A highlight of my work as a partnerships advisor is helping businesses of all sizes, and with clear sustainable development impact goals in place, find ways to work more effectively and in line with governments as part of public-private partnerships. These typically take the form of a company with a global presence asking us to liaise on their behalf with U.S. or European agencies working in developing countries, and around issues like increased market access, trade facilitation, climate smart agriculture, health access, access to finance and gender equity. Often times these companies are looking for additional funding to support their development initiatives.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tend to be the go-to agencies I approach for these discussions here in the United States.
It’s easy to love a scope of work that allows me to find policy action that supports business advancement, since I’ve been working on economic development challenges for the last 20 years. I’ve always seen business as a key driver for positive change in places where the economy needs a shot of adrenaline, or what’s more, market-driven fluidity. Businesses must have a good relationship with governments that build and support infrastructure, and are often drivers of the investments needed for effective markets in all places where they operate. Thus when a U.S. or European-based business needs help raising money in tandem with a government actor here in the U.S. or in Europe, I see it as an ideal way to engage in effective public-private partnerships that have mutual benefit for the business, the government agency, and the communities in need of greater investment support.
Recently I was asked by a corporate client of ours whether the company could be easily set up to “prime” a U.S. Government funded program to institute a market-building effort in a country of priority to their production efforts.
What does it mean to be a prime? Essentially a prime partner of a U.S. (or other government) entity is one that receives a large chunk of funding to carry out a key program for the government, and thereafter sub-contracts that funding to technical implementers to ensure the program is delivered as promised and guaranteed by the prime. The prime partner must keep track of deliverables, budgets, timelines, ensure the program is operating as promised, and report back on progress. Often times primes are big contracting firms, set up specifically to monitor and manage big U.S. (or other) government programs.
So can a private sector partner be set up to prime? The answer is yes.
Susanne Barsoum, Founder of Keylime, a marketplace for international development expertise, shared with me this: "Donors are looking for the kind of innovation and private sector engagement that large international companies are so well positioned to offer. International development and the private sector each have so much to gain working together."
And here’s why:
Are you a business interested in learning more about opportunities to partner with government agencies to leverage funding and help build long-term market action in countries of importance to your business?
Whether it’s via a “prime” relationship or not, let’s discuss where there’s a fit for you.
Challenging times these days, eh? My goodness. It’s like we are being slapped on each side of our face over and over. Between COVID, polarizing politics, racial injustice, people who seem to just HATE each other, fear, brutality, violence, ongoing environmental challenges - we can’t seem to catch a break. It becomes overwhelming. How can we begin to address these systemic problems, and feel like we are contributing meaningfully?
As a corporate leader, 2020 presents an opportunity to participate in the rebuilding we’ll need after we’ve torn ourselves apart as a global society. It’s possible to begin constructing a future you want for your business or organization, based also on what the planet needs for recovery. The key is to start by figuring out what positive impact is achievable, given your limited resources of time and money.
The question you may be asking yourself is, "How?"
The most critical first step in determining what role you can and should play in creating lasting change, is prioritizing. If you begin an impact project or program without taking the necessary steps to prioritize, or deciding what makes the most sense for your business first, you won’t get there fast enough.
You need to ask yourself questions like:
After going through these prioritization questions, narrow in your responses and land on one to two high-impact and well-prioritized goals that are going to help you succeed as a company, but that also help you to deliver on impact over time.
Once you have completed a successful prioritization exercise, you are much more able to focus intently on finding critical partners and collaborators, funding if that’s what you are most needing, or ways to advocate for the change you think is most needed. If you don’t prioritize first, you run the risk of playing whack-a-mole with all of the different issues and challenges that touch your organization or that drive you to seek change.
Here’s an example:
An idea exists to improve market access for health services in poorer countries and regions. The owner of the idea knows she can have significant impact once her solutions reach a generous sized group of pilot testers, but how is the question. Approaching this challenge could lead us down several paths:
In our example, once these questions are answered, we determine that the idea could be replicated in several regions as an initial pilot, but more funding is needed to get the pilots off the ground. The markets exist and regulation is not really the challenge. Financial services firms are abundant to help the local health facilities obtain financing and support. Thus we can narrow in on funding and pilot development. Once the funding is in hand, and the pilots underway, only then can the idea owner start considering what comes next. Only then can the next phase of impact be possible. Only then can other partners, including financial services firms, technical trainers, advocacy groups (if relevant), co-funders, etc be brought into the mix.
Priority setting is the most critical first step in making a positive impact. In our work as partnership advisors, it truly is a must before any other steps are taken in identifying partners or funders.
In 2020, with the ground quaking beneath us, we know we all play a role in seeking positive change. Even with the greatest desire, passion and intent, we must start somewhere. Using an effective priority setting process will help ensure all future action is truly effective and takes us forward with intention.
My task during this meeting was to secure an interest on the part of my friend’s agency to co-fund this project. When my friend rushed into the coffee shop, he sat down and mentioned he had limited time. What was my ask? I shared with him the situation - that this well known client of mine was testing a new social impact program, had received some substantial initial funding, but was keen to bring other partners on board, and in particular, wanted my friend’s agency to be a core funder in the replication and scale of the program.
My friend looked at me like I had told him a three-headed alien had landed in my driveway.
Why do they need us he asked?
It’s a fair question. Why would a multi-billion dollar company need more funding to advance a social impact project?
Here’s what I shared with him:
Because of these reasons, and a recognition that working in concert with the private sector will allow funders to make their investments go farther, funders across the spectrum have been ramping up their private sector engagement strategies. Collaboration in international development is no longer just about implementation or designing projects. It has developed into a method for identifying and deploying systemic solutions that promote long-term sustainability and lasting impact for the people and communities who need the support most.
As for the coffee date with my friend at the funding agency, we weren’t able to come to terms during that initial coffee meeting. But after several meetings with our corporate client, we helped build out a strong partnership that will bring opportunities for sustainable impact for decades to come.
Want to learn more about private sector engagement to address the SDGs?
Read about how to set SDG commitments, what's needed to make public/private partnerships more effective and why leveraged funding is critical to advance the SDGs.
Of course contact us with any questions or to learn about how we can help your SDG program find the right funding, partnerships and scale for impact.
The UN Global Compact, a collaborative initiative of global companies working together with UN member governments and affiliated civil society actors to advance societal goals, kicked off their Leaders Summit today. An annual gathering of the world's most vocal experts around the role business can and should play to affect change, the Leaders Summit is a who's who in the world of social impact and mission-driven business.
Originally, the event would have taken place at UN Headquarters in New York City. This year, of course, we were able to join virtually. The fact that the event was free to anyone who applied, and required no travel, nearly 20,000 attendees from all over the world joined in. The UN Global Compact team has made an effort to craft a robust 24-hour event that is accessible during all time-zones. It's been remarkable to see the effort in action.
The Summit has thus far focused on how business and purpose-centered leaders can coalesce to make global change, recover from the current COVID pandemic and associated economic slowdown, and address racial injustice while moving us into a place of equity and harmony. That’s quite a hefty task.
Whereas one may feel suspect of a coalition of businesses making much difference in our somewhat mad world these days, the sessions have brought me a sense of peace, hope and excitement.
For example during a brief networking round of speed chats, I met a 10th grader from Istanbul, Turkey, who had founded a women’s rights organization and was CEO of a girls’ education organization promoting gender equity in Turkey. In 10th grade! I met a human rights advisor who was working with the United Nations on equal rights for laborers in global supply chains. He was also an architect. Imagine that combination of talents! I also met a student from Poland who was studying international business, while advising the UN as part of their Youth Network. The young among us are truly not sitting idle. They are making change all around us. I heard from a young woman management consulting who in her spare time helps advocate against child labor and modern slavery. The problems our world faces are not insignificant, but if these are our future leaders, we are in good hands.
What was another element of the discussions I was encouraged by? How many companies, across a very diverse range of sizes, global footprint, industries and leadership, spoke out about their commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a suite of 17 social, economic and environmental goals that the United Nations has set out to acheive before 2030. Commitments around issues like responsible consumption and production, water and sanitation, quality education, access to healthcare, no poverty, and gender equity were extensively discussed in each of the breakouts I was in, as well as in plenary. Companies were honest about what makes them responsible stewards of the planet (or not) and suggested we call them out on their commitments. The CEO of beauty brand Natura, a Brazilian company that owns its own brand, plus those of Body Shop and Avon, even went so far as to say that companies must be held accountable. That we, as consumers and stakeholders, must push companies to be honest about what’s feasible and where there are gaps in their actions. That companies must set targets, no matter how small, and work towards making bigger goals and taking bigger action.
One of the most persuasive arguments for companies taking a leading role around the SDGs is actually imbedded in SDG 17, which calls for all global actors, businesses, civil society, governments, and individuals, to partner and work together to advance the other 16 goals in collaboration. In fact the Summit even held a “SDG Power Hour” towards the end of Day 1 dedicated to brands, UN agencies and civil actors coming online and sharing their partnership aims, goals and efforts underway.
SDG 17 is obviously the most pertinent to us at Connective Impact, given our work on effective partnership building to solve the world’s most pressing problems. And as it is happens, we’ve spent the last few weeks talking to nearly 40 companies about their partnerships to advance SDG commitments. We’ll share results during our webinar this week "Finding the Right Partner to Effectively Deliver Your Sustainable Development Goals", as well as the research we are working on for later this month.
The timing could clearly be no better than now. Our planet needs us. And what’s more, our people need us. Change is indeed afoot and based on what I’ve seen among the leaders of our future, of our businesses, of those I heard from today, and of those working in international development more broadly, change is absolutely possible.
If you are relatively new to fundraising, or question how to reset your business development or fundraising priorities given COVID, trying to find the right type of donor-partner to activate your programs may seem daunting. There are so many types of donor-partners to prospect, and it’s unclear what type of donor is best for your program’s needs.
Do you take steps to engage all potential donor-partners, or do you segment?
How do you prioritize?
Hearing these concerns from our community, we often clarify that not every donor-type is right for every organization. Start-ups will require a different type of funding to scale operations than a nonprofit that’s focused on testing solutions for societal problems, or scaling a research pilot. Corporates looking for match funding to advance social impact or sustainability programs are also in a very different scenario than nonprofits, start-ups or social enterprises.
So how does one differentiate? What are the factors to consider?
Below are five different donor-partner types, along with their traditional methods of engagement. Included are recommendations about how to identify whether each donor type is right for your fundraising and business development needs.
1. Family and philanthropic foundations: These more traditional donors represent pooled funds (or family endowments) that are allocated to causes identified as a priority by the family or operators of the foundations. These donors tend to range in size from very small, niche, local donors, to global philanthropic thought leaders that give sizable sums of money (think Rockefeller or Ford Foundation). Consider engaging with family and private foundations if your program or project matches their priorities only. Most foundations do not accept unsolicited proposals, so building relationships is a critical element to getting noticed by these donors. There won't be much opportunity for engagement if your priorities don't overlap. Building a strong partnership with foundations is a great way to stay under their radar when funding becomes available. At times foundations will issue proposal requests, so following as many whose priorities align with yours is important. Keep an eye out for news. These proposal requests are highly competitive, which also makes building a relationship with these potential donor-partners a critical element to successful fundraising.
2. Public/government agency donors: Government funding programs are meant to engage partners for delivering on policy aims, while in the case of international development programs, promote global goodwill. For example in the United States, agencies including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Development Finance Corporation (DFC) have countless programs in place, and many developing and progressing at once, to work with implementing partners all over the world to deliver support around infrastructure, access to basic necessities like water, housing, medical care, jobs and technology. These programs are large in size and cumbersome to engage in. Also once you receive funding from a government agency, you are locked into their reporting requirements, which can be quite onerous. The dollar values are quite high, however, as is the potential for large-scale collaboration with bigger contracting firms that are used to working with these agencies. These donor-partnership opportunities are often more robust, broad and somewhat flexible in scope. Geographies are often pre-determined. To engage with public agency donors, it's best to find a partner that is used to receiving funding from the agencies. They are well poised to manage the reporting requirements, and have a good sense of how priorities are determined. Government donors often issue requests for proposals, and smaller, more nimble grant programs are becoming more attainable given interest by these agencies to work with social enterprises, smaller private sector actors and smaller nonprofits.
3. Corporate foundations: Corporate foundations are funding programs set up by corporations for social impact and/or sustainability programs that are often in line with a company’s business aims, but that deliver on a more philanthropic set of goals. These programs are often in conjunction with the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) priorities. Funding from corporate foundations may come in the form of a request for proposal, or be unsolicited. Similar to private foundations, forming strong relationships and building partnerships with a corporate foundation should be a high priority if your program or projects align with the priorities. These may be around education, environmental sustainability, social issues or employee giving for various causes. As more corporations imbed social impact and sustainability in their business goals, corporate foundations are more limited in their giving potential compared to decades’ past. Finding a way to make your program relevant as a business benefit can help here. Also considering how to engage with a company’s decision makers outside of the foundation may also be worth your partnership-building effort and time given the opportunity for long-term and more targeted impact if geographies and program priorities are in line.
4. Accelerators and innovation programs/awards: Seemingly popping up everywhere, and around every issue, accelerators, innovation programs, awards and challenges offer teams with very specific solutions to ongoing social or sustainability problems an opportunity to test, refine, compete and submit proposals for funding, resources, mentorship, recognition and more. It seems nearly every big company, global agency (i.e. United Nations Development Program, for example) and even governments (see the UK’s TRANSFORM initiative) have developed these targeted funding and/or competition programs for social entrepreneurial ideas/solutions to global problems. Engaging with these programs are pure bilateral plays. In other words you submit a proposal and hope to win the award. Building partnerships or engaging in relationship building may not help your chances as well as in other donor-partner funding opportunities. The competition is high. Funding tends to be on the lower side as well, but the prizes are very attractive, especially for start-ups or nascent program developers. Technology and innovation projects tends to be well suited for these awards/programs.
5. Collective action networks/partnerships for impact: As opportunities to engage in collective action become more standard practice, donors are getting involved as well. Over the last year, collaborative donor programs, like that of Co-Impact, a "global collaborative for systems change", are encouraging out of the box thinking, systems change level solution development, and attaching big dollar values to their funding accordingly. Since building collaborations is in the DNA of these groups, partnership engagement is one element of engaging these groups, but not essential, as requests for proposals pop up every few months. These donor networks/partnerships are most suitable for organizations that have systemic solutions (i.e. widespread, community-led, big picture, global in view or scalable).
Want more guidance on how to find the right partner to advance your Sustainable Development Goals? Join our webinar on this very topic June 16, 17 or 18 to learn more. If you have questions about any of these donor-partner types or approaches to engage, please reach out to us for a chat!