Growing a partnership from Good to Great - an inspiring example from the UK

Hands up if you’re a charity who’d love a major corporate partnership? Or maybe you have a portfolio of partners that are giving you some useful income but could do more. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s possible.

Here's an example from the UK that shows how an international children’s charity took a relationship from plain vanilla to the gold standard for community - corporate partnerships.

“We are the generation that can stop children dying of preventable diseases. Will you take on the challenge?”

Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children UK, asked this bold question at the global leadership conference of GlaxoSmithKline’s most senior executives in 2011. The CEO of GSK rose to accept the challenge. What happened next would lay the foundations for one of the most innovative and integrated partnerships ever seen between a corporate and a not-for-profit. 

The relationship between SCUK and GSK had been solid but firmly anchored in the area of corporate philanthropy. GSK gave SCUK around £200,000 to promote better health care in local markets of operation, mainly in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So, what did it take to shift from localised corporate philanthropy to a global, integrated partnership?

1. Starting at the top

The key to getting started was the prompt allocation of resources and the involvement of the most senior executives at SCUK and GSK. The CEOs and senior managers from both sides got together for two days of brainstorming and collaborative strategy development. There was commitment and enthusiasm on both sides to step up to the challenge and no shortage of great ideas about how to seize this opportunity. Faced with a myriad of possibilities, the executives decided to start in a focused area and build from there, rather than try to work on a long list all at once.

2. Building a partnership architecture

The areas of focus were coalesced into a document with Five Pillars, each with their own working group of joint SCUK and GSK staff and with regularly scheduled meetings in each work stream. The early commitment of resources and support from the CEO and senior leadership were crucial in ensuring that the right people were made available for the working groups. The 5 Pillars were:

  1. Investment in programs
  2. Core business and product development
  3. Joint advocacy activities
  4. Brand and commercial initiatives
  5. Global employee engagement

A steering group for the partnership was appointed with very senior people from both organisations which met quarterly and monitored the work streams under each of the 5 Pillars. GSK said, “It’s a philosophy that goes beyond volunteering and fundraising, it uses the skills of the company and its employees”.

3. Aligning strategy and aspirations into a shared goal

GSK is a global pharmaceuticals and health company with a mission to “help people do more, feel better and live longer”. SCUK is an international humanitarian aid and development agency, focused on children. With a 98% brand recognition, it is one of the UK’s best known and trusted charities.

An ambitious goal was set for the partnership: to help save one million children’s lives. This goal was further refined into four key objectives:

  1. Widen immunisation reach for the hardest to reach communities
  2. Increase in investment in training, reach and scope of health workers in the poorest countries
  3. Address the nutrition needs of children in the poorest countries to prevent malnutrition
  4. Develop an innovative partnership model to demonstrate best practice in the sector

The goal and objectives reflected the synergies in the core business, mission and talents of each organisation. In addition, it tapped into the underlying aspiration of GSK to be the market leader in its field and to inspire a different way of thinking.  This innovative partnership would reposition the GSK brand at the forefront of global health and would enable SCUK to change the lives of many more children than it could reach alone.

4. Monitoring and measurement

When the overarching ambitious goal was developed, the group also agreed on how progress was to be measured.

Measurement and a dashboard of metrics for the partnership outcomes were an important part of keeping both organisations motivated and moving forward. Equally important was the need for ongoing monitoring of activity within the work streams.

5. Mobilising stakeholders within the charity and the corporate partner

The senior levels of GSK and SCUK were motivated, enthusiastic champions of the partnership and had set a clear strategic direction. The next challenge was to mobilise and inspire their staff and key stakeholders.

Communications were key and a communications plan was developed early for each stakeholder group. Open staff forums dealt with initial issues and encouraged attendance and Q&As from employees across each organisation, not just those who would be working directly on the partnership. In SCUK this meant not just the fundraising team, but also teams as diverse as programs, advocacy, marketing and human resources.

Success from the partnership

In 2018 the partnership has gone from strength to strength. What started as corporate philanthropy of around £200,000 is now a partnership worth more than £70 million. GSK employees have fundraised over £2.3million, all matched by GSK. Partnership activities cover:

  • Researching and developing innovative child-friendly medicines to reduce child and infant deaths
  • Widening vaccination coverage to reduce the number of child deaths in the hardest to reach communities
  • Increasing investment in the training, reach and scope of health workers in the poorest communities to help reduce the number of children dying from preventable diseases
  • Helping children affected by disasters or humanitarian crises by the creation of a new Emergency Health Unit
  • Advocating at local and global levels for stronger child health policies

Remember that goal of saving a million children’s lives? The partnership has impacted over 2.6 million children and still going strong.

The partnership between SCUK and GSK holds valuable lessons for the Australian marketplace. The message for corporate entities is that if you’re serious, you can create a transformational partnership that delivers clear commercial value. For charities, the big social issues that you’re trying to solve will not be addressed by thinking small.

The last word belongs to Dr Lisa Bonnadonna of GSK,” Nobody has ever said this challenge is too difficult. They just say, ‘we’re going to do everything possible to make it happen’.

Linda Garnett



Linda Garnett is Director of Stellar Partnerships, a consultancy specialising in partnerships between corporates and community groups, charities or government. If you want to know more about building significant corporate partnerships, or even how to get started, contact Stellar Partnerships.