How are 21st century corporates and charities partnering for success?

How are 21st century corporates and charities partnering for success?

ColaLife is no ordinary charity. The small UK entity has created a successful business plan and distribution model for its pioneering anti-diarrhoea kit in Zambia by learning from Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson. It has just distributed its 50,000th kit and has ambitions to replicate the model in at least three other countries.

Reaching families in remote developing communities with medicines to tackle diarrhoea, the second biggest killer of children under five, is a steep challenge. In sharp contrast, social entrepreneur Simon Berry had often wondered – why is it that anywhere you go in the world, you can always get a can of Coca-Cola? How could we do the same for life-saving medicines? ColaLife was born.

Berry and his team developed an easy-to-use anti-diarrhoea kit comprising oral rehydration salt sachets (ORS), paediatric zinc to strengthen children’s immunity and soap to promote hand-washing. Inspired by the potential of the product, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, part of Johnson & Johnson, invited ColaLife to join its ‘Innovation boot camp’, where Berry received support in developing a business plan and later presented it to senior managers, winning $250,000 of funding. With the approval of UNICEF Zambia and the Zambian health ministry and additional funding from DfiD, ColaLife established a £1m, 12-month trial in Zambia.

But the challenge remained – how could they market and distribute the product to reach the maximum number of people possible?

Berry reached out to Coca-Cola, and together with SAB Miller, its bottler in Zambia, the soft drinks giant shared its knowledge about creating demand for products in remote areas and getting the product to customers – and crucially – creating value for everyone involved along the way.

“What’s obvious to private sector folks with supply chain experience may not be obvious to the rest of us, and vice versa,” says Berry. “That’s why public-private partnerships are so helpful. In the planning stages, the guys from Coca-Cola would say ‘Yes, but what’s the value chain?’. The team there was instrumental in helping us understand the benefits of developing an attractive, affordable, functional product, tapping into existing supply chains and ensuring everyone benefits, from the kit manufacturer to the mother who buys the medicine.”

More than 26,000 kits were sold during the trial, with mothers buying the kit from one of 85 trained micro-retailers within a 2km distance of their community, rather than walking 7km to the nearest clinic to find that anti-diarrhoeal medicines were out of stock. Some 94% of mothers are using the kit for hand-washing and 92% believe that ORS is the best option to treat diarrhoea, according to the trial results.

The manufacturing and distribution of the kit has been transferred to a small Zambian company, with a nationwide scale-up in the pipeline.


Partnering for mutual benefit

The ColaLife story is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to beneficial corporate-charity partnerships. Increasingly, these partnerships are harnessing each other’s strengths for mutual benefit. In particular, both sides show a greater understanding of the value brought by non-financial support like sharing business knowledge, according to the latest ‘C&E Corporate-NGO Barometer’, a recent survey of 130 leading companies and NGOs.

Some 90% of respondents are confident that strategic partnerships are meeting their objectives and delivering value, with both sides putting more emphasis on long-term impact and stability. Nearly 70% of corporates believe non-financial help will help their NGO partners more than cash alone, and NGOs are increasingly agreeing with this viewpoint; 48% now believe non-financial support will help them achieve their mission (up 12% on 2013) and 73% value access to business expertise, experience and contacts.

However, with the majority of charities still citing access to funds as the primary reason to partner with corporates, there may be more proof needed of the benefits of non-financial help.

Businesses are also gaining from the partnerships, and not just through enhanced brand image and reputation. Some 87% of corporates state that their NGO partners have helped improve their understanding of social and environmental issues, and 59% say their partners have helped them to improve their business practices. Nearly all respondents believe partnerships will become more important over the next three years.

“There’s a real note of optimism emerging on both sides and partnerships are clearly supported by leaders,” says Manny Amadi, CEO of C&E Advisory. “What’s important now is engaging employees throughout partner organisations by clearly communicating how the partnership translates to key ambitions and material issues.”

Leading the floor 

The ‘most admired’ corporate-NGO partnerships, standing out for clarity of purpose, creativity, scale of mutual benefit and innovation, according to the Barometer, are M&S and Oxfam, Boots and Macmillan Cancer Support and GSK and Save the Children.

“The leading partnerships all demonstrate a strong natural fit and an impressive scale of ambition,” explains Amadi. “They’re credible to consumers, which earns both partners respect and trust, and they also execute campaigns well, making it easy for people to get involved.”

Through the M&S and Oxfam Shwopping campaign, M&S customers have donated 7.8m garments to date, worth an estimated £5.5 million for Oxfam. More than 2,000 Boots employees have trained to be ‘Macmillan Information Pharmacists’ and ‘Macmillan Beauty Advisors’, providing support to those living with cancer. GSK and Save the Children are pooling their knowledge, resources and expertise to help save the lives of one million children in the world’s poorest countries.


Elsewhere, Interface and the Zoological Society of London have just won an Ethical Corp award for ‘Best business-NGO partnership’ for their Net-Works initiative, and are set to expand the partnership in 2015.

In July, Sky and WWF won a 2degrees Champions Award for their success in inspiring consumers to support their Sky Rainforest Rescue campaign. With a shared mission to protect one billion trees in the Amazon rainforest, the partners have met their £8m funding target a year early by encouraging people to donate, adopt jaguars and sponsor land in Brazil.

Forging the ideal partnership

As more businesses and charities realise the benefits of collaborating, a new social media platform, neighbourly, has emerged to help charities link up with businesses keen to do social good. Since the corporate side of the site went live in February 2014, it has helped to raise nearly £370,000 in funds and 6,900 days of support from businesses.

Elsewhere, Third Sector Magazine and the Institute of Fundraising run tailored events and conferences, and BITC runs a Business Connectors programme through which business people can be ‘seconded’ to communities to help build partnerships tackling specific issues. Many organisations also compile ‘tenders’ for partnerships, taking a pragmatic approach to the search for the ‘perfect partner’.

“When seeking a corporate or charity partner, it’s important to first agree internally what you stand for, what you want to achieve, and the role a partnership could play within that,” says Amadi. “Mutual benefit should sit at the heart of corporate-charity partnerships, so it’s important to identify partners that share your values and ambitions. When you set out on your partnership journey, create a strong joint ambition statement, agree the terms of engagement, and review the relationship regularly.”

Looking to the future

Forming corporate-charity partnerships is just one way in which big business is proving it can make a positive contribution to society. Ultimately, it was by acting like a business that ColaLife was able to reach more people with life-saving medicines. So, just imagine what could be achieved if more companies and charities exchanged their knowledge about business, social impact and protecting the planet.

This article was originally published on the 2degrees website.