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Building healthy partnerships

By Karen Beranek

Close-up of hands putting together two puzzle pieces
Youth development professionals want to make a difference in the lives of the youth they serve. With so many youth-serving organizations, working together can make a deeper impact in reaching more youth. 

University of Minnesota Extension partners to deliver local programming throughout the state. Our Minnesota 4-H program greatly values the many youth organizations we have the opportunity to work with including:
  • PreK-12 schools 
  • Higher educational institutions
  • Government agencies
  • Tribal communities
  • For-profit businesses
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Community groups 

What does a healthy partnership look like?

It starts with the idea that we can do more together than separately. My colleagues describe developing a partnership mindset as:
  • Persistent effort
  • Effective relationship skills
  • Transparent communication
  • Adaptability

Minnesota 4-H supports successful partnership-building by understanding that each partnership will look unique based on the diverse needs of the youth living within their unique communities.

Think of it as a journey, not a formula

When thinking about working with another youth-serving organization, this process of building a strong, healthy relationship is a journey. I cannot share the magic formula, that A + B = C. For those of us who have more than one impactful partnership, we know that each one is a unique relationship that has weaved through some hills or a bit of road construction. It may also look a bit different each year based on a number of factors, including program content, local context and the staff and youth involved.

Share what you have to offer

When our educators meet with partners they are able to share what we can bring to the partnership, for example, research-based curriculum, staff time and teaching skills, or teaching materials for hands-on learning. We then discuss what the partner can bring, which is often youth participants as well as meeting space, food and supplies. This conversation and agreement on who provides what to the learning experience for the youth may look different for each partnership.

A healthy partnership is where both organizations are able to best use their strengths and resources to make the greatest impact on the youth participating. Through intentional partnerships, Minnesota 4-H is able to reach new and diverse youth that otherwise may not have access to 4-H, and our partners are able to take advantage of our staff expertise and resources.

I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with a variety of partners throughout Minnesota, in both rural and urban communities. What are some of the advantages you have seen because you were able to leverage a mutually-beneficial partnership? What other advice you would give to someone wanting to build a partnership?

-- Karen Beranek, Extension educator

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