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Laura Dosanjh

Senior Corporate Advisor
Charities Aid Foundation

T: +44 (0) 3000 123 298
E: corporate@cafonline.org

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WHAT DO WE MEAN BY COLLABORATION?

This week I chaired a roundtable of executives from corporate and third sector to discuss collaborative transformation at the Crowd. Our conversation followed an inspiring talk by Steve Howard, the outgoing CSO at IKEA. He encouraged everyone in the room “be bold”, advocating transformational, and not incremental, change. He went on to say that many large businesses are managing a mix of legacy and new, future-focused operations and that, as a society, we are only “one hour past midnight in the day of sustainability”. Likewise businesses are in a strong position to act at scale in the context of global agendas like the UN Sustainable development Goals (SDGs).

In this context, our table was asked to consider an African proverb:

“If you want to travel fast, go alone; if you want to travel far, go together”

And to discuss when are businesses best to lead change and when should they rather collaborate and work with others, be they competitors in the same sector, or partners in other sectors, such as charities or governments?

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Corporates working with new partners, within or across sectors, on transformation initiatives of course is hardly new. In the 1980s the UK water companies set up Water Aid, recognising their role in tackling the global water crisis. More recently we have seen the Bangladesh Accord in the garment retailing industry, in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. And many companies work with social sector organisations to maximise business and social value.

Our table began by asking what we mean by collaboration. What struck me was the diversity of views. For some it was a platform for employees to come together, share ideas and come up with shared problems and solutions. For others it was global and systemic, focusing on innovation and the power of networks, such as Launch Nordic. Increasingly, there are new forms of collaboration, with a whole range of different types of organisations – NGOs, businesses, social entrepreneurs, academics, governments - inspiring and catalysing change. The limits are endless. We went on to discuss how corporates could look for new partnerships in areas where they have not traditionally operated, to identify future shared agendas.

So collaboration is no longer about a given project or shared agenda, which may already be understood by the business. Increasingly it is there to discover and define new agendas. Collaboration is moving upstream, and what is driving this is the need for companies to look for new sources of revenue and sustainable business models.

In conclusion, if you “don’t know what you don’t know”, your next partner could be around any corner and from any sector. Keep an open mind. This seems to me to be an exciting new future for business and an important source of creative thinking and sustainable transformation.

CORPORATE ADVISORY INSIGHT

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