Joel Van Houdt

How is Cross-Sector Collaboration Driving Transformative Social Impact in the Luxury Industry?

An interview with Pam Batty, Vice President Corporate Responsibility, Burberry and Alex Lankester, Head of Private Sector Partnerships, Oxfam

Partnership overview: For Burberry, modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible. Key to this agenda is supporting diverse communities around the world that sustain the company’s supply chain, which means partnering for the long-term with NGOs like Oxfam to ensure quality livelihoods for those communities. But how does this work in practice?

BFP: How can cross-sector collaboration be harnessed to deliver change in the luxury industry?

AL: At Oxfam we look to drive transformative change across the programmes that we run and our focus is on long-term systems change as opposed to short-term “project” work. Our work with the private sector is rooted in this principle because we recognise that business, with its deep supply chains, huge employee base, expert consumer insight, brand reach, and resources, when deployed effectively, can play a critical role in addressing the socio-economic challenges we are looking to address in our work to fight poverty.

PB: As an example, the 5 year programme we are supporting in Afghanistan, delivered in collaboration with Oxfam and PUR Projet, aims to develop a more inclusive and sustainable cashmere industry and help herders enhance their livelihoods. This will be achieved through bespoke training for goat herders, enhanced veterinary services, the development of community-owned collective action organisations and government engagement on the development of a national cashmere policy framework.

BFP: How do you move beyond a transactional partnership into one that is transformational?

AL: At the beginning of the partnership, it’s important to dive deep to find the collaborative advantage that you can both offer and the sweet spot where you have common interests and goals. Don’t just assume it is there – at the start run workshops and brainstorms to really squeeze this out and articulate it so that both parties have a common understanding. This moves a partnership away from a transactional space to driving a greater good. And when this happens, you see employees from across both organisations fully buying into and supporting the partnership as they begin to appreciate and see its full potential to drive change and impact. And that’s when you know you’ve found that sweet spot.

PB:  We believe in having a shared vision, ambition and clear goals, as well as a shared awareness and commitment to the cause across both organisations. Both parties need to trust each other, adopt an honest approach in facing the shared challenge, and address it through regular dialogue. In addition, it is important to have mutual respect of each other’s strengths and understand and leverage the value that both parties can bring to the partnership.

AL: Burberry were looking to build cohesion and resilience and accelerate economic empowerment in the communities that they source from. These objectives fitted very well with the objectives of our social inclusion programmes in Italy that focus on the marginalised and disadvantaged in the Florentine area where Burberry sources leather, and the livelihoods programmes that we run in Northern Afghanistan where Burberry sources cashmere.

Importantly, this partnership is also a multi-year partnership that has the longevity and time to drive change. We know that social impact programmes take time and commitment and it’s not possible to address systemic challenges in a quick turn-around time, so it’s great to have this commitment and long-term view from Burberry.

BFP: What are your top tips for companies and NGOs that are looking to build a partnership?

AL & PB:

1. Find the sweet spot: Ensure that the objectives and goals of both organisations sufficiently overlap and resonate with each other, in regard to the particular challenge that you are looking to address.

2. Set clear expectations: What is considered as “success” can differ for each party. Ensure there is continued mutual understanding – that both parties really understand each other’s objectives, pain points and the difference you are trying to make together.

3. Create clear ways of working and governance structure: For both parties, strategic partnerships are a significant investment of time and resource so it’s essential to have clear ways of working and risk management.

4. Be transparent and communicate frequently: Organisations and companies are not static, but fluctuate in response to different pressures. An agreement signed 3 years ago has the potential to evolve over time, so be sure to stay on the same page and aligned.

5. Adequately resource to support the partnership: Avoid underestimating the time necessary to support and drive authentic transformative partnerships, make a point of factoring this into your planning.

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