Partnerships help ensure aid is effective

Thomas Tang spoke at the Ethical Corporation Conference on 21 March 2007.

The Ethical Corporation is an independent publisher and conference organiser that studies how companies relate to the world around them.

One of the keys for businesses to ensure that sponsorship or aid is effective is to build partnerships and develop them within a business model framework, Dr Thomas Tang told a conference on partnerships between business, government and civil society.

Dr Tang, GIFT’s managing director, was taking part in a two-annual day conference run by the Ethical Corporation in London. The “Business-NGO-Governments Partnerships Conference” included workshops and discussions groups and covered “how to build partnerships that strengthen your position, create opportunities, and help you achieve your long-term goals”.

In its website preamble, the Ethical Corporation says: “Partnerships are now recognised as more than just philanthropy and cause-related marketing. As issues like global competitiveness, environmental risks, or inadequate infrastructure mean that organisations can’t solve problems on their own, partnerships are becoming an essential component of long-term strategy.

“Despite their undoubted value, partnerships are difficult to establish and maintain,” it said.

Dr Tang took part in a discussion panel with the topic, “Does sponsorship or aid without a business case do more harm than good?” Its premise: “Billions of dollars are donated to causes each year but tangible, sustainable results are hard to deliver. Here, we’ll raise the wider questions that influence your approach to partnerships …”

Taking part in the panel with Dr Tang were Julia King, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility, GlaxoSmithKline, and Georgia Arnold, Vice President of Public Affairs, MTV networks international.

For his part, Dr Tang touched on the need for sponsorship to be channelled into good causes. He pointed out that “companies do not like donating to a cause when they don’t know where their money will go”.

He impressed upon the audience, though that the philanthropic fraternity is not entirely cynical. He raised three issues to think about:

• People and companies generally don’t mind sponsoring worthy causes
• Large corporations face the dilemma of which cause to support and normally end up choosing themes or pet projects
• Effective sponsorship is some times difficult to measure; in other words, how far does that dollar go, what does it get put towards? There are several areas most often considered, including education, health care, training, employment, the environment, social welfare, and reducing vulnerability.

He laid out simple guidelines that businesses and individuals might like to follow to make their sponsorship more effective, and are considered under the steps: laying the foundations, seeing through the eyes of others, building the business case, living the vision, and starting a “fashion”.

Laying the foundations
• This involves establishing the partnership. Each party needs something from the other but they must put aside pre-conceived notions and arrogance.

Seeing through the eyes of others
• This involves understanding and learning by doing, by applying skills that are relevant to create the business case.
Building the business case
• This requires developing the business proposal, working out how will it work, who will benefit, who will manage the wealth.

Living the vision
• This is where you put money to good causes, because you now have a business model with tangible returns
Starting a fashion
• This is all about replicating the plan, finding ways of “growing the excitement”.

Dr Tang put forward the Global Young Leaders Programme (YLP), which is a leadership training designed and run by GIFT, as an example of how businesses can engage in partnerships and sponsorships. The programme structure is focused on how a “fundamental shift can be created in the understanding of business, its influence and impacts”.

Each YLP typically has three stages, he said. “Module 1 introduces the participants to examine issues – omitted from management training courses and handbooks – to be effective in our global community,” he said.

“Module 2 engages participants in a life-changing field project and challenges them to bring their new-found understanding of issues with their own business acumen to a specially chosen project.” One of the tangible outcomes of this is a business plan that is understood and can be implemented by the villagers who are the focus of the project.

“Module 3, the post-site activities, uses the business plans prepared by the participants so that the communities involved can implement them, initially with seed support from sponsors and later as self-sustaining businesses,” he said.

He detailed the first YLP and its site project in Yunnan province, and outlined the business plan that the project worked out with the villagers of Haitang, including short-, medium-, and long-term goals. [Read a round-up here of the Haitang project in China, which ran in August 2006.]

Dr Tang said the same model has since been applied to Gir National Park and Sanctuary and the village of Chitrod, where the economic development of the village has been placing stresses on the ecology and wildlife of the park.

“Both projects have produced business plans that serve as the partnership vehicle for focused corporate sponsorship leading to sustainable businesses,” Dr Tang said. “Both cases can be replicated,” he stressed.

Among the many topics covered during the two-day event were:
• Partnership governance and management
• Accountability in partnership governance
• The state’s role in partnership and building capacity through collaboration
• Collaborating across sector to expand results
• Introduction to voluntary sector initiatives
• NGO accountability
• Generating a pro-partnership corporate culture

The Ethical Corporation’s Annual Business-NGO partnerships conference took place in London on the 21st and 22nd of March. It also launched the Ethical Corporation’s Sector-by-Sector Guide to Voluntary Initiatives.