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Assessing the landscape of corporate-NGO partnerships 

October 2016

by Tom Idle — The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched at the beginning of this year as a concrete set of 17 global ambitions, offers a quick guide to understanding what’s wrong with the world. From achieving gender equality (SDG No. 6) and ending poverty (No. 1) to making sure everyone, everywhere, has access to affordable and reliable energy (No. 7) – the inventory of challenges makes for interesting reading. Fix everything on the list by 2030, and all will be right in the world. At least, that’s the theory. 
 
Underpinning efforts to meet the targets set by the SDGs is a need to collaborate with others to get the job done. In fact, No. 17 on the list is a goal to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development”. Partnerships that can help to mobilise and share knowledge, expertise, technology or financial resources to achieve common and shared goals are increasingly acknowledged as a sound strategy for businesses grappling with complex sustainability issues and looking to get more value from traditional corporate social responsibility programmes. 
 
As such, the scope, scale and effectiveness of corporate-NGO partnerships continue to evolve. “We’re seeing a changing picture, reflecting the sophistication of the mature CSR landscape as each side of the corporate-NGO partnership understands what the other can bring,” says Manny Amadi, CEO of C&E Advisory, an organisation that annually tracks trends in how these relationships are working. 
 
Key motivations 
 
The need to enhance reputation and credibility remains the No. 1 motivation to partner with an NGO. But there is also an increasing awareness of the knowledge and expertise NGOs have in their fields, and the innovation and creativity they can bring, according to this year’s C&E Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer.
 
Around 68% of corporates cite ‘access to people and contacts’ as a key factor for partnering – up from 11% a year ago 2015. And 66% of companies say ‘access to knowledge’ is a key reason for partnership – up from 19% in 2015. 
 
It’s a similar story for the NGO community. Yes, they are motivated by accessing much needed financial support from big corporates (with 92% citing ‘access to funds’ as a key driver), but they are also looking to access people and contacts (77%) too. 
 
And Amadi is confident that cross-sector partnering is steadily boosting business performance. Some 59% of corporate respondents say their NGO partners have helped them change business practices for the better, and 51% of NGO respondents feel confident about the extent to which they are helping corporates to do so. “From addressing the climate challenge and obesity challenges, to working together on supply-chain related issues, such as tacking modern day slavery, partnerships between companies and NGOs tackle issues that are material to each party. 
 
“It is clear that purpose-led partnerships are supporting the behaviour change agenda – helping businesses to be more responsive to the changing external landscape,” says Amadi. 
 
So, what sorts of issues and challenges can partnerships help to resolve? Well, the Barometer findings suggest businesses unanimously believe their NGO partners are helping them to improve their understanding of the social and environmental issues they’re dealing with. In fact, 100% of respondents agree, up from 92% in 2015. And both corporates and NGOs believe they have either achieved or are working towards having a real impact on society. 
 
GSK-Save the Children 
 
Take the GSK and Save the Children partnership – the most admired teaming up, according to Barometer respondents. Its core aim is to help save the lives of one million children by tackling preventable mortality among under-fives. By leveraging the power of the GSK brand, and the outreach of the charity on the ground, particularly in the developing world, the partnership has reached 3.6 million people, including 1.3 million children directly – delivering immunisation and health worker training programmes and a more effective response to emergencies. “The partnership has been successful on so many fronts,” says Graziela Cajado-Ogland, Save the Children’s partnerships director.  
 
“In April, the antiseptic chlorhexidine gel that advanced through our partnership was given positive scientific opinion by the European Medicines Agency – a major milestone for the partnership and its mission to help save the lives of children in the world’s poorest communities.” 
 
Lisa Bonadonna (pictured above), who heads up the partnership within GSK, says that combining respective resources and expertise is helping to give more people the healthcare they need. “We hope the results achieved through our collaborations may inspire others to embark on innovative partnerships too,” she says. 
 
Similarly, the partnership between Boots UK and Macmillan Cancer Support has seen more than 2,000 pharmacists and 600 beauty advisors volunteering for additional training so they can support cancer patients, both in stores and out in the community. “When it comes to tackling issues of social need we’re more powerful if we work together,” says Una Kent, Boots UK’s director of CSR. 
 
Secrets to success 
 
So, what makes for a successful partnership? Bonadonna says the relationship with Save the Children demands “careful planning, management and evaluation”. 
 
For Amadi, defining purpose from the outset is crucial. “As elsewhere in professional and personal life, relationships come in all shapes and sizes,” he says. “At the formation stages, and indeed, throughout, clarity of purpose and a clear ‘fit’ – in brand, agreed direction and approach – is paramount.” 
 
He adds that having a strategic mind-set and framework, and clear governance processes to provide challenge, oversight, and championship for the partnership are also important. “Once launched, effective execution – supported by rigorous processes, including stakeholder engagement, communication, measurement and evaluation, and reporting – can make or break a partnership.” 
 
The future 
 
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has put the future of corporate-NGO partnerships in jeopardy; at least that is the feeling among within the NGO community. Almost 60% of the UK-based NGOs surveyed expect the decision to have a ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’ effect on the partnering agenda, while 71% of international NGOs saying Brexit is likely to have a negative impact. Meanwhile, corporates stand more resolute, with 76% of international corporates and 67% of UK corporates believing Brexit is likely to have no effect on their ability to engage in cross-sector partnering.  
 
“Time will, of course, reveal which sector’s mindset is more appropriate for the times. What is encouraging however, is the finding that despite Brexit, 85% of corporate and NGO practitioners expect the cross-sector partnering agenda to become ‘more’ or ‘much more’ important over the coming three years,” says Amadi. As a result, more than two-thirds of all respondents expect to increase their investment – of commitment, time and resources – into partnerships between now and 2019. “This is clearly a tribute to the strength of the partnering agenda.” 
 


UK & NI Ireland | Partnerships

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