The changing nature of collaboration

A few weeks ago I went along to an event called ‘Families + Social Good’ here in London, presented by Johnson & Johnson and the UN Foundation. It brought together passionate experts and advocates, to share ideas and inspire action to tackle some of the world’s most critical challenges for families. The range of ideas and examples of action on show were genuinely inspirational – for example we heard about technology being leveraged for social good, like M-Pesa being used to treat fistula survivors, and the World Food Programme app ‘Share the Meal’ used to process micro-donations.

But what really stood out for me was the true collaboration on display. It wasn’t just that a wide range of charity, public and private organisations all contributed their ideas and input to the event, but the fact that there were myriad examples shared throughout the day of ground-breaking partnerships between for-profit and not-for-profit organisations.

And this got me thinking about the changing nature of partnership in the world of charities and development. Gone are the days when a brand would give money to a charity in exchange for borrowing its ‘good’ credentials. In the new world, brands have a much more active role in not-for-profit partnerships; it’s fair to say the exchange of equity and expertise is becoming much more balanced. Corporates are increasingly involved both in raising funds – directly or indirectly – and delivering for beneficiaries alongside their charity partners. From M&S and Oxfam’s ‘schwopping’ partnership to O2 and NSPCC collaborating to make the internet safer for children, it’s clear that corporates are lending much more than just their financial clout.

What’s driving this shift? From the brand side, it’s clear – as we’ve written about here – that the bar is being raised for brands doing good. Stating a purpose is not enough, brands need to be seen to be walking the talk. This reflects the growing consumer belief that corporates are a legitimate agent of change in the world, with resources and expertise the envy of many charities. In an increasingly transparent world, brands need to show how they are fulfilling this promise, and that tends to call for more than simply funding the existing work of a charity.

From the charity side too, things are changing. Conscious of the new corporate landscape, progressive third sector organisations know they need to offer brands more than just a positive halo effect. But more than this, charities are waking up to the potential brands offer them beyond the financial. I was particularly struck by Oxfam’s Duncan Green, in his book ‘How Change Happens’, talking about how his view of corporates has changed over his career – from near “contempt” (as he describes it) in the past to a much greater appreciation of their ability to enact positive change now.

And as the consumer dichotomy of ‘brands bad’, ‘charities good’ crumbles, charities increasingly recognise that perhaps they can borrow positive equities via connecting with much loved brands. They can certainly reach new audiences, or do so in different ways – like BHF did via this innovative partnership with LEGO. As BHF said at the time “We hope that LEGO Vinnie will give even more people the know-how to save the life of someone having a cardiac arrest.”

In short, we’re excited by the creativity we’ve increasingly seen in partnerships between for-profit and not-for-profit companies over recent years. If inter-sector partnerships can deliver impact for beneficiaries and raise and use resource more effectively, then here’s to ever more collaboration moving forwards.

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