Brian Tjugum, Weber Shandwick: Time to take your partners

Collaborations with non-profit organisations can be a vital part of a firm's CSR activities.

Phil Thomson of GSK makes a plea for broader awareness of why and how a healthcare company can deliver back to society. This provokes equal measures of frustration and curiosity: why don't we appreciate the contributions healthcare companies make to our lives and welfare?

Weber Shandwick's social impact practice recently conducted a survey of 200 company executives responsible for social responsibility or community relations. The key finding: having an impact on critical issues is the number one reason corporations invest in such activities. The second is the opportunity to see an organisation's values in action. Interestingly, these outranked business-oriented motivations, such as building customer loyalty and company differentiation.

We also asked executives about their work with NGOs. Sixty per cent said they funded non-profit organisations because they made CSR investments more effective, provided a critical infrastructure, contributed expertise and helped engage consumers.

The implication is that corporations want to be active, substantive partners in addressing social issues. Non-profits will be vital to CSR in the years ahead as corporations intensify their efforts on social issues.

Why develop strategic partnerships in health? First, the obvious attraction: shared financing brings shared commitment. For companies this is a sound investment, and for healthcare providers it could mean improvements in service delivery.

Private sector involvement can bring innovation to non-profits. The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the GAVI Alliance for childhood immunisation are examples of private initiatives helping to focus the efforts of the global health community on the biggest killers in the developing world.

Perhaps a less obvious benefit of coming together is the enhanced community support these partnerships can engender. Uncertainty about the longevity of non-profit programmes can be alleviated by the perceived level of sustainability associated with a recognised third party such as a pharma company.

Here are five points to remember for those considering collaboration;

- Transparency. This plays a crucial role in making partnerships work and holding participants to account. Disclosure and sharing of information go hand in glove with transparency.

- Core competencies. Partnerships should be developed in which the core competencies of both parties are valued and leveraged.

- Results orientation. Agreement on overall goals and priorities lets parties use results-driven steering mechanisms for project management. This allows innovative and efficient approaches.

- Communication. The more open the communication channels the more they are used. Map your stakeholders and communicate early and often.

- Change of mindset. Probably the biggest barrier to effective partnerships is a reluctance to challenge conventional wisdom. Partnerships are not about 'pushing product' although market expansion may be a commercial goal, nor are they about accepting charity, but rather about added value.

Partnerships will thrive in the next ten years. But it may require a change of corporate strategy - moving from being a provider of medicines to a facilitator of health solutions. It also means being willing to do business differently. The companies that appreciate this are doing it already.

Views in brief

- What is the most innovative public health campaign in the past year?

It's often ignored, but public health includes suicide prevention, and the 'It Gets Better' project uses real people and celebrities, showing young gay and lesbian people how happy they will be - if they can get through their teenage years.

- How would you fill a five-minute meeting with Andrew Lansley?

Change4Life never got a real chance before its marketing spend was slashed. Obesity is a huge threat to the health of this country but we need cutting-edge marketing and comms to shift the social norms that are a key determinant of behaviour change. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Brian Tjugum is head of public health & social impact, Europe, at Weber Shandwick

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