Bringing Sustainability to the Center of Corporate and NGO Collaborations

Bringing Sustainability to the Center of Corporate and NGO Collaborations

Last newsletter we talked about Creating Shared Value and what corporations and the private sector can do with NGOs and non-profit organizations to strategize and align on shared values.

This article will take a deep dive into the implementation of these partnerships with a focus on creating collaborations that integrate sustainability into their social responsibility practices.

CSR initiatives often benefit certain communities, but they typically neither address the root causes of social injustice, nor deliver direct and easily measurable impact on a company’s business. A sustainability framework has the potential to do this at a deeper and more strategic level than other forms of CSR.

Sustainability can drive innovation by reconceiving products and services for low-income consumers, opening new lines of business and boosting revenue in the process.

With the right tools and skill sets, development practitioners and NGOs can monetize upon their expertise and play a key role in helping MNCs in this process. Together, they can expand their knowledge bases, achieve their respective goals, and stand out in a crowded competitive landscape.

Leveraging the value of NGOs

There is tremendous opportunity for NGOs to bridge this divide by engaging corporations around their sustainability initiatives. This could help MNCs harness the power of sustainability while also advancing NGO missions in five important ways:

  1. Developing more cost-effective and impactful corporate sustainability programs. Those who work in corporate sustainability often come from other functional areas within the company and lack extensive development experience. NGOs have technical expertise in practical solutions such as project planning and implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and social marketing. And they know how to operationalize this knowledge in complex environments and with limited resources.
  2. Reconceiving goods and services for the collective purchasing power from populations at the base of the world economic pyramid. This tier is largely found in emerging markets, in communities long served by NGOs but overlooked by MNCs. Thus, NGOs have prime market research, and an in-depth understanding of people’s needs, wants, and aspirations. By working together, they can expand access to goods and services to underserved people.
  3. Entering new markets, particularly frontier markets, and developing communities
    MNCs, in search of double-digit growth, are now considering low-income, high-risk countries both as new markets for selling goods, and as services and hubs from which to export. Companies entering these new “frontiers” will discover that there are invariably NGOs already on the ground working with local communities. Mutual synergies can help develop systems and markets more quickly, and at a greater scale than if each tried to go it alone.
  4. Addressing supply chain vulnerability and development challenges
    Escalating population growth in the global south will push today’s population of seven billion people to nearly 10 billion by 2050, and with it, create increased demand on already-strained resources. NGOs that actively work in climate change adaptation programs, or peace and conflict resolution, can bring strategic support to MNCs to help mitigate impacts of escalating population and migration and reduce risks to their supply chains, while also strengthening community capacity and resiliency.
  5. Appealing to socially conscious values to attract consumers, employees, and donors
    At two billion worldwide, millennials are the largest, most diverse, and most socially conscious generation in history. Eighty-six percent live in emerging markets, with a combined spending power of $2.5 trillion dollars. They use their purchasing power to support companies that share their values, yet 50 percent can’t name a single purposeful brand. This suggests either that companies are not effectively communicating their efforts or that consumers don’t see companies as trustworthy.

Companies that do social responsibility right can expect a 22 percent boost in employee productivity and 25 percent less turnover. A compelling MNC-NGO partnership story can help activate consumers, employees, and donors.

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