For some time now many of us have woken up to the fact that there is more to business-NGO partnerships than money. Money, of course, remains important in these economically tight times – NGOs certainly need all the money they can get at the moment and it’s great to see corporate philanthropy remains strong.
We know that to focus purely on the exchange of funds from one to the other fails to recognise how much more NGOs can gain from business and, crucially, vice versa.
The private sector, after all, has been the primary driver of economic growth in developing countries and, as economic growth is essential for securing long-term development and poverty reduction, it makes sense for NGOs to work with business to harness their skills and experience for the benefit of people living in poor communities.
We know ‘why’ this can work and why it can have a positive outcome; we’re just struggling with ‘how’ it can work. We need a willingness to look beyond money, a willingness to take some risks and an appreciation of the different assets and skills each sector can bring.
At VSO, for example, we’ve worked successfully with Accenture for more than a decade to meet the growing demand for business and management professionals in developing countries.
VSO and Accenture are aligned in purpose as the company’s corporate citizenship initiative, Skills to Succeed, aims to equip 250,000 people by 2015 with the skills to get a job or build a business. To help achieve this goal, more than 150 Accenture employees from around the world have volunteered with VSO partner organisations in Africa and Asia.
One example of a volunteer’s impact is in Zanzibar where a VSO-Accenture volunteer shared his business and marketing skills with women’s groups to help them reap the rewards of the local tourism industry. These groups rely heavily on agriculture to make a living but unreliable rainfall posed a serious threat to their crops. As a result, their income fluctuated throughout the year.
After analysing the local market and business environment affecting the women’s groups, the volunteer recognised that the women had to diversify and get involved in other activities to protect against the fluctuations in crops. For members of Kisakasaka Women’s Group, fattening crabs has become one such activity.
Members of the group buy small mud crabs for 500 shillings (20 pence) each and feed them twice a day with fish scraps. Six weeks later the crabs can weigh up to one or two kilograms and can be sold to hotels for up to 5,000 shillings (£2.10). The additional income enables women to send their children to school and to buy medicine for them when they’re sick.
A great outcome and based not so much on funds but on skills and time. So if business can provide expertise that benefits NGOs, how can NGOs help business?
NGOs that work in developing countries know the people, the communities, the local organisations and, most likely, the government as well. They come to know their infrastructure, health systems, education systems, and culture. Most importantly, they grasp the issues and challenges that are keeping people in poverty, and have the experience of designing programs that have a long lasting impact.
For a business working in the Global South, NGOs can prove an invaluable resource and a useful partner.
In Tanzania, for example, VSO is working with BG Group to develop a vocational skills training programme to improve the employability of local people in the oil and gas industries and related services.
For the company, VSO’s experience in recruiting professional volunteers, its 50 years in Tanzania, its track record for rolling out vocational skills training programmes and its expertise in the field of secure livelihoods (amongst others), made it a natural partner.
The innovative programme, based in the country’s Mtwara region, will secure employment for more than 500 local people in the next five years and give them the opportunity to work themselves out of poverty. Again, not a bad outcome.
Providing financial support to NGOs, which already have programmes in place and are working with local people on the ground, is still an impactful way for businesses to contribute to development. But they need to look beyond the transactional model at where else they can add value. Companies need to take a step into the unknown, be willing to be challenged by their NGO partners and be open to adapting existing business models and even creating new ones.
Likewise, NGOs need to be less risk adverse, understand their own value more and embrace the innovation that can come through working collaboratively with the private sector. Companies have skilled and experienced staff that can bring tangible benefits to local businesses, NGOs, even organs of government. Transformational partnerships which strengthen local business, provide jobs to people in poverty and help to drive inward investment are not only a sustainable way of doing development, but they also help to build vibrant economies from which everyone can benefit – companies and individuals alike.
It’s these partnerships, which harness and leverage the different expertise, assets and models that business, NGOs and government have, that we should all be aiming for.
Find out more at: www.vso.org.uk/partnerships/corporate-sector