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Perfect the art of collaboration: understand partners’ needs and cultures

Published 10 November 2023 in Technology • 7 min read

Teaching computer literacy to children in rural India means building cross-sector partnerships that create value for everyone involved. KidsWhoKode Founder and CEO Shweta Mukesh explains how she brings together diverse organizations to solve problems and deliver impact. 

In the tech world, there is a war for talent. Many seasoned IT engineers want to realize their dreams in the startup world, meaning established tech giants struggle to retain them while smaller tech firms can find it challenging to develop younger IT talent into management material. In the educational non-profit space, there is a heavy focus on teaching the basics of English and math in rural communities, but a gap when it comes to increasingly vital IT skills and computer literacy training. In addition, there is a limited amount of funding available and too many non-profits competing for it, making it harder to find the resources to deliver new programs. 

At first glance, these problems aren’t related. But solving today’s complex challenges means seeing potential for non-traditional relationships between diverse partners to find creative solutions.  

Working in the global tech space and familiar with the challenges of education non-profits, I realized I could help both sectors: provide a way for tech firms to retain and develop talent while delivering real impact on the ground for pupils and teachers in under-resourced, remote communities.  

Through my non-profit, KidsWhoKode, we bring tech talent from the corporate world to support our work in teaching IT skills in India and beyond, working with established education and community non-profits that have local expertise and strong networks. On the one hand, the partnerships give tech companies a way to offer their tech talent a meaningful, purpose-driven experience that allows them to grow away from the bubble of corporate life and to develop new skills. We also provide the right kind of metrics for companies’ CSR reporting, helping them to show value without investing any funds. On the other hand, the collaboration gives non-profits and schools in rural communities a free, expert teacher training resource and level of technical support that would be unaffordable in normal circumstances to provide structured teaching and training in the skills of the future to students and teachers.  

And it works.  

Our corporate partners who assign team members to KidsWhoKode include Google, Amazon, HackerRank, Honeywell, Practo, Ola, and Morgan Stanley. We work with non-profits such as the Agastya International Foundation and Asia Initiatives and have touched the lives of more than 220,000 children, with a program attendance rate of more than 90%. All our “bootcamp” program students complete that academic year in the top five of their class.  

How does my experience relate to yours? Whatever challenges your organization is facing or trying to find a solution for, establishing and growing mutually beneficial relationships with a wide range of stakeholders is now a crucial part of the process. Today’s challenges are often too complex for one company to solve; diversifying perspectives, joining forces, playing to each other’s strengths, and spreading the risk and costs makes even more sense in uncertain times.

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Unfortunately, many organizations and executives struggle to collaborate effectively with partners from different sectors or ecosystems, perhaps due to their unique organizational cultures, and different goals and expectations. 

How can you unlock and foster better relationships with a wide range of partners to spur innovation and co-create impactful solutions?  

You cannot do everything on your own 

The first bridge to cross is to accept that collaboration – and, increasingly, collaboration with an eclectic range of partners – is now a necessary part of doing business and achieving success. When collaboration works well, the sum becomes greater than the individual parts. 

I like to say: scale the idea, not the organization. We live in a world of scarce resources and urgent, critical problems. We need to work together to solve them, and it feels like a missed opportunity to go it alone in hope of grabbing a larger piece of the pie. Collaborating to scale an idea, rather than own organizations, is the only way to build sustainable change.  

For a coding bootcamp, I need volunteer teachers. If I tried to recruit normal volunteer teachers, I would have difficulty finding people in those communities with the right skills – but by partnering with tech companies I get young engineers with the necessary expertise who are also relatable because they understand the pains of learning. If I attempted to deliver computer education in rural India without local non-profits or partners, I would lack the cultural context, knowledge, and relationships to ensure its success. It would take years, for example, to understand the language and translate it, to work out who to partner with, and so on. By partnering with non-profits already active in the education space in remote India, I can fast track and work through all the risks and challenges. 

What does everyone need? 

Second, everyone needs a reason and an incentive to be involved. If you want to reap the rewards of collaboration, you must figure out what problem or need people are trying to solve or address in their own context, or at least find a compelling reason for each partner to buy in to a project. If the collaboration fails to offer value, partners will disengage or drag their heels. 

From my experience in the corporate world, I knew that tech companies needed to be active in the CSR space, but in a way that was tied to their core values and services. They are inundated with funding requests from NGOs, but how do they know who to work with and how to make sure they receive the kind of metrics that will align with their reporting needs? 

One of the biggest challenges in building effective collaborations between partners from different sectors and ecosystems is the organizational clash of cultures. Corporate culture is different from NGO culture.

This created an opportunity and a compelling case for them to partner with KidsWhoKode, but I also realized there was an urgent business need that we could help them address: retaining and developing top talent. If a large tech company agreed to loan me their talent for one or two years to build the platform, data systems, and processes needed to help us deliver IT education in rural India, they would be able to offer their seasoned staff a unique, purpose-driven experience full of interesting problems away from the day-to-day grind while supporting and contributing to their corporate CSR goals. If smaller tech firms or startups loan us engineers they see as future managers to help us deliver our curriculum, those individuals learn valuable people and communication skills in a non-threatening environment that can prepare them for managerial roles while also becoming inspiring role models for our students.  

On the non-profit side, computer education has been a hot topic, but most NGOS have no experience or expertise in teaching it as they tend to focus on English and math – so they needed content, and skilled teachers and trainers to deliver it. KidsWhoKode could provide the syllabus and program content as well as training your teachers – all for free. Plus, you get to tap into new networks and build relationships in the corporate world. For non-profits, this makes a compelling case.  

What are the different entities in your ecosystem looking for? What is their need? How can you work together to help them deliver on it? 

Understand each partner’s culture 

One of the biggest challenges in building effective collaborations between partners from different sectors and ecosystems is the organizational clash of cultures. Corporate culture is different from NGO culture. Failing to understand this, and to accommodate it, will create problems in any project. It is important to learn about the cultural context of each partner, what they need, how they work, and how to interact with them. 

We have partners in the non-profit space, which is a very heart-driven space where people regularly go above and beyond the call of duty, so it’s important to manage expectations. There is a human behind each action and partnership. How do you make sure each person feels valued? They might deliver way beyond the scope of the partnership, then feel undervalued, and that’s where you’ll see a drop in performance or engagement. So, we try to pick up on those signals early on and manage expectations more effectively.


shweta mukesh

Shweta Mukesh

CEO and founder, KidsWhoKode

Shweta Mukesh is CEO and founder of KidsWhoKode, a for-purpose organization that aims to ensure that every child in India is computer and digitally literate. She is a global intrapreneur in million and billion-dollar companies. Shweta has a proven track record of identifying opportunities, building and taking new products to market, and ensuring profitability within two years of launch.


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