Nearly every corporate executive interviewed for this report emphasized the importance of partnerships. Successful partnerships are two-way streets: while a company has a lot to offer a partner in terms of its geographic reach, human capital, technology and distribution infrastructure, it has much to gain as well. Ensuring inclusive practices, measuring social impact, designing for low-income customer segments: these aspects can fall outside the comfort zone of many corporates, yet such expertise does exist in social enterprises, civil society organizations and other actors who have established trusted relationships with underserved populations and have built business models that effectively serve these markets.
Partnership, then, is about establishing strong and clearly defined relationships with other entities that bring in complementary assets, resources, skills and expertise. Partnering with the right people decreases the likelihood of “reinventing the wheel” and repeating mistakes others have previously made. Partners should provide market intelligence and specialized expertise that don’t exist inside the company to maximize the chances of designing an appropriate and scalable solution. The examples below illustrate how select companies have leveraged partnerships across the four steps of their social innovation journey.
|Step 1: Identify|
Collaborate with those who understand local social needs: Telenor and UNICEF collaborate globally to jointly identify opportunities where innovative mobile solutions can help children in all markets where Telenor operates. For example, UNICEF’s awareness of low birth registrations in Pakistan allowed Telenor to develop a simple SMS-based solution to report birth counts.
|Step 2: Design|
Co-design locally relevant products and services: Merck developed a novel, reliable, easy to use method to help with the clinical management of HIV patients in partnership with the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon. As the company had not previously designed a product specifically for Africa, it decided to partner with the University of Yaoundé as a local expert to jointly develop a product suitable for the African market. The company took prototype devices to Cameroon over a two-year period, and tested the devices together with its partner until the system could withstand extreme heat and humidity, was compatible with variable power systems, and was impeccably easy to use – four product specifications that Merck’s product developers had not had to worry about before.
|Step 3: Learn|
Leverage experts to measure outcomes: Novartis set up an affordable health programme, Novartis Access, with the objective of providing 15 patented and generic medicines that treat four non-communicable diseases, including diabetes and cancer, in low- and middle-income countries. To track improvements in health outcomes over time, Novartis partnered with Boston University to establish and collect the impact metrics and insights gathered in the pilot phase to guide future expansion. Pilot countries include Kenya, Ethiopia and Vietnam, with plans to roll out Novartis Access to 30 countries in the coming years.
|Step 4: Scale|
Adapt partnerships as you scale: From 1997 to 2015, Cisco grew from 37 networking academies in the United States to 9,500 academies in over 170 countries. In addition to leveraging the power of the internet, Cisco relied heavily on partnerships to grow rapidly. The company works with governments, educational institutions and community-based organizations around the world that are responsible for finding classroom space and teachers, attracting students and purchasing laboratory supplies for the classroom. As it grew, the number of its partners across the world grew. Providing opportunities for academy partners and instructors to connect, collaborate and learn from each other has been critical to the programme’s growth and sustainability, while partnerships with non-traditional institutions such as prisons have also provided new opportunities for IT skills development for underserved populations.