Collaboration is defined as the act of working together with other people or organisations to create or achieve something. True collaboration is more complex than a simple partnership where one party provides funds to another for the purpose of implementing a project. Rather, it implies joint
participation and the contribution of skills and resources to a collective process. Companies can potentially achieve better social outcomes by collaborating with other companies and developmental
stakeholders, including government and civil society.
There are various levels of collaboration, ranging from the sharing of knowledge, to establishing partnerships and, at a deeper level, the merging of work processes and resources to achieve a common objective. Complex societal issues can only be meaningfully addressed through the involvement of all relevant stakeholders. However, working with multiple stakeholders can be challenging. For collaboration at a deep level to succeed, it requires dedicated organisational capacity, clear and aligned
objectives, ongoing engagement with relevant stakeholders and, importantly, adequate time and resources for effective implementation. Many corporate social investment (CSI) programmes do not have the resource or desire to embark on complex collaborative processes and defer to providing more
localised solutions that address immediate and apparent needs. The value of this approach is not to be discounted, with many lives changed through such interventions. However, if longer-term systemic change is sought, investment in deeper collaborative processes should be considered.
Trialogue is the Southern Africa local authority for a global network of organisations, called the Global Exchange (GX), a coalition that focuses on advancing the role of business in society. The initiative
was launched and is overseen by the US-based CECP: The CEO Force for Good and has representation in 16 countries across the globe. We recently canvassed GX partners to obtain high-level country perspectives on collaboration. For the purpose of this short survey, we considered three different types
of collaboration, namely: sharing of knowledge, pooled funding and joint initiation of projects.
Nine GX partners from Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, South Africa, South Korea, Spain and the US participated in this survey, the findings of which are summarised overleaf.
Collaboration through sharing of knowledge
This form of collaboration encompasses sharing of intervention methodologies and outcomes as a means of improving practice. This could be in the form of convening knowledge-sharing sessions with other companies or stakeholders, sharing research, setting up ‘communities of practice’ with focus on particular development sectors, or commissioning research for the purpose of informing government policy.
GX partners were asked whether:
• They were aware of collaboration through sharing of knowledge between companies and the types of organisations (as shown in the
• If aware of such collaboration, whether
they perceived it to occur often,
occasionally or rarely.
The feedback showed that collaboration in the form of knowledge sharing is quite prevalent. Knowledge sharing between companies and all other stakeholders was believed to occur in eight of the
nine regions, and in all regions in the case of companies sharing with non-profit organisations (NPOs). In the majority of instances, collaboration of this nature was seen to be occasional. For at least a third
of the countries surveyed, knowledge-sharing with government, academic institutions, business organisations and development agencies was considered to be rare. Responses varied when asked about who was generally responsible for initiating the knowledge-sharing processes, with all parties seen to be playing a role at some point in time. Intermediaries were however most frequently recognised as
initiators of knowledge-sharing processes.
Examples of collaborative knowledge-sharing practices:
• In South Africa, Trialogue acts as an intermediary that drives knowledge sharing
across development parties through the Trialogue Knowledge Hub (www.trialogueknowledgehub.co.za), CSI forums (quarterly meetings of CSI practitioners to share information and learnings) and the Trialogue Business in Society Handbook.
• In Brazil, Todos pela Educação (All for Education) is a non-profit organisation (https://www.todospelaeducacao.org.br) that pursues quality education. Activities include promotion of the theme of basic education in the media and institutional engagement to encourage debate on the topic.
• In Germany, under the umbrella of the organisation Stifterverband (https://www.stifterverband.org), a group of approximately 14 corporate social responsibility (CSR) managers from various companies meet to share knowledge and design joint projects.
• In India, Ambuja Cement Foundation and Samhita Social Ventures organise meetings for CSR leaders and managers to discuss the actions required to respond to issues that will advance the sector.
• In Spain, Fundación SERES convenes an annual event called Compartiendo (‘Sharing’) at which various collaborative projects that create social impact and business benefit are examined.
• In the US, companies participating in CECP’s Systemic Investments in Equity, Talent and Tech Accelerate Community met quarterly during the past year to explore the challenges and opportunities presented in efforts to reduce inequities in science, technology, English and maths learning and, ultimately, diversify the tech workforce.
Collaboration through participation in a pooled fund
This form of collaboration encompasses an initiative set up by one or more entities, which then approaches other organisations to contribute funds to a
collective pool. The objectives of the fund vary from supporting research and lead
practice, to delivering social services, to initiatives that convene multistakeholder
groups with the aim of achieving systemic change.
The existence of collaboration models involving pooled funds were notably
less frequent than the first two forms of collaboration. Pooled funds in collaboration with other companies or NPOs were perceived to exist in two-thirds of the countries and were considered to be frequent in one-third of them. Pooled funds in collaboration with government was seen to occur in
most regions but was largely occasional or rare. For other stakeholder groups, collaboration through pooled funds was considered to occur less often.
Examples of multistakeholder collaborative initiatives:
• In Brazil, two companies with supply chain interests that affect more than 50 communities located on the margins of the Juruá River in the Amazon are developing a social progress index with the aim of addressing local challenges in the region.
• In India, Samhita Social Ventures and the India Sanitation Coalition, in partnership with CEPT University and with support from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Maharashtra Government, have set up a four-year multistakeholder corporate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) platform in the western state of Maharashtra. This platform advocates for an open defecation-free society through access to water, along with safe and sustainable sanitation and hygiene practices. Going beyond the focus of building toilets, this platform identifies and facilitates strategic areas for corporate engagement by leveraging catalytic finance models and stakeholder expertise to innovate high-impact
sustainable solutions throughout the WASH value chain.
• In South Africa, the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) was established to strengthen partnerships within civil society and between civil society and government to achieve the country’s national goals for basic education (www.nect.org.za).
• In the United States, the 100k initiative is made up of a coalition of leading companies creating employment opportunities for youth. They are committed to reinventing hiring, retention and advancement practices in order to access new sources of talent from communities that have not traditionally been included in the US’ prosperity. Over 50 companies collaborate.
Development is characterised by practices that range from highly innovative and effective to dismal
failure. Acquiring knowledge of lead practice and risks associated with a developmental area would
surely reduce failures to improve the effectiveness of development funding. The feedback from GX partners shows that collaboration at a knowledge-sharing level happens often and tends to be driven by intermediaries. However, given the wealth of knowledge available from academic institutions, government and development agencies, there could be a case made for more extensive sharing of good practice.
Knowledge-sharing processes typically involved the convening of think tanks or meetings to share experiences. Outcomes of these sessions could not be determined through this short survey. However, to be effective, they should yield a deep understanding that is then applied of lead practice, lessons and challenges experienced in delivering, scaling and measuring the effectiveness of development solutions.
Pooling of funds provides a mechanism to channel funding to implementing partners, contracted to deliver a defined part of a holistic solution. The advantage of a collective fund is that it can enable scaling, investment in robust monitoring and evaluation, opportunities to meaningfully engage with government and other stakeholders and, theoretically, the ability to achieve more extensive
project impact. Barriers to this form of collaboration include cost and bureaucracy associated with
governance of the fund, the loss of brand profile of participants and opaqueness of fund flows.
There are barriers to collaboration at a project level. To survive, NPOs protect their intellectual property and funding relationships, while companies are reluctant to dilute their brand profile and are sensitive to working with competitors. As a consequence, development is characterised by a multitude of initiatives doing similar work but without any collective measures of impact and efficient practice. Country examples most often related to partner relationships with individual initiatives. Cases of
multistakeholder involvement were identified, but there was little evidence of collaboration that extended across a development sector.
There is greater risk associated with more complex and lengthy collaborative initiatives that aim to be scaled or used to achieve systemic change. However, such initiatives offer greater leverage of funding and, given the limited resources that companies have, should be considered when they are on offer.