Business-Civil Society Partnerships Essential for Greater Social Change

Jem Bendell, author

In his excellent and useful guide, Evolving Partnerships: A Guide to Working with Business for Greater Social Change, Jem Bendell says, “The appetite for partnerships appears strong. Over 90% of corporate executives responding to a World Economic Forum survey felt that future ‘partnerships between business, government, and civil society would play either a major role or some role in addressing key development challenges’.”

Highlighting the advantages of cross-sector partnerships, the author has pointed out, “The engagement with professionals working in other sectors enables people to expand their view on a particular challenge, and understand the relationships and interests that shape the situation.”

“For partnering to be a successful strategy for social change, it must evolve by addressing drawbacks and limitations.” According to Bendell, partnering in itself is neither good nor bad. The usefulness of the partnership requires continual attention by the involved practitioners to the public goals, wide systems and personal intentions at play.

“If practitioners do not recognise, or choose to ignore, the limits of partnering, this not only restricts learning but also reduces the attention they give to goals, systems and intentions.” According to Eva Halper, “The most successful and productive partnerships are those that do not resist change by trying to contain the partnership in a fixed format but rather accept, manage and even thrive on change as a key element in their partnering approach.”

Suresh Kr Pramar

Bendell has highlighted three stages of partnering.

  • First-generation partnerships, which involve financial contributions from business with some sharing of benefits but with little risk to the business or commitment beyond the financial donation.
  • Second-generation partnerships in which partners commit to change their internal operations in line with the objectives of the public interest organization. Financial contributions are involved but the main focus is on the operations of corporate partners.
  • In the third-generation partnerships, partners seek to change their external operating contexts in order for them to be better supported to achieve internal changes for public goals, and to encourage non partners to do the same.


Evolving Partnerships is a much needed guide to help business and civil society work their way to successful partnerships. It holds the hands of the practitioners and takes them through the various stages of creating meaningful partnerships to bring about greater social change. This is a very useful guide for business houses in India and, more particularly, public sector units who need to secure NGO cooperation to implement their CSR agenda.

Seeking partnerships is only part of the issue. More importantly is setting them up and making them effective and functional. Jem Bendell, with his vast experience in this area, has put together an excellent book which could serve as a bible for those involved in creating workable solutions through business/civil-society cooperation.

A review by Suresh Kr Pramar. Find the original article at indiacsr.

Jem Bendell is the Director of Lifeworth Consulting and co-originator of the Finance Innovation Lab. He is author of Healing Capitalism (Greenleaf Publishing, forthcoming) as well as The Corporate Responsibility Movement, which records and analyses key events in the development of the corporation, 2001-2005.

Buy Evolving Partnerships direct from Greenleaf Publishing and get a 30% discount off paperback and 10% off PDF eBook. Use voucher code EP222 at checkout.

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