Five Keys to Successful Business & Social Sector CollaborationJune 21, 2021
Eden recently had the privilege of moderating the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) virtual panel event ‘Joining Forces: Fostering Strategic Collaboration between Businesses & the Social Sector’, which took place on Monday, 14 June 2021. The panel featured four distinguished speakers representing the business and social sectors, including Ms. Anita Fam, President of NCSS, Ms. Susi Hermijanto, Chief Operating Officer of YCAB Foundation, Mr. Chew Sutat, Chairperson of Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL), and Ms. Claire Wong, Executive Head and Director of DBS Foundation. The session, which was moderated by Calvin Chu Yee Ming, Managing Partner at Eden Strategy Institute, yielded meaningful insights on how social service organisations could effectively foster strategic collaborations with businesses.
We share our five key takeaways below:
1. GET TO KNOW YOUR COLLABORATING PARTNER WELL
Collaborations are most successful when collaborating parties’ interests are aligned. This requires each party to have a clear understanding of their counterparts’ core interests. A corporate organisation’s key aims may be to fulfil a corporate social responsibility (CSR) or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) obligation. Their ESG strategy may indicate priority areas or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which they are aligned with. In contrast, a social service agency’s objective might instead focus on obtaining support to ensure the continuity of their programmes. Having an intimate understanding of respective stakeholders’ interests and priority areas can ensure that effective collaboration partners are identified and the success of the SSA and its programme becomes a shared interest.
For example, the Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL) identified Deutsche Bank’s global CSR interest in the mental health area and was able to identify internal champions, or what Sutat calls “hidden heroes” within the company who were able to drive continued support for CAL’s cause and programmes. In contrast, Ms. Claire Wong, Head of DBS Foundation, shares how alignment with the bank’s overall strategy is a key evaluation criterion in funding and support decisions at the corporate level.
2. DESIGN SYMBIOTIC COLLABORATION OPPORTUNITIES
As eloquently summarised by Mr. Chew Sutat, Chairperson of Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL), to achieve meaningful results, collaborations must be 1) mutually beneficial, 2) sustainable, and 3) symbiotic for both givers and recipients. Creating a symbiotic interaction goes beyond the acceptance or provision of funding and considers how collaboration or partnership opportunities may be a chance to solidify a culture of giving within a corporation, or to engage employees more deeply. Social service agencies must also ideate and consider how their agencies can support a corporation’s goals. How can SSAs add value to a collaboration partner, beyond requesting for funding? CAL has been able to deepen their partnership with Deutsche Bank, offering 11 caregivers-to-caregivers (C2C) training programmes over their multi-year partnership to benefit Deutsche Bank’s own employees and teams. This has allowed the two organisations to sustain a meaningful relationship, which has seen tremendous benefit for the Deutsche Bank and the broader mental health sector itself as employees have gone on to become force multipliers, supporting other mental health causes beyond the firm.
3. OPENLY AND EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE NEEDS, EXPECTATIONS, AND LIMITATIONS
To build a strong relationship, panelists highlighted the importance of communicating stakeholders’ organisational needs, expectations, and limitations early, so as to prevent potential disappointments or challenges down the road. This includes a consideration of timelines (short, medium and long-term), operational needs, and current organisational capabilities to deliver on programmes. NCSS President, Ms. Anita Fam, emphasised the importance of using the language of business when searching for collaborators and support. Doing so requires that SSAs are able to translate their objectives into a coherent business plan with a clear sequence of steps, an end goal, scope of work, and impact metrics. This also requires transparent communication to share when a project may not be progressing as intended. Anita shared a past instance where funding was returned to a donor as the 3-year programme was unsustainable despite its best intentions and design, creating greater trust in the partnership due to the organisation’s honesty and openness. Further, in a virtual age with reduced opportunities for in-person networking, simple things like effective written communication for email outreach cannot be overlooked.
4. BUILD TRUST BY ESTABLISHING A STRONG TRACK RECORD AND INVESTING IN LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS
Ms. Susi Hermijanto, Chief Operating Officer at YCAB Foundation, shared how the key to YCAB’s many successful collaborations with the likes of Google, Facebook, HSBC, and Garena, has been to invest in building deep relationships with their corporate partners by sharing openly about each stakeholders’ expectations and delivering on agreed upon outcomes. YCAB’s partners can trust that the foundation will exceed its targets, and this strong track record has contributed to a long-running partnership where partners also pay close attention to the sustainability and health of the foundation as a whole. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of YCAB’s long-term partners, Google, assigned two teams from the company’s Asia-Pacific and Indonesian offices to support the YCAB team through training and upskilling. YCAB’s partnerships have extended beyond the transfer of funds to an ongoing relationship where collaborative partners can be tapped on whenever they encounter a challenge or require support – the hallmark of true success.
5. LEVERAGE YOUR BOARD TO STRENGTHEN COLLABORATION EFFORTS
Lastly, we consider the critical role the board plays in fostering collaboration to broaden the impact and reach of social sector organisations. Funders often look to an organisation’s board composition to assess credibility, hence the importance of having a well-curated board. YCAB extends personal invitations for board membership resulting in a highly committed and effective board which meets the organisation’s specific and contextual needs. The right board member is invested in the SSA’s mission and more knowledgeable than the organisation, bringing specific skills, expertise, or a rich network to achieve greater impact. Their role in relationship-building with a collaboration partner cannot be understated, and internal collaboration with a management team is critical to deliver on shared outcomes.
We are hopeful that businesses and social sector organisations can both draw inspiration from these five keys to success and explore new avenues and forms of collaboration to deepen impact. Successful collaboration ultimately requires strong alignment and commitment, and Eden looks forward to supporting organisations like NCSS as they work to empower social service agencies in Singapore.
NCSS is a champion for the development of the social service sector and has initiated the GatherHere community platform to connect social service professionals with one another to share resources, learning, conduct research, and identify collaboration opportunities. Social sector professionals are welcome to be a part of this community and can register for a free account by contacting the GatherHere team: firstname.lastname@example.org