It depends. Our GSK-Save the Children partnership includes the topic of access to medicines. We want companies to make a profit as developing and producing medicines is a social good dependent on companies finding it worthwhile. But we want prices to be affordable to governments and medicines to be free to people. We have not had to confront these issues on one area of our work: GSK produced (with our guidance and knowledge of communities) a chlorhexidine gel which it does not intend to make a long-term business from and will share the technology for local production by other companies. But with other areas, for example our advocacy for pneumonia vaccines to be cheaper with more competition, there is a clear difference. As said by Sam and others, open dialogue and respect for different viewpoints has been essential to navigate this.
How can joint advocacy between civil society and business help to drive the policies needed to achieve the SDGs?
One of the challenges we have identified relates to the competing priorities of sustainability teams and government affairs colleagues who lead the day to day engagement with policy makers. It can be a challenge to persuade them to use up their political capital on issues that may seem abstract and long-term.
Thanks Richard. Mercy Corps have very broad relationships with a couple of major corporations, including CISCO, Mastercard and Zurich Insurance - where they provide not only funding and in kind support to programmes and operations, but funding for research, piloting and testing new approaches, advocacy work. They also share their analysis of key policy issues and of the incentives of key decision-makers etc and help connect us to the right people.
I support Dominic’s point on this. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with companies making a profit or gaining commercial benefit from any NGO-business partnerships, including advocacy collaboration, as long as there is transparency and responsible business practices are being implemented as part of this process. In fact, if advocacy partnerships can result in certain markets or value chains working better that is excellent as there is more likelihood of achieving sustained or scalable solutions to the challenge in question - i.e. smallholder farmers getting better and more fair access to markets due to a policy change; or essential medicines, energy or food being made more accessible, affordable and reliable to low-income consumers as a result of a policy change.
so has there been any analysis of how much successful advocacy with business is totally philanthropic and has no relationship to the business interest?
Involving senior leadership is key to overcoming challenges to do with alignment between NGO and company. Where teams have mandate from most senior leaders this gives them time, money and scope to get what is necessary done. Even where the company is taking risks for example allowing NGO report on their supply to demonstrate the policy changes required. This is only possible if all levels within the NGO and company are on the same page.
2 more points on this:
joint advocacy also may mean simply alignment of messaging in the pubic space. For example, at ETI we have a number of examples of how brands at various forums use their voice to advocate for better regulation, enforcement of laws, transparency etc. It is not a joint action with NGos per se, but the content often comes after a long and ongoing collaborative work.
in some contexts NGOs have very problematic operational environment and speaking out could mean closure of the office and operations. This is why sometimes NGOs may also play the role of informants who inform the advocacy action but is not necessarily at the forefront. In such situation business may be doing a solo advocacy action with NGOs behind the scenes.
Thank you everyone! In the last 20 minutes, let’s turn to our last question:
Involving senior leadership is key to overcoming this .
Preparing the ground takes time. WWF sees joint advocacy as the pinnacle of a mature relationship – we need to invest in building these relationships and trust way BEFORE the advocacy “ask” becomes critical – joint advocacy is unlikely to be effective in a rush or at the last minute.
WWF’s approach to working with corporate partners follows multiple steps, with the expectation that advocacy collaboration will come in the later stages once we are familiar with one another, have better understanding of each other’s organisation & priorities. We have worked with some of the same partners for nearly 30 years on forestry issues – that trust and understanding means we can work much more effectively on identifying topics where collaborative advocacy is necessary and will give us bigger impact. It doesn’t mean always advocating together or that we always agree 100%!!
There are a vast number of coalitions, membership groups, bodies, NGO and corporate partnerships and other bodies that exist. What is often missing are the conversations and knowledge/strategy sharing between them. This is both in respect to those working on broader similarities – the economy, environment, society spheres – but also on the specifics. A good example here is the We Mean Business Coalition, working in partnership with climate focused NGOs and business groups to coordinate and enhance the efforts of each group in order to drive greater outcomes with business.
Words matter, but actions – and lobbying dollars – still speak louder. For example. The US business community lobbied hard to change how companies with overseas operations are taxed, and their efforts paid off enormously. Oxfam estimates that their return on investment for tax lobbying includes lowering their tax bill by approximately $313 billion on offshore earnings alone, with additional tax savings on earnings sourced in the US.
If corporate spend on protecting commercial interests continues to outweigh spend on activities that have social, environmental benefit, it will be difficult for companies to regain trust and legitimacy from the public and civil society reducing the likelihood of joint advocacy.
Advocacy is always more effective when matched by
a) change in behavior e.g. tax transparency, “walking the talk”
b) implementation of the proposed initiatives demonstrate that change is possible e.g. 2,000 individuals and 400 institutions have committed to divest their money from fossil fuel companies, together representing a remarkable $2.6tn of investments
c) Precompetitive collaboration that levels the playing field allowing whole sectors to move together.
I think one thing that comes out clearly is getting better at tracking and measuring the impact of joint advocacy. Without being able to quantify the benefits it can be hard to make the case.
To enter into joint advocacy, it is important that organisations – be they companies, NGOs or others – understand what their strengths and unique skills are that they can bring to partnerships and are clear on their overall end goal. Only with this understood can they identify the right partners and issues to take forwards through joint advocacy.
For GSK-Save the Children improving child health is an obvious area of shared interest and impact; the most important contribution GSK can make to global health is to use our deep scientific and technological expertise to develop medicines and vaccines, and to then work with others like Save the Children to ensure that these innovations reach those that need them most.
Good question Dominic - and to the best of my knowledge there isn’t rigorous analysis on this. My guess is that companies that are seriously investing time and resources in participating in complex policy advocacy coalitions (and sometimes taking the risk of being ahead of their competitors in raising these issues publicly in partnership with NGOs) are most likely to be doing so because there is a business interest (either direct or indirect) in them getting engaged, whereas they will use their philanthropic dollars more often to fund NGOs to do the work, whether it is supporting NGO delivery partnerships or policy positions. …but that is based on anecdotal evidence and it would be worth exploring further.
Try to generate a strong evidence base. Key to credibility.
It’s also about prioritisation: Pick a focus and identify who is interested. Come up with a plan, resource it and take it from there.
Thanks for the informative discussion Zahid.
Declaration of interests from the onset is important, I believe there is need to align interests to social justice as our moderating factor
All partnerships should start by asking how can they contribute to the greatest change for the greatest number of people. If they start here, instead of asking only how the partnership can do good, then advocacy for change will be the obvious answer. And this will always mean supporting and pushing the role of governments to assume their responsibilities for their people. This has business benefits too - stable thriving societies are better for business than corrupt, underfunded, weak states.
For those who haven’t, I recommend you read the Oxfam US report related to this topic. Ruth - are you able to add a link to it.
Business in general is quite selective in terms of what they are ready to advocate for. There are clearly ‘easy’ topics and almost tabu’ topics you can engage with companies.
For example, there are not that many companies who have publicly joined campaigns or advocacy actions on tax justice.
Companies’ Tax affairs is one aspect which may often make some good advocacy actions look as ‘sugar coating’, as they are not perceived to be genuine…