Key Partners

What network of suppliers and partners make your business model work?  

The Commercial Dimension

Companies forge partnerships for many reasons, and partnerships are becoming a cornerstone of many business models.  Companies create alliances to optimize their business models (e.g., reduce costs), reduce risk (e.g., jointly develop a technology),or acquire resources (e.g., license IP).  We can distinguish between four different types of partnerships: strategic alliances between non-competitors, strategic alliances between competitors (coopetition), joint ventures to develop new businesses, and buyer-supplier relationships to assure reliable supplies. 

The Impact Dimension

Partnerships can support and enhance both the commercial and the impact objectives of a social enterprise.  There may be different motivations for engaging in partnerships according to whether the partnership is centered on commerce, impact, or both.  Potential motivations for impact partnerships in a social enterprise include: scaling/maximizing impact, ensuring and measuring delivery of impact, and optimising economies of scale and scope in relation to impact. 

Professor Sarah Soule explains the goal of the key partners block, and poses questions for you to consider as you think through strategic options for your venture.  She will discuss the example of Equal Opportunity Schools, a national nonprofit organization with both earned income and philanthropic support. (1:44) 

Design Prompts

  • Who (or what type) are your current and/or future key informal partners?
  • Who (or what type) are your current and/or future key formal partners?
  • What do these partners provide for your social venture or program?
  • What value do you provide these partners? 
  • What is the depth or nature of your partnership?

For-profit example


Key partners:

  • Suppliers [c]
  • USAID [i]

d.light sells solar energy solutions to populations without electricity in 60+ nations. See project description and its Impact BMC

Nonprofit example

Equal Opportunity Schools

Key partners:

  • District and state superintendents [b]
  • College Board [c]
  • International Baccalaureate [c]
  • My Brother’s Keeper, U.S. Department of Education [i]
  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation [i]
  • [i]
  • Tableau Foundation [i]

Equal Opportunity Schools helps minority and low-income high school students succeed in AP and IB courses. See project description and its Impact BMC

i = Impact dimensions,  c = Commercial dimensions,  b = Both dimensions 

Deep dive