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Powerful partnerships help businesses and NGOs achieve more

Good partnerships can help everyone achieve more. But what does good look like? Sustainability Advisor Puifung Leung shares some of her favourite examples.


Good partnerships can help achieve more. Strategic partnerships are key to winning in the commercial world. It is no different when we discuss partnerships between companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Corporates have resources such as funding and staff, NGOs have access and knowledge to different groups of people, such as disadvantaged groups in our local community or people in developing countries, or our natural environment. These differences should complement and work well together- and the key to successful partnerships is unlocking this opportunity, and ensuring that companies and NGOs are equal players of a partnership; no longer the traditional donor- done imbalanced relationship. Yet, in discussions of corporate-NGO (or social enterprises, SE) partnerships in Hong Kong, many people still cite examples like making a corporate donation or having employees volunteering their time to help to deliver one-off services.

We should be really looking at successful cases where these partnerships can go much further. L’Occitane teams up with Entrepreneurs du Monde to establish a microfinance programme in Burkina Faso to empower women shea collectors to improve livelihoods. Shea production occupies only six months of the women producers’ time, and the microfinance programme provides capital and training so that the producers can create their own income-generating activities during the off-seasons to increase their earnings. The programme strengthens the relationships between the producers and the company and enhances the stability of shea supply. Such strategic partnership benefits both the business and the community and is on an increasing trend.

As such, corporate-NGO partnerships do not have to be restricted to special projects. Indeed they can help improve a company’s business model or operations in various areas, such as the following examples.

  1. Supply chain

    Ben & Jerry partners with Fairtrade International and sources 5 Fairtrade Certified ingredients around the world. These ingredients are sugar, cocoa, vanilla, coffee and bananas. As a result, producers of these products get fair pay for their produces.  In addition, a total of USD3.4 million was paid as social premiums to help developing the communities of these producer groups.

    In Hong Kong, Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels work with NGO Teng Hoi Conservation Organization, to help design a tool tentatively called Marketplace, to help organisations source sustainable seafood.

  2. Distribution channel

    d.light is a young company and still in small scale, yet, it is a global leader and pioneer in delivering affordable solar-powered solutions designed for two billion people. The company works with Oxfam, World Vision, UNHCR and brac (the largest NGO in Bangladesh) to distribute its products. These NGOs play an essential role in their distribution strategy.

  3. Waste management

    One of the well-known examples of “waste” management is food surplus management in Hong Kong. There are at least five organisations in the city which rescue different kinds of food (dry, wet, fresh, cooked, packed etc.) every day and deliver them to different groups of people in need.

    As TPB Sustainability Advisor and waste expert, Dr Merrin Pearse explains, “People often forget in Hong Kong how many people are living without good meals each day.  So, as part of the 2019 HK Rugby Union’s Green 7s campaign, it was great to have surplus cooked food collected each day by Food Angel and shared within their network, which ended up totalling half a tonne!  They have reusable food containers that they can provide before an event and depending on the volume they will collect the food from your event. So it is pretty easy to make a real difference.”

  4. Innovation

    New products drive demands and thus sales. Innovation creates wins to a business which is an area NGO could help. GSK has a long-term partnership with Save the Children. The experience of the NGO in developing countries gave insight for the development of a new antiseptic gel modified from a GSK mouthwash. The gel helps prevent umbilical cord infections, which is the cause of many newborn deaths. The demand for the gel is big and most importantly, lives are saved.

  5. Contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    SDG 17 is all about partnerships. The UN specifically says:
    “A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. These inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local level.”

    The partnership between Marks & Spencer’s and Oxfam fell into this category.  Their partnership encourages M&S customers to return their old or unused clothes to M&S and Oxfam stores, which are then processed by Oxfam for funding supporting poor people in developing countries. This “Shwopping” campaign reduces waste, raises resources, enhance brand and match with the image of both the brand and the charity. This partnership was voted the Most Admired Corporate-NGO Partnership in the UK six times in a row by the c&e Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer.


All the above partnerships build strong cases for companies’ contribution to the environment or society. The examples could be included in ESG reports. On another note, it is also worth noting that the more solid the partnership is, the more recognition is achieved on the company’s brand-building in some cases.

The c&e Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer illustrates corporates motivation for partnering with NGOs since 2010. The insights come from their annual survey of 100+ leading companies and NGOs.  While reputation and credibility are the main reasons for corporates to join partner with NGOs, it is obvious that innovation and long-term stability and impact (SDGs) have gained momentum and getting more importance.

While reputation and credibility are the main reasons for corporates to join partner with NGOs, it is obvious that innovation and long-term stability and impact (SDGs) have gained momentum and getting more importance.  

How strategic do companies think the partnerships are? The Barometer answered these questions as well.  In the latest report (2018), it reveals

  • 95% of corporates think that their NGO partners have helped them to improve their understanding of social and/or environmental issues
  • 64% of corporates think that their NGO partners have helped them to change their business practices for the better
  • Looking into the future, 86% of corporates thinks that the importance of corporate-NGO partnership is going to be more important (53%) or much more important (33%) over the next 3 years

These findings should encourage businesses and NGOs to think differently about their relationship and how to get more impact for their collective efforts. If humanity is going to end poverty, reduce inequality and solve climate change by 2030 – we need to be as strategic and impactful as we can.


The Purpose Business works with companies to find creative ways to work with NGOs and help you be a force for good.  Get in touch for an informal chat. 

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