The Rise of the Partnership Model

via Triple Pundit

Why Commitments Born of Collaboration Are the Foundation of a Sustainable Future
Joanne Sonenshine, Connective Impact, January 15, 2014

Over the last 25 years, a select group of leaders have made bold commitments to address the urgent social, environmental and economic crises of our time. As early as 1990 — when environmental action was saved for protesters, and social action was left for governments to grapple with — one company decided to make a change that ultimately led down the path of corporate sustainability and societal change.

After facing harsh criticism from the general public over the mounting waste caused by the fast food industry, much of it non-recyclable, McDonald’s turned to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to analyze its packaging problems and develop effective solutions. In 1991, McDonald’s announced a massive overhaul to its packaging and waste program and eliminated more than 300 million pounds of packaging over the course of the next decade.  As a result of the packaging changes, McDonald’s also saved an estimated $6 million per year. This effort on the part of one company to identify a problem bigger than its own (i.e. trash and waste), find a partner in a nonprofit organization that was willing to engage and not turn away, and set an example for others to follow.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) has taken the partnership model one step further. Having grown from a single coffee shop in Vermont to a multi-billion dollar beverage conglomerate over just three decades, they have identified ways to scale impact working with a series of partners. They have built a culture of giving back, dedicating a portion of pre-tax earnings each year to support social and environmental initiatives related to either areas of operation or programs in coffee origin communities. What they have recognized, however, is that in order to make true impact with these dollars, they need more help.  For example, GMCR is leading an effort to combat malnourishment and access to food in Latin America, which in turn keeps farmers healthy, happy and growing coffee for years to come. GMCR has  declared leadership by admitting that for true impact, environmental, social and economic commitments cannot be achievable by their company alone. They must include the involvement of others.

So how does an organization involve itself in collective impact? To get started, an organization must prioritize its goals and understand the space in which its goals are achievable. Next, it is critical to determine whether the goals can be achieved alone or are dependent on others. True aspirational social impact goals must involve others. Next is one of the more difficult steps. Organizations need to understand the other players and their roles. Who are potential collaborators? What groups are already out there? Where is the best place to start the effort? At this stage, finding an appropriate connector to coordinate teams, develop strategies around collective impact and measure impact is critical.

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