The transformation of business in the 21st century has many facets and a number of common characteristics. One of these is the presence of softer, more rounded edges toward consumers when it comes to transparency, communities when it comes to volunteerism and philanthropy, employees when it comes to engagement efforts, and the environment when it comes to sustainability.
A recent report — Collaboration for Impact — by the consultancy Corporate Citizenship focuses on another aspect of the transformation that has taken on a softer edge, and that is the relationship of businesses to one another.
Since the whole idea of sustainability involves taking a more holistic view of your business and its broad impacts on the world, it makes perfect sense to collaborate with other entities that bring a different perspective to the table. In the language of the report, the challenges facing business today “cross politics, industries and geographies.” This opportunity “to bring about change by addressing these issues collaboratively is underscored by a growing recognition of the role of business in this respect and an increasing desire to generate greater impact.”
The authors looked at ongoing collaboration in the business world, based on a survey, with 101 respondents, primarily from the U.S. and U.K.
While most businesses opted to collaborate with nonprofits (87 percent of total collaboration projects reported by respondents), quite a few linked up with government agencies (64 percent of projects) and same-sector companies (51 percent). Respondents also reported collaborating with businesses outside their sector, totaling 41 percent of their ongoing collaborative projects. A full 23 percent of such projects involved all four categories.
Drawing from this data set, the authors recognized five distinctly different types of collaboration, which can be summarized as follows:
- The Conductor is “a single company collaborating with a number of not-for-profit partners to solve a specific challenge.” These corporate actors often focus on a single issue across a number of geographies.
- The Alliance is “a company or group of companies that have come together to tackle a specific industry issue.” An alliance will often generate tools, indices or standards to which companies within the industry can commit.
- The Assortment consists of “several companies across industries working together to solve a particular societal issue, applying their resources, skills and expertise as relevant. These collaborations are often cross-sectoral, involving not-for profits and/or government bodies.”
- The Engager is “a company that engages and collaborates with its clients or customers to find solutions to sustainability issues. These types of collaboration may come about through specific corporate responsibility initiatives or through a commercial relationship.”
- The Selector is “a company that selects and collaborates with parties with varying but specific expertise across a range of fields to address a societal issue. This collaboration is the most mature model and involves taking a holistic approach to solve an issue.”
These collaborations are more important than ever, especially now as the federal government is setting itself up as a barrier to progress on critical issues like climate change. Collaboration between companies, with NGOs, and with government entities at the state and local levels can achieve as much or more than any federal initiative.
Last week at the Responsible Business Summit in New York, Atlanta Mayor Kassim Reed told an audience of business leaders they should consider a “shift to partnering with cities.” Unlike federal or even state governments, cities are small enough to get things done quickly, but big enough to have an impact. Especially since cities are banding together in groups like the U.S. Conference of Mayors where they can learn from one another. If you have a good idea, Reed said, “All it takes is me and eight votes” on the city council to get it approved.
Corporate Citizenship’s report includes a number of examples of collaboration in action. One example of the Assortment is the Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) founded by Singtel and six other Australian companies to provide assistance to youth from vulnerable backgrounds. In collaboration with a network of public schools, they established a mentoring program that has grown to over 30 companies, involving some 33,000 volunteers and reaching over 100,000 students.
The Selector is exemplified by a three-year collaboration between IBM and the Sesame Workshop to enhance the production of the renowned children’s educational TV program “Sesame Street.” IBM utilized its Watson super-computing capability to examine and explore “ways in which cognitive computing can best help preschoolers to learn.” A variety of experts in fields ranging from education and psychology to media production and advanced computing all participated in the project.
This video, although it goes back a few years, actually sums it up pretty well.
Image credit: Pexels