Josh Cleveland

Why Should a Mainstream For-Profit Company Pursue an In-Kind BoP Partnership?

Many entrepreneurs and funders at SOCAP11 are skeptical about partnerships – and rightly so. Plenty of partnerships – social enterprise-related or otherwise – fail for good reasons: poorly defined scopes, lack of incentives for all parties, and disproportionate benefits are just a few of the most common reasons.

But sometimes all the work to make partnerships click pays off. In the case of an ongoing UNICEF – Frog Design partnership, the social impact results in Malawi and Zambia include a 30 percent increase in early diagnosis of HIV/AIDS in children as well as a 50 percent decrease turnaround time for HIV/AIDS test results.

During “Things that work: Amplifying impact through effective partnership” Thursday at SOCAP 11 panelists from UNICEF, Frog Design, and the Art Center College of Design discussed how their cross sector teams bring it all together to accomplish social impact goals.

The benefits of partnering for UNICEF and the Art Center College of Design seem obvious enough. UNICEF wants to harness design expertise to improve efficiency and save kids’ lives and design professionals can clearly help in the achievement of this goal. The Art College for Design gets students out in the real-world applying their skills to social problems in the field. But Frog Design is a for-profit firm staffed by more than 1,600 employees confronting design issues for which clients are willing to pay handsomely. So where is the value for them in an in-kind partnership with an organization such as UNICEF or Movirtu?

Many of the emergent technologies and geographies where development organizations need Frog’s help are areas where traditional clients are not yet focused. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be soon. By partnering with NGOs and UNICEF on an in-kind basis, Frog builds capacity in new areas and stays ahead of the competition. Although focusing on social impact instead of profit as a guiding goal, the design firm reaps a considerable benefit in the form of innovation and ideas that can be integrated into their operations. Think of it as R&D in nascent industries. The company creates new, valuable networks in cutting-edge spheres such as mobile money, mobile health, and base of the pyramid marketing helping produce organizational development and increasing capacity for future projects. Benefits also extend to the company’s human resources work. It’s no secret that many the brightest young minds out there today want to apply their skills to social issues. While Frog builds capacity to address emerging issues, they also earn brand equity and improve retention and attraction of the best design talent.

The combined work of Frog and UNICEF has resulted in 20 pilot projects in 13 countries involving more than 50,000 community health workers. And although the potential social impact of the work is substantial, the tangible business benefits to Frog Design are by no means insignificant. The benefit the company receives from these in-kind partnerships is substantial enough to develop a Mobile Mandate to guide their pursuit in relation to mobile technology.

Think about what a partnership like this might mean for your company. If your for-profit firm shudders at the thought of partnering with a development organization for a below-market fee, you’re not alone. Yet if traditional clients are not yet willing to shell out dollars for projects focused on emerging technologies and fields you see as important; give it some consideration. As Frog Design shows us, partnering with a social impact-driven NGO can build your company’s capacity to innovate, capitalize on emerging trends, and attract and retain talent. Don’t turn away before evaluating the full scope of potential benefits for your firm; you may be missing something big.

Social Enterprise
Base of the Pyramid, business development, social enterprise