Bringing different sectors together

The conviction that different sectors – corporate, non-profit and public – need to come together to solve our major challenges lies at the core of everything we do. We believe that we are only just beginning to see the potential of innovative cross-sector collaborations for social impact. But we also believe there are some very real challenges and risks ahead, especially if we don’t get it right.

Where we come from

Back in 2009, when Reach for Change was founded, we noticed that there was something missing, in how many companies were thinking about social impact. Rather than exploring how the unique potential of individual companies could best be put to use for social good, a lot of the corporate social investments boiled down to donating money and engaging co-workers in seemingly random voluntary work. In parallel, we saw that many organisations in the non-profit sector were struggling to, or actively resisting, to apply business principles in their work. 

Seven years down the line, we have seen a number of examples of what can actually be achieved through cross-sector collaborations, and specifically through innovative partnerships with businesses. Hundreds of co-workers among our partner companies have dedicated their time and their skills to helping our social ventures, and us, grow across the world and increase our impact on children’s lives. We have co-created solutions for impact with our partners based on their commercial technologies and platforms. 

During this time, there has also been a dramatic shift in the attitudes towards cross-sector collaborations and the role of businesses in addressing social challenges. Systemic challenges, such as climate change and mass migration have made it painfully obvious that no sector alone will be able address the big issues of tomorrow. Through the Sustainable Development Goals and Collective Impact we have also started seeing more common terminology. Speaking the same language and agreeing on common goals lowers some of the barriers for collaboration. 

In parallel to this, there is accelerating convergence, where traditional lines between different sectors, as well as between different actors within sectors, are increasingly blurred. Today more non-profits actively embrace business concepts, and talk enthusiastically about innovation and sustainable business models. At the same time, business leaders are increasingly preoccupied with purpose rather than just profit, as consumers and employees are shopping for good companies rather than just good products. 


What we can do to harness the opportunities but avoid the pitfalls 

We believe that these trends will continue to grow in importance, and that we are only beginning to see the opportunities – and the challenges – of cross-sector partnerships. So what then should businesses and non-profits do to harness the opportunities of these trends but avoid the pitfalls? Based on our experiences, there are a few key success factors to innovative partnerships that we believe will be even more critical in the coming years.


Moving from partnerships to collective impact

The opportunities of creating true win-win collaborations lie in moving from traditional partnerships to true collective impact built on the unique strengths of each party. For us this means jointly exploring how we can leverage our corporate partner’s individual assets in terms of expertise, platforms, brand or technology, for relevant social purposes. In our most successful collaborations, we work with cross-functional teams in our corporate partners, including everything from CSR and marketing to HR, Public Affairs, technology and anything in between. When we get it right, it doesn’t only mean that we get more impact out of the collaborations, but also that we can design truly unique projects that are closely linked to our partners’ businesses and brands.

It may sound simple, but most times it isn’t. One key challenge here is that innovative partnerships don’t necessarily align well with traditional organisational structures. It requires agile organizations on both sides, strong leadership mandates and simple metrics to track progress. And it requires a collaborative culture, empowering individuals to be creative and do great things across borders.


Taking educated risks and failing forward 

Although profitable business is all about taking calculated risks, CSR is traditionally a risk-averse activity. When it comes to investing in social innovation, we see a tendency to look for safe bets and solutions that have already been proven. 

To find the truly innovative solutions – beyond the hype and fancy concepts – we will need to move towards more of a venture capital mindset when it comes to risk. We will need brave organizations and collaborations that challenge perceptions of what innovations can look like, and that bet on people and ideas that have not yet been proven.


Avoiding the PR pitfall

The shift towards a purpose economy, where purpose becomes hard currency for businesses, opens up new opportunities for non-profits to deliver tangible benefits to corporate partners. But there are also risks here, as a possible trajectory is that we end up seeing more refined PR stunts rather than more sustainable impact.

For a non-profit, overstretching to deliver on partner-expectations poses a risk of mission-drift. But even for businesses, engaging with a cause without being really anchored in its though leadership mandate and steering is a material risk. In recent years, as purpose-driven marketing has become something of industry standard, there has also been examples of where companies’ efforts in this area end up being ridiculed or even attacked instead of praised by their target groups because it doesn’t seem sincere. There is even talk of a purpose backlash, and Forbes predicts that “brand gaffes” by companies venturing into purpose-driven marketing will be one of the major marketing trends in 2018.

We believe that true cross-sector collaborations, with a respect for the different actors’ different roles is key. For us as a non-profit, it stresses the importance of staying true to our mission and advocating our target group’s interest. We need to safeguard credibility by ensuring and validating that social impact is our most important value-add in any partnership. 


Jon Goland
Director Strategy and Communications

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gained more revenues supported more children on an average more than tripling their results.


Children and youth were protected from physical and mental abuse and threats, through interventions carried out by Change Leaders in Ghana, Chad and Tanzania.

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30 percent of Norwegian students do not complete secondary education after five years, which heavily reduces their changes of entering the labor market and weakens their belief in their own future. This problem is especially pressing among boys with a multicultural background. Norwegian Change Leaders Yvan Bayisabe and Fredrik Mosis run VIBRO, which enables immigrant youth to come in contact with role models that help them see their potential and motivate them to finish school.

During 2015, VIBRO explored ways to become less dependent on grants, and identified an interesting opportunity: to partner with companies keen in improving their workplace diversity, who are in search for inters, and help them find the perfect candidate. VIBRO charges for the search and screening, and is awarded an additional fee if the recommended candidate is recruited. Already four Norwegian companies have shown interest in the model.


"The shift towards a purpose economy, where purpose becomes hard currency for businesses, opens up new opportunities for non-profits to deliver tangible benefits to corporate partners."

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