Greenpeace and McDonalds work together to tackle de-forestation in the Amazon rainforest. In partnership with NGOs the consumer giant P&G commits itself ‘to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to clean drinking water by 2015’. GSK and Save the Children combine forces to help save the lives of 1 million children. And nearer home, Macmillan Cancer Support partners with the retailer Boots in a joint bid to reach everyone in the UK affected by cancer.
There’s a growing list of significant, competency based corporate-NGO collaborations successfully combining the unique assets of each player to deliver service or product solutions that simultaneously deliver clear business goals, as well as deep social or environmental value. One of the plenary roundtables at the next Green Monday will consider the essential ingredients to successful partnerships.
Specific context as well as the particular issues and objectives being addressed by the partnerships highlighted above will of course determine the proportion of required ingredients. But regardless of context, each partnership will have drawn on the basics: effective planning, jointly agreed goals & success measures, appropriate resources, as well as effective internal and external marketing.
These ingredients are all important in joint venturing between corporates and NGOs and their effective use can result in successful partnering. In the main however, these are the more technical or ‘hardware’ aspects that underpin effective partnering.
In my experience, it is the ‘software’ factors that form the magic ingredients in corporate-NGO partnering. What really helps to set the most successful, high-scale and high impact partnerships apart is the liberal infusion of three software factors that create an enabling environment in which collaboration and innovation can thrive.
So what exactly are these magic ingredients?
Plug the leadership gap!
Companies and NGOs that excel at partnerships have CEOs and leaders who truly ‘get’ the purpose and value of cross-sector partnering. Businesses and NGOs face many challenges, from eliminating cancer and poverty, to tackling man-made climate change, reaching new customers, and building trust and loyalty. It is increasingly clear that many of these issues can be better addressed when businesses and NGOs align their interests, pool their varied resources and work together to achieve common goals.
It is not sufficient for CEO’s to merely agree with the above thinking. They then need to drive this agenda internally, set bold ambitions, and act as champions to help drive the partnering agenda forward. Providing ‘air cover’ for the change agents within their organisations to make things happen, is essential to success at scale.
Work hard to establish and maintain ‘power balance’
Collaboration requires emotional as well as commercial maturity in terms of mind-set. Underlying any partnership is the concept of enlightened self-interest and this requires that both corporates and NGOs understand and value the contribution of their partner and treat each other as equals. One of the greatest risks in cross-sector collaborations arises when one of the parties – often the corporate – treats the other like any other supplier. Such an approach dooms partnerships to failure – or at least significantly reduces their chances of enduring into the long term. The parties in a partnership must operate as equal adults, free to challenge and support each other in equal measure.
Use clear principles to ensure effective relationship management
Each strategic corporate-NGO partnership will have its own set of values and principles. Central to this will be the values that the account leaders and others on each side apply, including transparency and mutual support. Partnerships are regularly challenged from within, both on the corporate and NGO sides. The key players on both sides act as change agents, driving the partnership through their organisation and navigating the inevitable challenges.
So leadership, power dynamics and building trustful human relationships are critical features of successful corporate-NGO partnerships. But these of course are not sufficient on their own. Joint venturers that successfully blend the software and hardware factors are more able to embed corporate-NGO partnering in their organisations. They therefore build strong foundations for enduring cross-sector partnering.
There are bound to be many more insights at the roundtable on 8th July. So let’s share!