A friend of mine recently brought a partnership between Mercy Corps and Wal-Mart to my attention. She was concerned about the partnership because the missions of both organizations seem fundamentally misaligned. Here are my comments on this specific partnership:
Partnerships only works when the brands involved are marching towards the same goal. While Mercy Corps' overal principle of "teaching to fish" and Wal-Mart's of cost leadership might not be in alignment, this says nothing about their goal.
Mercy Corps wants to teach famers about building sustainable enterprises that can, in turn, benefit their local communities and economies. Wal-Mart wants to leverage the economies of developing nations to gain a supply of low-cost but still high-quality produce for its stores. This project accomplishs both goals.
I doubt the two groups will be able to expand thier working relationship beyond this project, though. This is likely the only avenue through which their brand goals coincide without the need to compromise on principle.
Partnerships and alliances are strategic and take advantage of the fact that two dissimilar organizations are working towards the same end. Either Mercy Corps or Wal-Mart could accomplish the same goal by themselves, but by pooling resources and working together they are conserving energy and accomplishing the goal at an even higher level.
Would Wal-Mart be my first choice for a strategic partnership? Definitely not. Most people agree with me. However, we all need to look past the Wal-Mart image stereotype and think critically about the agreement. What are my goals? What are Wal-Mart's goals? Where is there common ground that I can leverage to save my time and energy while accomplishing a greater good.
Through this lense, Wal-Mart appears to be an almost ideal partner in this project. I ask you: If you were Mercy Corps, would you have entered into the same relationship? Why or why not?