Are cross-sector partnerships a remedy for Brexit?

The trend towards innovative, mutually beneficial partnerships could be the perfect antidote to the Brexit blues.


Regardless of the competing viewpoints on whether the long-term impact of Brexit will be positive or negative, both sides of the campaign agreed that there will be short-to-medium-term pain for the UK economy, for anywhere between five and ten years [this is assuming Brexit still goes ahead following the recent High Court ruling that parliament must vote on triggering Article 50]. This will see people losing their jobs, business investment slowing, the value of the pound reducing, and the price of goods and services increasing.  The wider impact will be a reduction in tax revenues for the government and, consequently, more public spending cuts.


All this is likely to hit the poorest in the UK the hardest.  


An increase in unemployment and living costs, combined with further public spending cuts, will also hit the charity sector as its income reduces, whilst the demand for services is likely to increase.


So, how can cross-sector partnerships help? 


If the economy is slowing, doesn’t than mean that companies will have less money available to donate to charitable causes?  Indeed, companies that view charitable giving as a purely nice-to-do, philanthropic activity may reduce or stop giving altogether.  This is why the shift away from basic transactional relationships (a one way agreement whereby a company agrees to donate or raise a set amount of money), towards more value-led, mutually beneficial partnerships is exciting and very timely. 


This shift had already started happening pre-Brexit, but, as Claudine Blamey, Head of Sustainability and Stewardship, at The Crown Estate highlights:


“economic and political anxieties [caused by Brexit] should only reinforce a need for companies to minimise future risk, cut costs and find innovative new ways of doing business.”


Some of the most interesting partnerships we have seen developing over the last few years have been around product innovation - partnerships that are centred on the creation of a new product or service to solve an identified social or environmental issue.  Three such partnerships are outlined below. 


Vodafone and Garvan Institute of Medical Research


Cancer affects one in three people.  Researchers need to crunch huge amounts of data to test hypotheses and derive insights that will help uncover new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.  However, progress is hindered by limited access to supercomputers to help perform the millions of computations required.  To combat this, Vodafone and Garvan Institute of Medical Research have partnered in Australia to develop the Dreamlab app.  The app uses the processing power of idle smartphones (e.g. overnight when people are asleep) to solve a piece of the cancer research puzzle.  If just 1,000 people used the app, cancer puzzles would be solved 30 times faster.  By demonstrating a commitment to tackling this issue, Vodafone is building a connection with the 33% of the population who are affected by cancer. 


Barclays, CARE International UK and Plan UK


Globally, 2.5 billion people are considered financially excluded, or ‘unbankable’, with no access to financial services, such as savings, bank accounts, or credit.  Since 2009, Barclays have been working with CARE International UK and Plan UK to tackle this issue by taking a savings-led approach, rather than a credit-led approach, to micro finance.  Banking on Change aims to improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest people who are living on less than US$2 a day. It combines the expertise of each partner to give people the opportunity and skills to save and manage their money by setting up informal savings groups.  Having access to these basic services can transform the lives of vulnerable individuals, especially young people.  For Barclays, it’s an opportunity to learn about a new market and introduce the individuals to formal banking services when they are ready.  It's win-win.


WWF and LiveWell


Obesity is at epidemic proportions in the UK. Additionally, our consumption of meat is unsustainable and having devastating effects on the environment.  To tackle both of these issues, Sodexo have partnered with WWF on their LiveWell programme.  LiveWell is WWF-UK's flagship programme which aims to encourage businesses and policy-makers to facilitate the adoption of diets which are both healthy and sustainable.  Sodexo serves around one million meals every day in schools, hospitals, workplaces, sports stadia, army barracks, and prisons.  Together they developed a set of 10 food principles that are healthy and good for the environment.  Using these principles, the company developed meals under the Green & Lean banner, and started serving these in schools up and down the country. 


"Green & Lean is an exciting development for us. We’re finding that consumers are more and more interested in the provenance of their food and want to make ethical, sustainable and healthy choices." - Edwina Hughes, Sodexo UK and Ireland’s corporate responsibility manager.


This is another clear example of mutual benefit.  With consumers making buying decisions based on the behaviour of companies and the origins of the products they produce, it’s vital that companies work with experts from the charity sector to legitimise the efforts they are making to have a positive social and environmental impact.


So where does this leave us?


Brexit is likely to cause widespread instability and an economic slowdown which is likely to hit the poorest hardest.  As demand for charities’ services increases, so does the need for innovative solutions that can help organisations tackle and solve the social and environmental issues we face as a society.  Cross-sector partnerships can be part of the answer.  A partnership based on product innovation allows a company to identify and develop new market opportunities, develop the skills of their employees, and further build their reputation with consumers, whilst helping solve society’s problems.  It really is a win-win scenario.


Rick Benfield is founder and CEO of thirdbridge @rick_benfield.


Photograph: thirdbridge.



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Partnerships: How to keep the spark alive?

Reinventing partnership – reflecting on success


I have been attending the Crowd since its early “Green Monday” days. Back then it provided vital moral support at a time when most attendees were quite alone in their organisations – the sole beater of the green drum. With a few more musicians in our sustainability orchestra, the Crowd now performs quite a different role. Indeed, when my charity - Global Action Plan - joined as a partner at the beginning of this year it was because of the Crowd’s role as a convenor of challenging questions and for the opportunity to reflect and improve.


The latest Crowd event on Reinventing Partnerships was a great example of this. The mutually beneficial and trusting Charity-Corporate partnership is the Holy Grail, and like most marriages, not an easy thing to achieve. There was much discussion on the night of what needed to be vetted and aligned on both sides for a partnership to be great and this made me think back to one of my first events with Global Action Plan.


Do we need Corporate-Charity Pre-nups?


The event was with our then corporate partner Sky – we had been “in bed” with Sky as their official charity partner for 3 years at that point. Together we had created a number of amazing programmes including schools programmes: Appetite for Action and Rainforest Rescue, but the relationship was not without its challenges. The event I attended was to launch of our version of a charity/corporate “Pre-nup” agreement to share our collective reflections on details important to sort out before any inter-sector “marriage”. At the time I remember even admitting to the challenges was pretty out there – most were desperately sweeping problems under their respective corporate/charity carpets. So that got me thinking did the bare-all pre-nup help us?


Creating an actual Partnership – not just one on paper…


The short answer is yes. It really changed the way we established our partnerships, importantly in helping us and our partners to talk through more difficult topics before getting started – what if one doesn’t hit the objectives, what if the main supporter/focal point in the organisation leaves, etc. As a result, we now have many strong multi-year relationships in the private, public and third sectors as well as great international partnerships with organisations who deliver programmes on our behalf abroad.


Five years on from writing that pre-nup, the bit that we probably now work hardest on is making sure that three, five or even 10 years on, the partnerships have the same energy and purpose as they did at their conception. To this end, here are five tips that we believe are critical in this:


Keeping the spark alive - Top Tips (from the charity side):


1.    A problem shared….


This sounds obvious but keeping communication regular, transparent and relevant creates opportunities to highlight issues (and great things!) as they happen – important to avoid unwanted surprises if things don’t go to plan. Partners can then come up with solutions together – it is hard to let the front down at first but it really does strengthen the partnership. For example, in last year’s H2O Heroes project with Thames Water – we struggled to recruit enough secondary schools to participate. GAP were quick to share this with Thames and together we agreed to extend the age band of the programme to include primary schools. The result was that we reached our schools engagement targets and a primary school even managed to win the programme competition. Next year, the programme will include both primary and secondary schools, and the extension has been a great benefit to the programme.


2.    Get partners involved in your wider activities


A sign of a great partnership is if both organisations are willing advocates of each other. Engaging partners actively in your joint project but also your wider projects and activities will help develop new insights and strengthen the relationship. At GAP, we invite key members of staff from partner organisations to join us at other programme events, whether having corporate partners as judges in our international schools Waterexplorer programme or getting our charitable investors  to join us in new programme design sessions to act as a (sometime very) critical friend!


3.    Tell stories – don’t just issue reports


Our partnerships all have regular reporting requirements (on as many as 17 monthly KPIs in some!), but going beyond that and making a point of sharing stories will bring your programmes to life – even if a bullet at the bottom of an email. Photos, blog posts, case studies and quotes often say so much more than the stats achieved and are much more likely to be forwarded on!


4.    Dress up as a carrot


It is important to be flexible and appreciate the value of lending a hand with some out-of-scope activities. This might be to deliver last minute “the European CEO is coming this afternoon” presentations or to dress as carrots to man a stall at an event that the partner is hosting (yes we have done this). Although these sorts of activities might not be in the original programme remit, they can offer a great opportunity to engage other people organisation as well as being invaluable to your inundated Partner focal point.


5.    Remember we are all human


It is so important to develop a relationship that goes beyond the payments, deadlines and deliverables. Getting past the formalities by having a quick drink together after an afternoon meeting will lead to great conversations beyond the immediate partnership. This personal relationship will help later if problems arise and inevitably mean that if you are asked to dress up as a carrot at their event, that you will.


Sonja Graham is Managing Partner at Global Action Plan. Global Action Plan is an environmental charity that has been helping people to adopt more sustainable behaviours since 1993. To find out more about Global Action Plan’s programmes and partnerships, visit here.



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Achieving the SDGs and the alchemy of partnerships with purpose

If you are wondering how your business, social enterprise or charity can best play its part in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), you are not alone. Many of us are wondering the same thing…


The Goals were agreed by 193 UN member states in September 2015. Their founding document, Transforming our World – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, makes clear that while delivery of the Goals is the responsibility of governments to lead on, multi-stakeholder partnerships – including those between business and civil society – will also be essential if we are to achieve them. The Goals are, in effect, a comprehensive sustainability to-do list, with something in there for everyone. As such, they’re a huge opportunity for our planet. But how to get involved?


Down the years I’ve found that if you want to make something happen, but aren’t quite sure what to do, it’s amazing what you can achieve if you just make a start. And for me, partnerships are the way to go.


For example, as a purpose-led entrepreneurial charity, Bioregional brings creativity, expertise and commitment to finding ways that we can all live well within our planet’s natural limits. We call this One Planet Living.


But of course, we can’t do this alone. As we develop new projects and initiatives we find others who bring their own expertise, resources and perspectives. Together these all add up to something none of us would have been able to achieve on our own. Clearer plans, partnerships and action on the ground naturally emerge.


In the process, I’ve learned a lot about the best conditions for creating that special alchemy of partnerships with purpose-led organisations. So here are my top four tips for nurturing great outcomes to achieve the SDGs:


Engage at a formative stage. The SDGs turned out as well as they did because governments created the space to engage with civil society, business and expert mission-driven organisations not as an afterthought, but right from the start – and then throughout the process.


Governments were able to draw on an incredible well of enthusiasm and expertise just by making the space for it and by giving due respect to us all. We were invited to attend every meeting, provide feedback, present our own figures, suggest different text, and organise events. We were also able to champion the issues that are closest to our hearts, and where our expertise lies. The key issue for Bioregional was the concept of sustainable consumption and production, which is now Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. 


Inevitably, some political ‘fudges’ had to be made – for example, we weren’t able to get the concept of ‘natural limits’ acknowledged. But the Goals do include the myriad of sustainable development issues in a very complete way thanks to the inclusive approach taken to developing them.


I also saw this approach play out well in the way that both the London 2012 Olympic bid and the government’s Eco-Town plans and projects were developed.


Be ready to be challenged on your core business. If you really want your business to be part of transforming our world, then it needs to be core to the business. This means taking a step back and a hard look at the purpose of the business. Is it part of that 2030 vision that the Sustainable Development Goals embodies, or is it in some way driving us in the other direction?


The sweet spot is where sustainability and business models align, and there’s a sense of real common purpose. Take B&Q, for example. At the start of our nine-year partnership with the home improvement retailer, we looked at how it could help its customers live a sustainable life, considering a customer’s average ecological footprint. This highlighted that the patio heaters had to go, but there was a real opportunity to promote energy-saving products and helping people growing their own veg. Both of these turned out to be best-selling product ranges, but this wouldn’t have happened so comprehensively without B&Q’s readiness to listen and be challenged. 


Likewise, on the London 2012 Olympics, following through on the bid’s sustainability strategy, which was developed and written by Bioregional and the bid company, London 2012. An analysis of the consumption- based carbon footprint by purpose-led organisation Best Foot Forward showed that it was the construction and fit-out of the events which would have the biggest carbon impact – not everyone flying in, as you might expect. This flowed through into strategies for reducing the volume of construction materials and take-back arrangements for venue fit-out items like seating and air conditioning. This saved hundreds of millions of pounds as well as cutting the carbon footprint.


Only settle for genuine partnerships. While companies that are really pushing the boundaries of business can rightly take credit for their achievements, purpose-led organisations play a critical role, bringing their unique commitment, passion and expertise to the mix. This demonstrates the received wisdom that for partnerships to work each partner needs to bring something to the party; each partner needs to have a clear role – and most importantly, all partners need to respect each other. You know the real magic is happening when you experience the camaraderie and fun that can result from successful partnerships.


Get started by getting together. So what next? Bioregional and a few other mission-led organisations saw there was a need for UK-based organisations to meet and explore how to take action on the SDGs. Since January 2015 we have been involved in establishing UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD). Our aim is to create one of those formative spaces for the magic of partnerships to deliver on the vision of the SDGs in the UK.


So whether it’s in this forum or any other, let’s all take the time to start talking to potential partners about how we can transform our world together. Let’s get started.


Sue Riddlestone OBE is CEO and co-founder at Bioregional. 

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Healthy diet – healthy planet?

Partnership is very often how we get things done at WWF. We’ve been working to convene influential groups, market leaders, and communities for years, creating household names in certification like the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) to ensure a rise in standards.


Our work with businesses is driven by the pressing need for a major shift in how our economy works, whilst retaining an ability to address current and urgent environmental challenges. 


One of those challenges relates to the food sector. Why does WWF work on food? It’s the one question I get asked more than any other about my job and it’s a reasonable one; after all most people know WWF as a conservation charity working to protect endangered species such as the panda, which forms our iconic logo.


The simple answer is we realise that in order to achieve our conservation aims we need to address the drivers of the habitat loss that is pushing some of our most precious species to the brink of extinction. One of these drivers is food. In fact, some of the greatest challenges facing the natural world in the 21st century are directly related to food and agriculture. For example, much of the deforestation that is happening across large parts of the world is to create more land for growing animal feed, and crops like soya and palm oil which we consume as ingredients in everyday grocery products, while the extraction of water for irrigating these crops is putting huge pressure on our water sources.


These issues need to be looked at in a holistic way. We wanted to look at the food we eat and explore how we can encourage people to adapt their diets so that both our health and the environment benefit. One holistic way of doing this is by working in partnership with progressive businesses such as Sodexo.


WWF has been working in partnership with Sodexo globally since 2010 and in the UK since 2013. The focus of our work here has been on developing meals that are good for people and the planet. The result is Green & Lean: a range of meals for the independent schools sector that follow ten simple principles that make them more nutritious and better for the environment. In practice this has meant substituting some of the meat, which has a high carbon footprint, with low-carbon, nutritious alternatives such as vegetables and pulses, as well as using wholegrains rather than refined grains, minimising levels of salt and sugar and sourcing certified meat and fish. We piloted ten sustainable meals at eight schools around the turn of the year, replacing almost a tonne of meat with healthy vegetables and pulses in the process, and receiving positive feedback from both students and chefs.


So what have we learnt so far? Firstly, that delivering innovative projects such as Green & Lean takes time and effort and inevitably involves taking a few twists and turns along the way. With Sodexo we initially focused on trying to deliver our objective through a range of pre-prepared sandwiches and wraps. It quickly became apparent however that reformulating a packaged product such as a sandwich posed a number of challenges around product integrity, shelf life and consumer acceptability. Hopefully we’ll find solutions to those challenges, but at the time, we’d focused our attention in the wrong place. However, the project was far from a waste of time as it helped establish relationships and build trust between key WWF and Sodexo personnel, and required both of us to see things from the other’s point of view. We’re also more aware of the challenges we face.


When working in partnership, trust is a word that crops up again and again. We both have our own organisational priorities but for a partnership to work it’s vital there is mutual trust and that, ultimately, everyone is fully committed to achieving the same end goal. In our case, that goal is to embed a sustainable meals offer within the Sodexo business so that in the long-term it becomes the norm rather than the exception – the difference, if you like, between genuinely transformative change and soft-touch CSR.


Sodexo serves in excess of a million meals a day in the UK - in schools, hospitals, workplace canteens, and many other settings - giving them huge influence over the food we, the public, consume. They also know their customers far better than WWF ever could and so with their detailed market insight coupled with our subject matter expertise, together we can deliver a pioneering programme of work far better than by working separately.


And if by working in partnership there is extra scrutiny placed on the integrity of our work then we say: bring it on. We’re very clear that businesses should only benefit from the halo effect of working with a trusted brand like WWF if they make good on our joint commitment to deliver meaningful change. Businesses that know their own resources and indeed their very future is also at stake ask us to challenge them.


The next phase of the partnership will see Green & Lean meals rolled out to the entire independent schools sector in September with the intention being that sustainable meals will become firmly embedded within the Sodexo business in the years ahead. No doubt there will be more bumps in the road, but I firmly believe that our shared experiences and complementary skills will ensure that, together, we will continue to achieve our goals.


Nick Hughes is food sustainability adviser at WWF-UK.


Photograph: WWF-UK.

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When a partnership works

Mckline is almost two years old and lives with his parents, Catherine and Fredrick. The family’s home is a one-room house which doubles up as a shop for Fredrick’s battery charging and electronics repairs business. Catherine grows vegetables in their garden and helps at the shop. They are already saving up for Mckline’s education and have ambitions for him to be an engineer one day.


Mckline is one of the lucky ones. He was the first baby born at a healthcare facility in Bungoma County, Kenya, that is supported by GSK and Save the Children’s groundbreaking partnership. 


His mother, Catherine, is also lucky. Every two hours in Kenya, a woman dies during childbirth, devastating her surviving family members with grief. Not Catherine – the Bungoma County facility helped deliver her baby safely, ensured he was vaccinated free of charge and taught both of his parents all about nutrition and how to feed him.


Save the Children recently spoke to Mckline’s parents about the effect his birth had on others in their community. Catherine explained that she saw “many mothers die when they delivered at home”, and that her successful delivery in hospital set a good example: “most expectant mothers [now] come to me for advice and I send them to hospital”.


Since Mckline’s birth, 47 health facilities in Bungoma County have benefitted from our partnership with GSK. We’ve trained healthcare workers on emergency obstetric and neonatal care, infection prevention and Kangaroo Mother Care. We’ve supported the renovation of maternity wards, and we’ve provided solar panels and water tanks to clinics without electricity or clean water. Neither one of us could have been able to do this alone. 


Since 2000, significant progress has been made to reduce the rate of child deaths around the globe. Still almost 6 million children under the age of five die every year from preventable diseases. This – helping to deliver babies like Mckline safely into the world and making sure they stay healthy and happy – is the driving force behind our ambitious global partnership. 


When the GSK and Save the Children partnership was formed in 2013, it raised some eyebrows.  To us, the logic was clear: by coming together, our organisations could save more children’s lives than by working alone. Three years on, we’ve reached over 1.3 million with lifesaving interventions. It is also pioneering a new model of corporate/NGO collaboration that can be adopted, replicated and expanded.


Our partnership has been successful because we’ve challenged each other to work together in new and different ways. We agreed early on to move beyond the traditional corporate/NGO model and build a relationship that is deeper than funding alone, thinking creatively about how each organisation could support the work of the other. We’ve got to the point where ideas and projects are developed and implemented together, making the most of our respective strengths. Secondments and dedicated teams within both Save the Children and GSK provide invaluable exchanges of knowledge, advice and technical know-how across many disciplines and countries. All of this is rooted in trust and openness, strong relationships, and a shared vision.


Working together in this way has helped us to identify more and better opportunities for collaboration than we had originally planned for. We’ve gone from five to ten workstreams, spread across 37 countries and joined forces in new areas: for example, we’ve recently enhanced each other’s speed and capacity in responding to humanitarian emergencies. The partnership has also sparked transformational changes in each of our ways of working, better enabling us to reach those in most need. For example, Save the Children has used GSK expertise to shore up supply chain systems; and GSK has made the most of Save the Children’s knowledge of remote communities to improve access to medicine in hard-to-reach locations.


While recognising that we’re only halfway through our journey together, and there is still so much more to do, we’re incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far. A laser focus on our shared ambition will help us to stay on course, and we will constantly challenge ourselves to make sure we’re reaching every last child.


Tanya Steele is interim CEO at Save the Children.

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