Broadening Impact Through Partnerships

February 23, 2011

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Anthony Muljadi, a former BRAC Bangladesh intern and a student at Harvard Business School writes about the importance of partnerships for the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference blog.

Anthony Muljadi, a former BRAC Bangladesh intern and a student at Harvard Business School writes about the importance of partnerships for the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference blog.

Last summer I took a microfinance internship in Bangladesh with BRAC, the world’s largest development NGO serving over 110 million people across 14 countries. I arrived in Bangladesh with a simplistic belief that microfinance was the end-all solution to poverty. After spending a few weeks in the field, however, I quickly realized that while microfinance alleviated financial poverty for many poor Bangladeshis, it did not directly address their educational, health, and enterprise needs of borrowers. BRAC has long recognized this gap, and thus takes a holistic approach to addressing poverty by offering a portfolio of resources (education, health, training, etc.) to its clients depending on individual needs. In this way, BRAC behaves as a social enterprise conglomerate – a one stop shop for all of its clients’ basic needs. Seeing the breadth of services that BRAC offered, I started thinking about how smaller enterprises could broaden their community impact without needing to become conglomerates. Partnerships appeared to be the best option to accomplish this goal. After doing some research, I realized that partnerships could take on many forms (e.g. corporations with non-profits, governments with social enterprises, etc) and create a number of mutual benefits, including brand awareness, access to new networks, and resource sharing.

One success story of corporate and non-profit collaboration is the “FDNY CPR To Go” partnership between the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) and New York Sports Club (NYSC). Last year, the FDNY was looking to expand its free CPR training programs, but did not have adequate facilities or demand. On the other hand, NYSC had excess space at certain times during the day and a strong membership base. Working with Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC Service office, NYSC offered space for FDNY to conduct CPR training. While the FDNY benefited from greater outreach and free space, the NYSC benefited from increased PR and business by offering free trial memberships to all CPR trainees. It was win-win – clients of both organizations benefited from an expanded portfolio of health services.
This success story should not be taken as a silver bullet. Although cross-sector partnerships are gaining popularity, they can often be difficult to form. Despite knowing their own resources and needs, organizations might have difficulty identifying complementary partners. With the advent of social media and the proliferation of collaboration databases and volunteer-match sites, the social impact partnership space is growing.
Given the vast potential in this area, I am eager to attend the “Strategy and Innovations in Cross-Sector Partnerships” Panel at the 2011 Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, where leaders in the field will gather to discuss the latest developments in partnerships for social impact. The four amazing keynote speakers, including Root Capital CEO Willy Foote, Paul Carttar from the Social Innovation Fund, Clinton Global Initiative CEO Robert Harrison, and Beatrice Biira from Millennium Promise, reflect the diversity of capabilities that must be brought to bear to create social change, and I realize now that it is the partnerships between these groups that generate large-scale impact. The Social Enterprise Conference is a gathering place for individuals who are passionate about social impact, and I hope it becomes a launching point for the high impact partnerships of the future.

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