There has been considerable debate, and there is an extensive literature, about relations and cooperation projects between companies and social not-for-profit entities. This article does not seek to probe that area further. Rather, it will describe the process in which a company and an NGO establish relational mechanisms that foster the successful development of an alliance with the goal of improving society.
Infrastructure management in the context of development assistance
Our company’s “Social Infrastructure” programme, which we launched in 2011, is a competition open to assistance projects in the area of infrastructure to provide access to drinking water and sanitation to disadvantaged populations in Latin America and Africa. The projects are developed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) focused on development that have experience in the local area and in water and sanitation projects. The programme arose from the company’s commitment to Millennium Development Goal 7.C (Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation) by replicating the model of its infrastructure management business in the area of Development Assistance.
If we focus on “how”, rather than “what”, we observe that this programme adopts a totally innovative approach to relations in the process of developing a social project, through a structure that provides four novel features to the alliance.
The first is in the project selection phase, and it is based on clear ground rules, since the programme is open to social entities that meet the threshold conditions necessary to ensure the project’s efficacy and sustainability; in return, they have clear, specific, defined rules (funding, sphere of action, goals, etc.) that ensure the choice will be objective. Moreover, project selection is based on 51 criteria of analysis and assessment, relating to the technical drafting, the project’s viability and social impact, and its sustainability (economic, social and institutional), the goal being to identify projects with the highest quality and the greatest impact on the target communities.
Secondly, there is a process of due diligence that is open and transparent, based on meetings with the NGOs interested in participating in the competition; further meetings are held with the NGOs that pass the first screening in order to gain more knowledge of the short-listed projects and lay the foundations for smooth relations that will facilitate subsequent shared management of the project.
Thirdly, the type of resources that are provided (technology transfer, highly qualified technical staff, and funding, among others) testify to the comprehensive nature of the support, for two reasons: the relationship is not confined to one department in each organisation; rather, it transversally involves all the structures of both organisations because of the diversity of resources that are provided; and the assistance is provided throughout the entire life cycle of the project (design, planning, construction, funding and assessment), which lends great solidity and sustainability to it.
Parties become allies in creating social value
Last, but by no means least, I will refer to what I consider to be this programme’s greatest contribution to a new approach to managing social projects: namely, shared project management. This takes place through a standing committee comprising an equal number of representatives from each side; the committee’s powers are defined in the cooperation agreement, giving it legal standing. The basic principle is equality, i.e. both parties have the same rights and responsibilities.
When alliances are based on clear rules, transparency, integrity and fairness, the parties become allies in creating social value. Moreover, both parties draw tangible, quantifiable benefits not only from the project’s social impact (improved living standards for the beneficiaries) but also from the working relationship itself, as evidenced by the improvement in the company’s corporate responsibility metrics and its ongoing relations with the NGOs.
This post was originally published in Spanish by the Seres Foundation.