Why Corporate-Community Partnerships are Essential to Social Innovation

In response to our recent polling with YouGovStone into senior corporate leaders’ perspectives on the efficacy of deploying business v. giving to charity to effect social change, TSIC is excited to release this week our viewpoint for the charity sector.

While our finding that 91% of senior corporate leaders believe businesses can be just as effective, if not better, at creating social change than charities generated understandable pushback from the charity sector, we believe the stocktake of current attitudes revealed in the poll actually presents a huge opportunity for charities who know how to respond by creating more satisfying and sustainable corporate partnerships.

The reason why is because, despite their laudable aspirations, most businesses lack the critical expertise and understanding of social issues that charities live and breathe.  Even where businesses possess unique talents that could make a greater impact if leveraged optimally, they will ultimately fail to deploy them effectively if they are not working with the public and third sector organisations who are the experienced experts with the relationships and reach into the communities they want to support.

For example, a mobile-service provider looking to develop a new information service to support rural health delivery will fail to get wide uptake of its product if it is not conversant with local health charities and development experts, as well as the end-users who will ultimately utilise and sustain its contribution.  The business will find it incredibly difficult to design a service that fills a real gap and complements existing interventions if local charities and health providers are not part of the team that designs and delivers the project.

Rather than being fearful that their resources will be cut and expertise ignored by businesses emboldened to ‘go it alone’ in the current environment, charities need to think instead about how they can present their value to businesses more effectively—positioning themselves as consultants on projects and distributors for business assets.  Where they do this successfully, charities are in turn likely to still receive funding from businesses to help fuel these partnerships.

Chris Ashworth, Head of Corporate Partnerships at Oxfam, offers a picture of what this looks like at their organisation.  He states,

 “The key to our most successful corporate partnerships has been a commitment to collaboration from the outset.  It isn’t right to say that commercial partners should move away from contributing financially, as in many circumstances it is fundamentally the right thing to allow charities and NGOs to determine the intervention they have the expertise in.  It is however absolutely right that corporate partners should complement this approach by determining what assets and resources they have that can achieve a common goal.  Whether this is human resources and expertise, hardware, logistics, infrastructure, information or access to market, all have their place in a holistic and long term partnership strategy.  This type of collaboration should lend itself to measuring impact rather than just contribution.  It is the outcome that matters most.”

Examples of high-impact, cross-sector partnerships are growing.  MTV has linked up with Pepfar, Unicef and the Kenyan government to use its brand and expertise in communicating with young people to jointly develop a widely popular television series about young Kenyans confronting the outcomes of high-risk behaviour that is changing attitudes and practices.  Microsoft has partnered with the Charity Technology Trust in the UK to provide local charities and disadvantaged communities with access to bespoke technology that is helping transform their work and improve outcomes.

We believe such joined up partnerships which move beyond corporate cash donations to make the best use of each partners’ unique skills and resources are the future of social innovation.  Our approach, TSIC Fuse, helps businesses understand how to align their talents with those of charities, government and other businesses to create effective and innovative interventions.  

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of corporate-community partnerships.  A longer post on this topic is available on Jake’s new blog on The Huffington Post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jake-hayman/businesses-looking-to-cha_b_1643014.html

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