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The partnership broker as a ‘yellow canary’

By 28th February 2014October 9th, 2020No Comments

A long time ago – before the technological advances of the late 20th century and when England and Wales relied on coal for much of their energy – coal miners working deep underground would always take a yellow canary with them down the mine… 


Apparently canaries, being very small and having a very high heart rate, would succumb to a lack of oxygen or poisonous fumes (methane or carbon monoxide) much more quickly a human. This was potentially life-saving as such an eventuality would alert the miners to imminent danger and theoretically it gave them sufficient warning to escape from the mine.

It struck me during some recent partnership broker training that the partnership broker is often in the position of being the ‘yellow canary’, in that they act as a ‘sentinel’ able to see and sense impending hazards, environmental hazards or potential difficulties that lie ahead for the partnership, often some time before the partners themselves are aware.
How can this be? Partnership brokers working effectively will remain objective, scanning the horizon for challenges and pitfalls, sensing and intuiting the health of the emerging partnership, and intervening sensitively to ensure equity of participation and contribution. Engaging a partnership broker to facilitate collaboration and partnership can be akin to instating an Early Warning System, something humanitarians are very familiar with. 

While it’s exaggerated to say that partnership brokers save lives, there’s no doubt in my mind that ‘effective partnerships’ play an important role in the effective delivery of aid, and of course one of aid’s ultimate outcomes is saving lives…

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Ben Emmens