Corporate-NGO Collaborations - A leadership deficit


Manny Amadi of C&E Advisory argues that businesses and NGOs have a long way to go if they are to work together effectively

Greenpeace and McDonalds work together to tackle de-forestation in the Amazon. The consumer giant P&G commits itself 'to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to clean drinking water by 2015'. And in its bid to reach everyone affected by cancer within three years, Macmillan Cancer Support partners with the retailer Boots. The charity was until recently, reaching one in three people.

These mission-focused, mutually benefiting examples should represent the norm in business-NGO collaborations. But of course that is not the case. Many NGOs remain reluctant to engage with business, often seeing the former as 'sinners' and NGOs as 'saints'. This is not just an outdated view, it is bad for society and for the environment.

And where NGOs do engage with business, the 'corporate fundraiser' is often solely briefed to secure cash. 'They only want us for one thing!' is a cry often heard from businesses who increasingly want to engage more cohesively in kind, knowledge exchange, people, cash, etc.

A recently published report by C&E Advisory, the business & society consultancy, found that companies and NGO's feel very differently about the benefits of non-financial support and how these should be applied. In the survey of over 150 leading companies and NGOs on which the report is based, 71 per cent of businesses stated that harnessing their competencies and non-cash resources would make much more of an impact on the fulfilment of their NGO partners' objectives, than purely cash-based relationships. However, only 38 per cent of NGOs agreed with this view.

The scale and complexity of the environmental, social and economic challenges facing society require that NGOs, business and individuals work together to find new solutions. Many businesses realise this and have programmes in place to drive their social and environmental ambitions. Years ago, who would have thought companies like Nike and Walmart would win acclaim for their responsible or green business efforts? Yet that is exactly what is happening today. With such high profile businesses setting the example, others are following suit. Though making the transition of course remains a big jump for other businesses.

Meanwhile, NGOs are consistently ranked amongst the most trusted organisations in most parts of the world.

Those NGOs successfully harnessing the power of business are showing clear and bold leadership that is not always easy. Many have fought tough internal battles to overcome the lazy, moralizing, self-righteousness of 'business bad, we perfect' which often exists within their organisations. Modern business is flawed, nuanced and evolving. The successful NGO leaders in this arena understand this, so they set clear agendas, ensuring that partnerships are appropriate to the purpose of delivering the mission of their organisations.

For Greenpeace, collaboration will be about getting the job done without accepting a penny from business. For others, securing cash is part of the deal. However the 'cash is king' philosophy misses the point. The point being to focus on delivering effective, mission-led change.

Right now, we need more visionary NGO leaders to get the value of collaborating to maximize sustainable impact. Just as we need business leaders to be courageous enough to find effective ways to place social and environmental consideration at the heart of business strategy and practice.

Plugging the leadership gap in cross-sector collaboration will drive greater, more sustainable value - for shareholders, for society and for the environment.

Manny Amadi is CEO of C&E Advisory

The C&E Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer is available here

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