Development Management student Agnes Chew argues that innovative partnerships between corporates and NGOs can lead towards a sustainable future:
Our Status Quo
The world as we know it today has seen tremendous economic and technological growth since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Yet, this unprecedented progress has been a double-edged sword. Not only has it given rise to increasing inequality globally, it has also brought us into an age of Anthropocene, a term coined by scientists to indicate the way in which humanity, alongside economic development, is creating massive disruptions to the Earth’s ecosystems.
A Need for Cross-Sector Collaboration
Therein lies a critical need to ensure sustainable development. However, this cannot be achieved in silos. As underscored in the United Nations’ 2030 agenda for sustainable development, it is of paramount importance for key stakeholders – from governments, businesses, non-profit organisations, to civil society – to utilise their respective expertise and establish cross-sector partnerships, so as to optimise impact and effectiveness.
This presents a unique opportunity for corporates and NGOs to work together to achieve win-win outcomes. As corporates face mounting pressure from governments and consumers to become more socially and environmentally responsible, they are driven to seek new ways to engage communities not only to grow their top line but also to enhance their brand credibility. On the other hand, with global development aid funding on a steady decline, NGOs are compelled to seek alternative methods to access funds and resources.
Moving Towards Strategic Partnerships
We are not talking about typical donor-beneficiary relationships here. Beyond the gifting of pay cheques, there is enormous potential for corporates and NGOs to jointly design inventive solutions to both leverage opportunities and address challenges in developing countries.
NGOs, with their extensive network of in-country partners and programmes, are a rich resource of knowledge and consumer insights on bottom-of-the-pyramid communities for corporates that are interested in gaining access into these emerging markets. Not only can they aggregate and codify problem statements, NGOs can also employ their networks to design and activate effective distribution channels to seemingly inaccessible markets.
The traditional modus operandi should be re-looked, and we can afford to adopt a more expansive perspective of the impact that corporates and NGOs can collectively create. Both parties have the capacity to carry equal weight as equally-vested partners in the co-creation of novel products, services, or business models which can meet the corporate’s business objectives, while simultaneously advancing the NGO’s social or environmental causes.
Successes to Date
More corporates and NGOs are reinforcing the value of such mutually-beneficial partnerships. According to the C&E Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer 2015, 92% of corporate respondents affirmed that corporate-NGO partnerships have improved their business understanding of social and environmental issues, while 65% attested to the usefulness of these partnerships in changing their practices for the better. NGOs are increasingly acknowledging the growing impact on their mission delivery objectives by harnessing their corporate partners’ competences and non-financial assets, with 60% of NGO respondents agreeing to this as compared to 20% in 2012.
One example is the partnership between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Save the Children. Both partners came together to co-develop an umbilical cord cleansing gel by reformulating an antiseptic solution commonly used in mouthwash. This gel has helped to prevent umbilical cord infections in new-born infants, thereby reducing neonatal mortality by 23%. The success of this partnership could not have been achieved without combining GSK’s capabilities in R&D, procurement, and vaccines, as well as Save the Children’s expertise in working with vulnerable children in developing countries.
Such cross-sector partnerships will only continue to be increasingly pertinent moving forward. By leveraging the existing expertise and resources of multi-sector stakeholders, we will then be able to co-create fresh and innovative ways to tackle the pressing development challenges of our time.