Mutually Beneficial Partnerships

Sarah Perkins, Assistant Director, Civic Engagement
Sarah Cantrell Perkins
Assistant Director, Civic Engagement

How would you define this Big Idea?

Mutually beneficial partnerships are rooted in reciprocal relationships among stakeholders. The themes of mutuality and reciprocity emphasize that all stakeholders in a specific partnership benefit from the partnership in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to them as well as to the larger shared goals. It is critical that partners are able to voice for themselves what elements are beneficial to them. Additionally, mutually beneficial partnerships ask each stakeholder to mutually agree to the expectations or parameters of the project / partnership.

Beere, Votruba, and Wells (2011) state, “Successful partnerships are mutually beneficial. The partners are unlikely to derive the same benefits, but they must derive benefits they feel are of comparable value. Ensuring mutual benefit requires a conversation at the outset: What important benefits is each partner seeking? Is it realistic that these benefits will occur? How will matters be handled if one of the partners perceives a lack of mutuality?” (p. 203).

Ensuring that partnerships are mutually beneficial fosters partnerships that are sustainable, are rooted in relationships, and will build capacity to continue beyond a specific project, program, or course. As Jacoby and Howard (2015) note, “as relationships evolve, partners should be open to opportunities as they present themselves and continually thinking creatively about new and different ways they can work together to advance their shared interests. Mutuality occurs when participants – including students, faculty, community leaders and members, and corporate managers and employees – respect one another’s unique potential contributions and seek to minimize the power differentials by viewing one another as learners together” (p, 73).

How is this Big Idea included in your work?

From my vantage point as the Assistant Director for Civic Engagement, I support co-curricular civic engagement, including but not limited to, Alternative Service Breaks, EngageATL, MLK Day of Service, and
supporting faculty with academic-based civic engagement. As we support community partners and service-based student organizations in their work, we emphasize the importance of mutually beneficial partnerships. For example, we promote civic engagement that addresses community need as defined by the community and encourage students to honor community voice and student voice throughout every stage of their collaborations.  We emphasize the idea of “service with, not service for,” in order to reinforce that we are in partnership with community partners and that, together, all stakeholders have a voice in the process in order to ensure a reciprocal and sustainable relationship. We know that, when engagement is done poorly, we can do more harm than good.

Learn more:

Beere, Carole A.; Votruba, James C.; Wells, Gail W.; Shulman, Lee S. (2011). Becoming an Engaged Campus. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.

Jacoby, B., & Howard, J. (2015). Service-learning essentials: Questions, answers, and lessons learned.

Stoecker, R., Tryon, E. A., & Hilgendorf, A. (2009). The unheard voices [electronic book]: Community organizations and service learning. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.