Friends, Foes or Frenemies? Exploration of the Partnerships Paradox of CSOs and Business

Erin Leitheiser, Jennie Perzon

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Academia and practice increasingly stress the importance of partnerships and collaboration to successfully solve social issues, as evidenced through the UN Sustainable Development Goals, proliferation of cross-sector partnerships, and vast numbers of private governance initiatives. While partnerships have been seemingly positioned as the silver bullet to addressing society’s “wicked problems”, they also create their own challenges. Partnerships may be fraught with power asymmetries, ulterior motives, dysfunctional operations, and blurred boundaries. Yet, research to date has either focused on the positive aspects of partnerships, or relied upon Resource Dependence Theory
(RDT) to explain partnerships as primarily an exchange of resources. This paper argues that this is an overly-simplistic view of cross-sector partnerships which does not fully reflect the complexities of partnerships across sectors, nor considers the dynamic environment of rapidly-changing roles, responsibilities and institutions in which the partnerships are situated. It therefore draws upon institutional theory to help explain and understand how changes in actors’ institutional environments impact dynamics both within and between partner organizations. It utilizes RDT and institutional theory to theorize about the role of differing values, logics and motivations between partners; the dual friendand-foe dynamics (“frenemies”) which require concurrent management of contradictory relationship terms; and the manifestation of power asymmetries between partners, particular related to the “power of the purse strings”. The paper’s contribution is to highlight the existence and influence of the inherent tensions between business and NGO actors in the context of evolving roles in a globalized world by investigating how these affect dynamics and working relationships both between and within partner organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2017
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event5th CR3+ Conference: Making Corporate Responsibility Useful - Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 28 Apr 201729 Apr 2017
Conference number: 5


Conference5th CR3+ Conference
LocationHanken School of Economics


  • Partnerships
  • Cross-sector social partnerships
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Resource dependence theory
  • Institutional theory

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