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Guardian Sustainability Training - NGO & Business Partnerships
I spent the day rubbing shoulders with delegates as diverse as you can imagine; from an employee of Raleigh International, to the PR Officer of Columbia's largest mining company, to the Marine Conservation Society and the Director of Public Affairs for Cemex UK. An interesting mix of people there, so what could all these people be so eager to learn about?
Well actually it's something that Nurture's whole ethos is based upon; how NGOs and Businesses can collaborate for sustainable development and how to build and maintain partnerships that deliver something really meaningful.
We covered a lot during the day but here are some of the top things I came away with and that got me thinking.
• Why would NGO's and Businesses work together in the first place – surely it's simply about money for the former and good PR for the latter? Well for sure in many partnerships these are the main aims. However, increasingly NGOs realise we need to work with business to make a bigger impact in their area of work and businesses are beginning to see the need for a shift away from business as usual; Consumers, laws, and the market are becoming far more demanding of welfare and environmental standards and they need to be ahead of the curve to provide a service in line with these standards. As we and many of our partners already know, it's about getting a different perspective and expertise to work towards sustainability together.
• How to start - Finding a partner that has clear shared values and importantly whose customers and supporters would be likely to support the partnership. An example of a partnership that hadn't done this was between a well-known coal-power company teamed with a well-known environmental justice NGO to sell a green energy product. This turned out to be not the most successful partnership because of the contradiction of on one hand supporters of the NGO occupying cooling towers, and on the other being asked to support a partnership with a major coal company – no matter that it was about promoting renewables , this was not a winning combination. We'd like to think we have a better match – a sustainable tourism charity in the Lakes helping Lake District businesses and guests protect the area for all to enjoy in the future.
• How to make it work - The partnership needs to offer a clear benefit to both sides; Businesses generally look for added value, reputational benefits, and projects that will directly reduce risks to their core business. NGOs generally look for partners who can either supply core funding, the opportunity to work on issues that cut across boundaries and to influence the actions of others.
• A partnership starts with people – get to know the people on an individual basis to begin with to build trust. A pub meeting was suggested as a very British way to do this and is something we should incorporate into our work more!
• Setting clear expectations of what both sides would and could do to help further the needs of the partner and being honest about what is possible. Hidden agendas and misunderstandings can be a major factor in partnership breakdown.
• Get buy-in. : Although a partnership starts off small and between a couple of people on both sides, it has to grow to be embodied and understood by all on both sides. This takes strong leadership from the top and involvement from those on the front line to make sure it lives on and evolves.
I think we do a pretty good job of working these aspects into our partnerships at Nurture, and although there are always things that we can do better, I was really proud to talk to people about how business and our NGO work towards sustainability in Cumbria. The thing that inspired me the most that day was fitting us into the larger picture of businesspeople and charitypeople successfully working together for a sustainable society.