Renaisi and MyCake partnership interview

Sarah Thelwall headshot

Sarah Thelwall

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Working in partnership creates additional capacity and expertise for our work but more than that, it brings new perspectives and challenges us to think differently. In this conversation Sarah Thelwall, MyCake Founder and Renaisi’s Head of Learning, Alice Thornton discuss the value of their partnership.

How did you come to partner up?

Alice: We’ve worked together ‘unofficially’ for a while. It’s been official since May 2019, when we developed a partnership to evaluate a group of programmes funded by Power to Change.

Sarah: We work together to evaluate their Community Business Fund, Trade Up and Bright Ideas funds and their Empowering Places programme. In each case we’re analysing and evaluating the impact of community business models. We got to know each other as we were working with related data sets for Power to Change and found each other to be useful sounding boards.

Why do you work together?

Sarah: We’ve got overlapping skill sets, we both understand quantitative and qualitative analysis but we come at it from different angles. MyCake does financial analysis; we focus on the quantitative data. Renaisi does more qualitative analysis.

Alice: MyCake has a lot of financial expertise that we understand but it’s not a specialist area for Renaisi. It’s great having a partner that has their expertise, and we’re both deeply engaged in this work and willing to put time in to think more strategically. Neither of us want to ‘just’ address the task. We invest in our partnership so we can have conversations about the bigger picture.

Sarah: Yes, the icing on the cake is the enjoyable ‘what next’ conversations. That’s made possible because we have shared clients that bring us together

What difference does working together make?

Alice: I like the challenge MyCake sets us – they encourage us to think deeply and consider what we could do next. You can’t go out and look for that type of relationship.

Sarah: You have to invest in a partnership but it adds a different perspective, knowledge and experience. Working in a not-for-profit environment, you can share risk, do things you wouldn’t do on your own. When we work together the MyCake team spends time with the Renaisi team working out how best to communicate findings in ways that don’t assume prior knowledge or expertise in a topic. It makes the work much more accessible and thus more widely usable.

Can you share an example of how your combined work has benefitted the client?

Alice: Let’s take the Power to Change Empowering Places project. On paper we were commissioned as evaluation partners but the combination of Power to Change being adaptable, their programme managers wanting us to be engaged, and our personal interest means we have spent time talking to each other about the gaps in learning.

Sarah: MyCake collected financial accounts data on social sector organisations in the six places Empowering Places is being delivered. Alice and I then discussed how we could use the data to understand the economic benefits of social sector to the economy. It’s a work in progress but it interesting to explore how we could use this to influence policy.

Alice: Originally, I’d seen it as a largely context building exercise to understand the value and size; turnovers, type of sector, that kind of thing and that’s been useful. But over and above that, we have added value because the catalyst organisations have seized upon that information and we’ve gone to some effort to make it useful for them.

We set up calls for local leads to talk through the data with Sarah and came up with ideas to use that information to further their ambitions. We’ve worked together to turn the specialist information that MyCake produce into something an engaging and useful tool for those local organisations and places to use.

It’s one example of how our blended expertise can create more value than originally intended.

Sarah: It’s the difference between an evaluation and learning. We’re considering how we can act upon the data throughout the programme. What that means is that we’re having discussions with the Catalysts about the economic benefits of community businesses in their area

What ideas do you have for future partnership working?

Sarah: We’re both interested in the resilience of the not-for-profit economy, not necessarily growth but resilience. What makes a strong not-for-profit model? What are the key metrics and markers that we should all be looking for? And what role can Renaisi and MyCake play to answer that question?

Alice: I’d like to use what we’ve learnt on Power to Change to help other funders to do similar work – to use this learning to build sector knowledge of not-for-profit organisations as business entities. Our organisations are in it for the long haul for the sector, and together we carry innovation capacity and a ‘sector memory’

What is your shared ambition?

Alice: This is a partnership that is deeply practical. We collect data in such a way that we can do something useful with it so what’s the long-term value of that data? And how can we help funders to use all of the data and information available to them to inform their decisions for the wider benefit of the sector.

Shared from the Renaisi blog, with kind permission.