Unlocking the Potential of International Partnerships

By Paul Gordon - Experienced freelance international membership consultant and contractor

I blog about all things “international” which impact the membership sector. Today I want to talk about the power of international partnerships.

Partnerships can really help organisations to explore and unlock new markets and opportunities. In February 2021, NASA’s Perseverance Rover touched down on the surface of Mars. It is the largest, most advanced vehicle of its kind and also carried the mini-helicopter Ingenuity, which in April made the first powered flight on another world. Whilst NASA’s is a US-led mission, both were packed with ground-breaking technology from different agencies and multiple countries.

This type of collaboration is fairly typical for space missions, which are usually composed of multinational teams of scientists. The industry relies on the collaborative effort of governments, private businesses, and cross-border partnerships.

The power of partnerships is also clearly visible in the coordinated humanitarian response by the many aid agencies to the disastrous events in Ukraine. In the UK, the Disasters Emergency Committee brings together 15 leading UK aid charities, raising funds to quickly and effectively respond to overseas disasters.


I think there are some parallels to draw here. The international membership space can often be a crowded place in which organisations of a similar nature mirror one another and compete for attention, influence and members. At the same time, they often aim to achieve very similar goals or charitable aims. This situation has become accentuated by the forces of globalisation and new technologies, including the new world of virtual working. This, in turn, has opened up more possibilities for international expansion and membership development.

International partnerships can unlock new membership and commercial opportunities (for example: a discount offer for members of partner organisations). They can also make it easier to gain traction in policy and influencing or to achieve successful project outcomes by pooling resources or expertise. As the space industry has demonstrated, common goals can more easily be achieved by working together instead of operating in national silos.

Depending on the nature of your membership organisation and sector, potential international partnerships might include academic institutions, multinational employers, equivalent local membership bodies, governments, NGOs or others. Partnerships can be bilateral or multilateral (for instance, as part of an international network). For smaller membership organisations, they can be an invaluable way to increase reach.

Five Benefits

For membership bodies, here are five benefits of international partnerships vs going it alone:

  1. They can enable you to tap into partners’ market knowledge in different international regions.
  2. They can enable you to build regional credibility and reputation first before you enter a new market.
  3. They can make it easier to deliver effective stakeholder engagement in new regions.
  4. They can enable you to explore international markets without breaking the bank – a lower risk, soft-touch approach to international expansion.
  5. On occasions, local regulations may require you to partner with a local organisation in order to operate in a particular country (e.g., run a conference).

International travel has become less straightforward with varying covid regulations, not to mention international conflict and the climate emergency. Therefore, a partnership-based approach might make a lot of sense as we continue to weather these storms.

There are a few pitfalls for membership organisations to avoid

Choose the right partners. Don’t rush in and jump at the first partnership opportunity which comes along. Take time to understand the marketplace and the other key players. Some partnerships can be lopsided, and some may seek to piggyback on others for their own benefit. The most successful partnerships should benefit both parties equally. When choosing a partner, it is important to understand complementary capabilities and common goals. NASA needed the complementary capabilities of its partners to deliver the Perseverance Rover and Ingenuity.

Define some measures of success and if you can apply some targets. This can reduce the possibility that the partnership becomes dormant. There are lots of examples of partnership agreements that, following some initial grandstanding, tend to fizzle out and thereafter exist only on paper. If the partnership is not meeting your success measures and leading to meaningful collaborative activity, then end it.

Lastly, partnerships can help to open new doors and unforeseen unexpected opportunities. Who knows where they will lead and what new possibilities will open up? As somebody once said, “opportunities increase when you help others to win”.

Paul Gordon is an experienced freelance international membership consultant and contractor, available for all types of membership projects. He can be reached at paulandrewgordon@gmail.com