Seven Key Learnings for Corporate Partnership Leads in 2019

By Kerrina Thorogood, Head of Corporate Partnerships, WWF

While partnerships will always vary, one constant you can be sure of is that every new partnership is a learning opportunity. Our new venture with Tesco has been no exception. From collaboration to creativity, here are some of the key principles we learned as we went through the process.​

At the end of last year, WWF and Tesco announced they would be joining forces in a four year partnership to deliver affordable, healthy, sustainable food with a shared goal to half the environmental impact of the average shopping basket. Working together they will be focusing on three key areas of activity:

  • Helping customers eat more sustainable diets;
  • Restoring nature in food production; and
  • Eliminating food and packaging waste from the sector.

Kerrina Thorogood, Head of Corporate Partnerships at WWF, shares her insights into the development of this ground-breaking new partnership.

1. The importance of partnership purpose

Right from the start, we challenged each other to properly unlock the full potential of the partnership. We knew we needed to identify a clear purpose – that sweet spot where we would be stronger together rather than working separately, where we could achieve a solution for the planet where others couldn’t. It was when we landed on this goal – to halve the environmental impact of the average shopping basket whilst ensuring it is affordable and healthy – that we knew we had it. The partnership activities then easily fell out of this as they encompassed everything we needed to do to achieve it – from improving how our food is sourced to encouraging more sustainable food choices, from working on the ground to advocating to stakeholders and policy makers, from engaging Tesco colleagues and customers to product promotions and communications in store.

2. Co-creation is key

Working in partnership in proposal development is as important as it is in management. This process reemphasised to us that gone are the days where proposal development purely falls at the hands of the charity – no longer is it a case of presenting our programmes for funding. It was about fully understanding Tesco’s plans, priorities and challenges for the business and mapping that against WWF’s.

3. Going beyond partnership to wider systemic change

The pressures the world faces today – whether social or environmental – are too big for bilateral partnerships to solve alone. What became increasingly obvious as conversations progressed was the opportunity we had to think beyond our two organisations to how we could work with other stakeholders to galvanise societal, sectoral and systemic change. From working with other food businesses and financial institutions to tackle deforestation to working with local authorities, government and industry to establish a single UK waste recovery scheme, it was interesting to understand the added value our charity brought in convening and working in the precompetitive space – how we can bring together all actors in society to enable global solutions.

4. Innovation for future solutions

It was evident in our discussions that in a rapidly changing world and society, we don’t know all the solutions. So, we developed an innovation fund in the partnership that the work-streams could use to take advantage of new thinking and solutions that our partnership could take to scale in the market.

5. Multiple touchpoints across the organisation

The partnership was developed by a team of people on both sides. Partnership development should never be on the shoulders of one person but requires relationships built across communications, fundraising, programmes and even operations, and most importantly at the executive level. These solid cross-team relationships (of course with a clear governance structure) also meant the partnership was fully embedded in organisations giving us the foundation to start delivering activities from day of partnership signing.

6. People we wanted to work with

It was clear right from the beginning that our counterparts at Tesco had the same passion, principles and drive for sustainability as we did but they viewed it through a commercial lens. But the value was also in not being afraid to challenge each other. We learnt more about the commercial context and potential barriers to change whilst Tesco was keen to understand where they should do more and act on issues that might not have been immediately obvious or within their direct sphere of influence.

7. Resilience, perseverance and ambition
We recently did some work on team values and resilience came out as the top personality trait colleagues thought was critical to our work. On average our partnerships at WWF take around two years to develop and finalise. This partnership took longer but it was without doubt worth it as we hope you’ll agree that the resounding benefit was this truly exciting partnership that will truly help shape the future of our global food system.

Every partnership is different and while these key principles all came to the fore as we developed our partnership with Tesco, we regularly see them across many of the partnerships we have here at WWF. Sharing an ambition and passion for a cause is important but add the right principles and charity-corporate partnerships can go beyond the ordinary to achieve something revolutionary and game-changing for people and planet. .

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