Josh Cleveland

Corporate Engagement and Building Effective Partnerships with BoP Organizations

In my last article on social intrapreneurship as a BoP strategy, I highlighted the potential for big change from projects initiated by passionate employees (social intrapreneurs) involving their companies in a deep, meaningful way in BoP markets. These projects often end up involving some kind of partnership with a BoP development organization. This article dives deeper into this subject, and suggests some broad principles to guide how you go about developing these partnerships.

To assemble a broad spectrum of opinions, I spoke with Ben Powell, CEO and Founder, Agora Partnerships that supports small and growing businesses; Greg Starbird, COO of The HealthStore Foundation (CFW clinics) that sets up microfranchises; and Leila Chirayath Janah, Founder and CEO of Samasource that connects workers in developing countries with outsourcing projects. For some additional advice, Brooke Partridge, the Founder and CEO of Vital Wave Consulting, a group that helps businesses engage in BoP markets provided a corporate perspective.

Principle #1 – Clearly define how your company will benefit from the partnership.

As Brooke of Vital Wave Consulting said right as we began our conversation, “At the heart of any successful, scalable activity needs to be an understanding of what the business opportunity looks like.”

Opportunities for your company include:

  • Access to new markets. Corporate partners regularly approach Greg Starbird, of The HealthStore Foundation (CFW clinics), seeking access to out-of-the-way markets in Africa. “Some companies have a very hard time reaching BoP consumers on the retail level with products,” said Greg. “If their product meets our criteria and can benefit our constituents; we consider integrating it into our supply chain for distribution through our network of CFW clinics; this gives corporate partners visibility into a market and into product-specific data previously hidden from them.”
  • Access to information and insight. Through on-the-ground networks, BoP development organizations can connect companies with information on local markets and preferences. Samasource’s network of workers provides local information on markets, consumer trends, and organizations does not currently exist in addition to services like household surveys and local language translation.
  • Ability to source from developing markets. Companies with local relationships, trust, and brand recognition will have better access to sourcing opportunities from enterprises supported by Agora Partnerships and others.
  • Professional development opportunities for employees. By volunteering with Agora’s network of small and growing enterprises, corporate workers gain hands-on experience in strategy, accounting, and finance while supporting entrepreneurs in developing countries.
  • Corporate branding and positive PR. Due to the inherent “feel good” benefits of a partnership that focuses on BoP development, organizations are able to expand their brand presence and recognition both in BoP communities and in home markets. While hard to quantify, the returns from such branding and PR opportunities come in the forms of better recruiting, greater community trust, and higher employee satisfaction.

Principle #2 – Understand how your company can add value to your BoP partner.

Deep, sustained partnerships clearly outline benefits to BoP organizations. BoP organizations differ in what they need from corporate partners but the following options can help you build strong win/win partnerships.

  • Consulting support. Both BoP development organizations and their constituents can benefit from the human capital resources of your company in the form of finance, accounting, marketing, or strategy assistance. In addition to the obvious benefits of having MBA and business advising to structure strategy, mentorship and the support of large organizations and business leaders gives credibility to small businesses in developing countries through their affiliation. Having a developed world business leader lend their brand to supporting their work validates the entrepreneur’s work and provides a boost of moral support for their efforts.
  • Access to networks. Connecting impact entrepreneurs that Agora works with to networks of business leaders can generate new partnerships, revenue, and recruits for developing world enterprises. Providing targeted business contacts for BoP development organizations is one the simplest ways your organization can support growing BoP enterprises and their clients.
  • Donated or discounted goods. CFW clinics benefits from several corporate partnerships that allow companies to provide goods, which meet the organization’s strict criteria to CFW entrepreneurs and customers. Additionally, the provision of software, advertising, warehouse space, and distribution channels are all other examples of goods and services corporate partners may consider providing to BoP development organizations.
  • Capital. This point is universal: BoP organizations are cash-strapped. The obvious point is that corporate funds can go a long ways to support a BoP organization. Yet whether in the form of funding for a specific project related to a corporate partnership or as a grant to fund general work, capital support should be well aligned to the goals of the company and the BoP organization.
  • Business partnership. Samasource’s Founder and CEO, Leila Chirayath Janah would like to see companies view the poor not just as passive consumers but also as providers of unique and valuable resources. Increasingly small and growing businesses in the developed world are able to provide unique and valuable goods and services that allow relationships with corporations to go well beyond a typical donor-recipient relationship.

Finally, keep an open mind about what is possible. As Ben Powell of Agora Partnerships said, “Organizations supporting BoP organizations as well as the enterprises they work with are all hoping to provide businesses in developing countries with the opportunities and resources available to enterprises in developed countries.” Each function of your organization – from HR to marketing – can be a potentially valuable support for a BoP enterprise or BoP development organization.

Principle #3 – Develop a focused approach with clear short-term outcomes.

With your big picture outcomes in mind, Brooke Partridge of Vital Wave Consulting refers to this as “part two of the opportunity identification.” After understanding the big potential for corporate gain and BoP impact, Brooke advises social intrapreneurs to focus on what they can do in the very near-term to keep the project moving. Here’s an example Brooke provides on eGovernance:

“An example big vision is to capture 30-40% of developing world eGovernance market. But you have to go slow to go fast and find the linchpin for this multi-billion dollar opportunity. Focus. Address the first step to eGovernance, which happens to be mobile identity. Take small steps towards mobile identity. Instead of shooting for an initial budget that will allow you to tackle all the issues of eGovernance, ask for $5K, start a grassroots team, and achieve some quick wins.”

Setting expectations about the project deliverables and your team’s capacity can ensure that the project is sustainable and receives the support of your executive team. As you build your approach, make sure to utilize existing resources for corporate changemakers and social intrapreneurs available here, here, and here.

Principle #4 – Find the right partner.

Be clear about your goals for the engagement ( it designed to build employee capacity? build brand recognition in local communities? etc.) and make sure that your potential partner is aware of the direction you wish to take with the project. Next, get to know their management and understand where your organization can add capacity to create a long-term relationship. When you find a sophisticated organization with solid management structures and well-aligned goals, you’ll be able to work out a relationship that is long lasting and builds value for both parties.

With this advice in mind, I encourage you to hit the ground running. As Ben Powell, CEO and Founder of Agora Partnerships said, “Corporate partnerships are absolutely the way forward for the BoP sector – we (BoP development organizations) just cannot do it alone.” Let us know about the successes you experience, the challenges you face, and the opportunities that you see for advancement in this space. Moving forward, stay tuned to NextBillion for more info on corporate engagement in the BoP as well as more case studies and tips for aspiring social intrapreneurs.

academia, partnerships