Sustainability agendas sometimes make for strange bedfellows

The new era of social responsibility is driving NGOs into the arms of corporate suitors.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

This post sort of follows the vein of my blog the other day debating whether you can have more impact on sustainability working for a profit vs. a non-profit organization. This one has to do, however, with another business model that is having an impact on socially responsible activities around the world, non government organizations, more commonly known as NGOs.

In a post over on the Triple Pundit Web site, Vijay Kanai from Kanal Consulting argues that enlightened businesses are starting to team up with NGOs to affect change and get a better grounding for their corporate social responsibility programs and sustainability strategies, while previously the two entities tended to hold somewhat of an adversarial relationship. The big change now, of course, is that more for-profit companies actually HAVE an interest in things like energy, food, agriculture, wast management, water, natural resources -- the list goes on. Oh yeah, they actually have the money to support these things. Since charitable giving by individuals was supposed to be off by about 5 percent this year, NGOs need to get creative about funding.

Kanai, who is in effect a corporate sustainability/management consultant, offers up examples of some of the biggest name organizations who are now working with the corporate sector: the World Wildlife Fund, the Environmental Defense Fund and the World Resources Institute, to name a few. While organizations such as these would stop short of endorsement of any particular company's activities, they could provide valuable insight to businesses hoping to get smarter about where to focus their sustainability efforts.

The rest of Kanai's post focuses on advising executives about how to evaluate potential partnerships between corporations and NGOs, who to avoid like the plague, and offering these three concepts as critical success factors guiding any relationship:

  1. Mutual Trust
  2. Shared Interests
  3. Creating a Win/Win Outcome

And, of course, did I mention that any really good NGO must remain agnostic, refraining from endorsing any particular business.

This whole topic reminds me that we once lived in a world where sports arenas and athletic fields and public buildings were once named for heros and athletes and poets, not the company who could pay the most for the name. But I digress.

Plus, the practical side of me knows that it makes economic sense for the philanthropic and environmental organizations that many people love to hate and just as many love to love to team up with companies. Which partnerships are working? I'd love to hear about them.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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