Development Crossing

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

Why Collaboration is the Only Path to Social Progress

It’s an exciting week ahead for social entrepreneurs, nonprofit directors, corporate philanthropy leaders, and anyone playing at the nexus of technology, investment, philanthropy, international development, and business. At the Social Innovation Summit, all of us are coming together to explore the big ideas on the horizon that will disrupt the way we look at the challenges facing our world and help catalyze solutions within our grasp.  

The Social Innovation Summit is a twice annual event in Washington, DC and Silicon Valley that represents what the organizers refer to as “a global convening of black swans and wayward thinkers.” As the moderator of a panel at the event on “Building Partnerships with Purpose,” I’m looking forward to digging into how the private sector can work more closely with nonprofits to accelerate true community impact.

There’s a stereotype of the entrepreneur as a lone wolf, single-mindedly pursuing his mission on the way to glory. But the most successful entrepreneurs understand that strong convictions aren’t mutually exclusive to working with partners. For social entrepreneurs, partnerships are particularly important because most social issues don’t exist in a vacuum, and therefore can’t be solved without the cooperation of different stakeholders.

With the growth of social entrepreneurship, there has also been a parallel increase in the level of partnership development to execute on visionary ideas. Some call this the collaborative movement.

Joey Adler, the CEO of Diesel Canada and Founder of ONEXONE, speaks regularly about the exciting collaborative possibilities of social entrepreneurship. “I realized that the excitement of collaboration and collective focus many of us experienced following the Haiti earthquake could be reawakened in the form of a social enterprise movement,” she wrote in a piece for Huffington Post. “Many of us now believe that such a movement can change the economic landscape of struggling communities around the world.”

The panelists I’m getting perspective from on the collaborative movement represent some of the brightest lights in social entrepreneurship. For starters, Renee Kaplan serves as Chief Strategy Officer for the Skoll Foundation, one of the leading innovators in social change. Skoll drives large-scale change by supporting and investing in the visionaries who are trying to advance social progress. To date, the Skoll Foundation has invested approximately $400 million worldwide, including the Skoll Award to 112 social entrepreneurs and 91 organizations on five continents.

For Skoll, partnerships are an essential component of their tactics to create “equilibrium change.” By aligning itself with partners who specialize in storytelling, funding and strategy, Skoll extends its reach, engages more stakeholders and accomplishes far more than it could ever hope for on its own.

As one example, Stories of Change is a multi-year initiative of the Sundance Institute and the Skoll Foundation, which connects and engages independent storytellers with renowned social entrepreneurs. The goal is to foster the enhancement of story skills and networks among these communities and support the creation of compelling films about solutions to urgent social issues that enlighten and inspire audiences.

Just with its storytelling mission alone, Skoll also partners with National Public Radio, Public Radio International, PBS NewsHour, and HarperOne. Each of these partnership offers a unique platform to help Skoll further its support for bringing the innovations of social entrepreneurs to the global stage.

When I see for-profit companies focused on social entrepreneurship as much as nonprofits, I have hope for the future of our world. Three other panelists come from big corporations, yet their jobs center around finding the creative opportunities in collaboration with social entrepreneurs.

One of these corporate leaders, Tyler Norris, focuses entirely on the power of partnerships in his job as the Vice President of Total Health Partnerships at Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest nonprofit health plans in the U.S. and a firm at the forefront of the collaboration movement. At Kaiser, Norris leverages the power of partnerships to further the physical, mental and social health of Kaiser’s members, workforce, and communities. Tyler is well prepared for this opportunity, bringing decades of experience as a social entrepreneur dedicated to promoting better health. His philosophy is that healthy communities foster healthy people, so impact investing and partnerships are a critical part of improving health outcomes, especially as we see life spans shortening.

As entrepreneurs, investors, consumers and workers increasingly join forces to bring big ideas about social progress to life, new platforms are emerging to support these partnerships. One example is Collaboration Quests, a purpose-driven social network that functions as a virtual chalkboard which allows participants to review, contribute to and help develop solutions for the benefit of humanity. Collaboration Quests enables the interaction and creative contributions of participants in a game-like, open exchange forum where like-minded contributors come together and brainstorm ideas introduced by corporations, NGOs and governmental agencies.

For our part, at Causecast we recognized the need for collaboration from the moment we were first building our employee volunteer and giving platform. That’s why we enable collaborative campaigns to be launched across multiple companies at the same time, allowing donations, volunteering, data and stories of impact to be synced across sectors and industries in real time. This is the kind of social change collaboration we achieved when we launched a STEM-focused campaign in partnership with The White House, as one example. And it’s what we’re continuing to promote with our partnership with the Founders Pledge, a program that helps companies bake giving back into their corporate DNA by pledging 1% of their equity to nonprofits, which in turn allows them to join the Pledge 1% community, a national and international corporate philanthropy movement dedicated to making the community a key stakeholder in every business.


I’m inspired by the collaborative movement because I know that it’s not just the best way, but the only way, to achieve scale and solutions for social progress. Pushing forth the conversation  around how to best foster partnerships for purpose is an effort I’m happy to promote, and I hope it’s a conversation that more people from every sector keep joining.

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