Last weekend I spent time with some amazing social entrepreneurs in Kenya — women and men who are using their business skills to solve vital problems and to give back to their country. For instance, Frank’s company Tensenses is purchasing macadamia and cashew nuts at a price that enables the growers to improve their living standards and develop their businesses — thus improving the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers.

But Frank and the others I met are rare exceptions. Sadly entrepreneurial failure is far more common than success, especially across Africa. I don’t have data for Kenya but Uganda, their neighbour, can serve as an illustrative example. At 32% Uganda has one of the highest rates of early-stage entrepreneurship in the world, according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum. That sounds wonderful until we consider the fact that only 2% of those same entrepreneurs expect their business to grow in the next 12 months — one of the lowest rates in the world. That means that 98% are subsistence entrepreneurs — barely surviving let along thriving.

It’s not that Ugandan entrepreneurs are an untalented bunch but they exist in a broken system — where infrastructure is poor, power is irregular, markets are hard to access, loans are at high interest. This challenging environment is common in most of Africa and it’s a miracle that any entrepreneur actually succeeds.

So what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the majority who fail? What do they do differently?

I believe that one of the biggest factors is their ability to build partnerships. Most entrepreneurs single-mindedly focus on solving a particular problem, however when you work in a broken system then it will require a diverse set of partners to respond.

Based on my experience I’d like to suggest some simple first steps to building successful partnerships.

1. Adopt a systems-thinking approach

Don’t just focus on your problem, at your next board meeting or strategy take some time to look at the big picture and conduct a systems-thinking approach.

2. Build a diverse network

Relationships are key to a successful business — engaging others who can bring in diverse perspectives and different talents. Get out of your office to attend conferences. Actively network and offer help to others — it’s amazing what you’ll get in return.

3. Identify a trusted broker

New networks can be hard to tap into and the skills needed to build good partnerships are hard-won through experience. If you don’t have the network or experience in-house then identify someone who does — it might be a mentor, a business accelerator or a specialised partnering organisation.

4. Invest time upfront in finding the right partners

It took me more than ten years to find my wife — it was a long search but well worth the wait. In a partnership many similar questions are asked. Do we have aligned vision and values? Can we overcome the cultural barriers between our organisations?

5. Innovate your business model

There are different types of partnership from joint venture to loose alliance. What type of partnership is fit for purpose? How can you ensure that risk is fairly shared? How can you identify the right rewards for each partner? If you don’t get the incentives right, it’s likely that they will sign up enthusiastically but commitment will rapidly diminish.

6. Say ‘no’ 99% of the time

Most partnerships require more energy than the value which can be gained from them. If they go wrong can be a major source of pain. If you don’t align on vision and values or can’t get a mutually agreeable incentive structure then it’s better to walk away.

It’s my belief that good partnerships are the key to success.

As the old African proverb says ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together’.