by Amanda Bowman, Director The Partnering Initiative
I was in Singapore earlier this month, participating in the CSR Asia Community Investment Forum, which focused this year on Building Partnerships. About 100 corporate, not for profit and academic sector leaders from around the region attended, and the Forum was followed by a two-day partnership training. As the person who had quite possibly travelled the furthest to be there, the questions I was asked most often were: ‘Where does Asia fit in the partnership world, and what do we do differently?’
The richness of examples shared across the week was fascinating. But in the main, rather than the usual assertions, often heard in other parts of the world, that partnering is ‘easy’ and ‘we do it all the time’, there was an awareness that the regio nthere is still some way to go before the region’s cross sector partnership work matches its reputation for economic growth.
Companies and NGOs alike want to be in the transformation ‘business’. They want their partnerships to find solutions to intractable social and environment problems and to work to co-create projects that will make a real difference.
One key theme stressed repeatedly throughout the forum was the need from companies to engage employees in their community investment partnerships.
Callum Douglas, who heads up CSR for PWC across China and Asia Pacific, talked about the partnerships that the firm has developed to help build trust in civil society. PWC works to build capacity and share its skills by hosting events and engaging its senior people to share their expertise with NGOs, helping them understand the value of transparency, reporting, and governance. Events are complemented by a mentoring programme, through which PWC professionals work with the NGOs to identify areas for development, such as the creation of policies and processes for donor reporting and stakeholder communication.
Ming Tan leads the CSR activities for the Como Group of Hotels and she talked about how partnerships between their hotels and local NGOs and social enterprises grow and evolve over time. What often starts as a donor relationship between the foundation and the NGO can grow into a partnership where the NGO shares its experience and expertise with hotel staff and guests, and staff share their skills with the NGOs.
As part of its financial education programme in Singapore, Citi launched the Citi-Tsao Foundation programme – a 20-week course on savings, financial planning, budgeting and investing, which targets low income mature women. The programme is the first of its kind, delivered through a network of support groups. It was developed further by extending the partnership to the People’s Association Women’s Integration Network, and will now be offered Singapore wide. This scaling up provides the opportunity to train People’s Association trainers who will drive the programme’s outreach and increase the choices of venues, language options, and class timings, making the programme more accessible. This example was one of the few multi-stakeholder partnerships that were highlighted at the Forum.
PWC’s work to build capacity of NGOs and The Como Foundation’s philosophy of supporting core costs were emblematic of the kind of leadership that is being shown by a number of companies across Asia. More common, however, were the bi-lateral partnerships where the company had sought partners that could leverage the company’s resources towards direct beneficiary impact. Companies in Asia seem to look for a direct line of sight between their social investments – whether financial or non-financial – and the results on the ground, which can sometimes cause problems in funding the infrastructure and support costs for their partners.
This issue was highlighted in the recent report published by The Partnering Initiative ‘Unleashing the power of business’ which recommended strengthening the institutional capacity and readiness for partnering by developing leadership and strategy, internal systems and processes, staff skills and support as well as the mindset and culture to work with others.
The Partnering Initiative’s two day training, which followed the Community Investment Forum, built on these themes. Participants showed great enthusiasm forthe practical tools and frameworks that would help them increase the impact of their partnership work, and we look forward to following their progress as they continue on their partnership journey.