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The Big C in Impact

By February 9, 2016

Partnership - NGO and CorporateBy: Esther Nai, Programs Manager, Asia

In my role, I have had to think through some of these questions: how should nonprofits (NPO) and corporates create meaningful relationships? What do nonprofits think of their collaboration with corporates? Mutually beneficial partnerships often allow the opportunity for wider impact and creativity in the ways we engage with communities, but how do we go about creating them?

A collaborative spirit lies at the heart of any successful partnership. For the purpose of this piece, collaboration is defined as a level of cooperation where parties are not necessarily bound contractually. This usually takes on a less formal relationship where various stakeholders pool their common interests and resources for the broader interests and good of the community.

We hear from two NPO senior professionals in Singapore, Ivy Tse, CEO of Halogen Foundation and Nichol Ng, Co-Founder of Foodbank Singapore who try to answer some of those questions.

What are some useful tips to note in the process of creating long-term cross-sector collaborations?


Collaborations will be successful when there are mutual goals and aspirations. One should always strive for a long-term relationship, with the awareness that it is hardly something that happens from a few touch points or volunteering activities alone. Trust is built over a course of time.
Corporates should try harder to understand the cause and mission of the nonprofit instead of merely focusing on clocking those requisite hours. Motivation and persistent encouragement from a company’s management will propel greater volunteerism and enable corporate collaborations to be more impactful. From a charity’s standpoint, I think it is essential for us to be clear about our mission and vision, and be able to share our story with companies. Collaborations give us opportunities to groom more advocates and to let people know about the issues on the ground.


Beyond alignment in objectives and goals, alignment in values and culture are also crucial to building sustainable partnerships. I think what has been really effective for us as a NPO is really to get to know our corporate partners, beyond talking about projects we can work on. In today’s world, it is not difficult to co-create new programmes/ initiatives with a common objective of doing social good. What is lasting beyond programming challenges is when both NPO and corporations share the same culture and value systems. These drive them to make similar choices in attaining social impact and how things should be executed. These are essential to a lasting partnership.

What have you found to be useful in your discussions with corporations?


Being a business owner and nonprofit Co-Founder, I have come to realise that both sectors can come together to really make an impact on society.  Many times the corporates are professionals in the areas that they are in, and if that knowledge can be extended to the nonprofit sector, we can also reap other non-monetary rewards. In return, the corporates at times through interaction, can learn more about the issues on the ground and this is essential in helping them formulate solutions for the future that will address the root cause of the issues, not just the symptoms. Enabling a deeper understanding of issues requires going beyond a transactional phase of partnership. I think that  partnerships can be a very powerful thing when you can look beyond the dollars and cents.

What is your advice for parties looking at corporate collaborations?


I think it is an opportune exercise for corporates to introspect on the company’s values and strategic direction when it comes to impact creation. Beyond selecting a cause or focus areas, it is pertinent to also ask questions in terms of how much the company envisions to invest in monetary resources, manpower, content creation etc, and how these contributions can be made in a way that also allows the company values and DNA to emerge through the work.

With that clarity, it is easier to build the foundations to sustainability and long run contributions to the community. The corporate may then find it easier to seek community partners and projects that have a multi-year frame in mind (versus year on year renewal) for more stability. This also allows the subsequent efforts and focus to be invested in the cause and supporting/building the NPO in solution-ing rather than in evaluation of the organisation.

Beyond just pairing corporations with NPO and worthy causes, we ought to explore how we may foster collaborative mindsets amongst corporations to build collective impact. Many corporations have a lot of resources to impact the community. Imagine the collective impact that can be generated when collective resources across corporations (of similar or diverse industries) are pooled to create even greater ripples effects and systemic change in the sectors.

Certainly, collaboration should hardly be done for the sake of it. The reasons for this have been given due coverage. Alluding to the need ‘to foster collaborative mindsets’, Ivy touches on a worthwhile point that needs to be revisited. It is also timely that corporates start to review what collective impact means to them and to that end, perhaps come together and be more open to a way of working together as well. It could be said that the quality and depth of partnerships will be determined through a level of dogged persistence, careful calibration and a potentially challenging iterative process. However, when we pause and take stock of the bigger picture, it might serve us well to acknowledge the need to learn to work better together, especially when it outweighs the expediency of going it alone.

At some point, you can’t lift this boulder with just your own strength. And if you find that you need to move bigger and bigger boulders up hills, you will need more and more help.

– Vinton Cerf –

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