Harnessing the true power of corporate partnerships
The Executive Director of British Asian Trust analyses how the private sector can be a tremendous source for good.
In the not-too-distant past, there was a general assumption that the private sector was about making money, the public sector was about the provision of basic services and the charity sector was about doing good.
This was certainly how many people in the charity sector saw the world – not recognising what a tremendous source for good the private sector can be. Most charities saw “corporate partnerships” as simply a way of getting money, as opposed to an actual partnership. And in international work, very few, if any, charities saw the benefits of genuine partnerships with the private sector in the countries where they worked.
The British Asian Trust has always thought very differently. Established 10 years ago by Asian business leaders and entrepreneurs, together with HRH The Prince of Wales, we have always thought and behaved in a more business-like manner – applying business principles to the way in which we work and embracing the role of the private sector in bringing about positive social change across South Asia.
Traditional charities tend to be more old-fashioned in the way they work – focussing on philanthropy and fundraising to raise money that will then be given as grants to local NGOs in-country. At the British Asian Trust, we embrace different approaches – as has been widely reported, we have just launched an $11-million Development Impact Bond in India, a hugely innovative instrument that combines the worlds of finance, investment and development to bring about massive change in education for hundreds of thousands of children.
We also see the private sector as far more important than simply a funder of our programmes – we engage with the private sector, seek to influence it, work together to develop common solutions and so on.
A great example of this is our anti-trafficking work in Jaipur, India. However much we as a charity seek to have an influence on issues such as child-labour, we know a big company can have a much stronger impact. This was the basis for our partnership with the John Lewis Foundation, with whom we are working to tackle child labour in supply chains in India. Together, we are engaging with key businesses to make Jaipur a child labour free city. This transformation requires a united approach from business, government, and civil society to stop the exploitation of children, and create a demand and market for child labour free goods and services.
The city of Jaipur is a major hub for arts and traditional handicrafts, with many shops and workshops producing fine goods for domestic and international markets. In Jaipur’s workshops and factories, there are an estimated 50,000 children working in hazardous conditions to produce bangles, embroidery, sarees, carpets and other handicrafts. The children are typically forced to work 15 hours a day in confined spaces. Some of the children are local, but the majority come from the state of Bihar, more than 1,000 Km away. They suffer damage to vision, burns, chronic coughs and even finger malformation.
Together with the John Lewis Foundation, the British Asian Trust is working with the business community to combat trafficking and child labour within their supply chains by:
- Identifying children in situations of exploitation and strengthening the systems to remove them from production lines
- Training and supporting adults to replace child labour in supply chains
- Engaging major companies in becoming child labour free
- Promoting the production and market of child labour free goods for domestic and international markets
Another excellent example of our collaboration with the private sector is the strategic partnership we have recently signed with BT (British Telecom). In addition to BT’s role as corporate partner of the Development Impact Bond, over the next three years the British Asian Trust will work with BT in India to deliver their digital and social impact programme, which will use technology to empower adolescent girls in India. The programme aims to:
- Address the isolation of 500,000 marginalised adolescent girls through awareness raising and outreach
- Directly improve the lives of 100,000 adolescent girls through interventions that lead to better education, health, and economic outcomes
- Enable better learning outcomes for a further 100,000 girls that will ultimately be better placed to make their own choices and access opportunities
The programme will focus on communities close to BT’s operations in Delhi NCR, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Mumbai to leverage the skills and expertise of BT’s employees. Together, we will focus on developing innovative interventions to positively impact across four critical areas of an adolescent girl’s life: education, health, agency (the ability to exercise control over one’s own life choices) and economic empowerment.
The programme will not only support direct project interventions, but test new ideas, pioneer innovative financing models, and galvanise actors from across key sectors to take this initiative forward and to scale. As such, thought leadership and communications activities, in the UK and India, will form a key part of the programme to share learning, promote key messages and engage new audiences in this important work.
As with any truly effective partnership, this collaboration draws on the strengths and resources of both parties. The British Asian Trust brings the expertise and resources of our women’s economic empowerment programme in India, as well as our ability to design and deliver innovative and impactful CSR programmes at scale. Meanwhile, BT provides profile, networks and technology, and wider resources – beyond their ability to fund this work – which will massively increase the impact of the programme overall.
Both of these partnerships, with BT and with the John Lewis Foundation, are genuine cross-sector partnerships that were co-designed and co-developed. They are absolutely not British Asian Trust programmes that are simply funded by our private sector partners. They are based on the premise that, by working together, we can leverage the skills and expertise of both sectors to bring about far greater and more profound change for even more people.
We have many more examples of how corporate partnerships enhance the good work of the charity sector with not just funds, but the pooling of resources and expertise to achieve monumental change. The future of the charity sector does indeed lie in truly embracing these opportunities.
Hitan Mehta is Executive Director of the British Asian Trust, an organisation founded by HRH The Prince of Wales. Hitan has played a leading role in establishing the Trust, an organisation that backs sustainable solutions that enable people to unlock their potential, and has touched the lives of 4 million people across South Asia. The Trust most recently launched the Quality Education India Development Impact Bond.