. You give and take not because you are obligated; not because it benefits but because you truly feel so. Relationships based in unconditional love last long. It is not possible that you have the same kind of relationship with everyone and the one’s which nourish you will always be few. Organisations which are absorbed in the love of the work they and their collaborators do are the best partners. 

How do I identify the non-ideal collaborators? Well, it’s tough to say exactly how that happens; I mostly go by the vibes. Also if I hear any of the following lines, in a tone that I feel is non-caring; I feel that’s not the right person/organisation. 

  • This was not our responsibility. 
  • We didn’t know you will need water. You should have told before. 
  • Oh, we forgot to put your logo. 
  • You will have to write a mail asking us to send you the recording/photos or else we cannot share. 
  • I can’t do it. 
  • Everyone does this, we will also have to follow. 
  • Oh, I thought you will get your mats. 
  • We can’t pay you. Just letting you know.

Beware of collaborators who say the above quickly without any discussion or any feeling of guilt whatsoever! With them you will always have to fight for everything. 

Whereas, the following sentences in an inquisitive tone is what I love to hear. 

That’s obvious, we will make sure it happens. You don’t have to mention all these small things. 

Please send us your logo. We will get the creatives made. 

Is this text ok to go on public platforms? Let us know if you have any suggestions. 

Who should be credited in the news? Can you send us the exact names and the correct spellings? 

I am very busy but I will try. 

Do it the way you think it needs to be done. You know your job better. 

People and organisations who love your work and who are interested in touching real lives are the people and organisations we love to collaborate with. I have been disturbed, have felt anger and have passed many sleepless nights when I have made wrong decisions. I have learnt my lessons and I continue to learn. Thought of sharing my learnings so that some of you don’t have to face the same. 

Recently in association with Precision Foundation we did a series of Tune IN workshops in Solapur. We haven’t yet met any other Foundation that truly understands collaboration as Precision does. They own the program like you do. The arrangements are just right. Credits, acknowledgement and mentions are always done appropriately. The responsibility is shared and the mechanisms are transparent. We feel so lucky to have met them and have this wonderful opportunity to collaborate with them!

Check the backdrop. We had not asked for this but Precision did it willingly and mentioned not just their Foundation but ours too.

Collaboration means to stand on each other’s shoulders. We must care for each other beyond our obligations; truly share the joys and the pains. Hope you find a responsible collaborator!

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