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Tips for embarking on a successful sustainable business partnership

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Contrary to popular belief, businesses, from SMEs to global corporations, are a vital part of local communities. For years bosses have established links with charitable and environmental initiatives as a means of guaranteeing that the impact they have on the world is a positive one.

With people becoming increasingly conscious of the ethical merits of household brands and sustainable business practices increasingly dominating the news agenda, it is more important than ever to ensure and demonstrate that sustainability is a fundamental part of your business plan. Demonstrating that you are in tune with societal concerns can enhance your standing with consumers, and allow you to stand out amongst competitors.

The most productive charitable collaborations can strengthen employee engagement and culture, while assisting third sector projects in the wider community. Give your small business partnership the best chance of success by following some of our top tips. 

Choose the right charity for your sustainable relationship

It is important to undertake the same due diligence when looking for a third sector partner as you would when entering any other business partnership. With both parties seeking to combine resources and knowledge to their mutual benefit, a relationship based around the sustainability agenda is no different. 

When approaching a charity, it is worth asking yourself: are the business’ sustainability goals in line with those of the third sector entity? Do you have the same goals in mind? It is certainly worth carrying out pilot projects with initiatives closer to home, to build up confidence and to work out any niggles on a smaller scale before you start working with larger entities. 

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Integrate a sustainability strategy into your joint project

Without planning for long-lasting, consistent achievements, the partnership can stray and cease to deliver properly for at least one of the partners. Make sure you plan for the success of your venture from the offset. By outlining the landmarks that will define success according to the objectives of both parties, you will be able to cultivate a strong lasting relationship. 

Measure your achievements

It is crucial to understand the other party’s objectives and perspectives from the offset. For example, when setting out to provide food security to the Ntcheun village in Malawi, William Jackson Food Group, attended multiple meetings with The Cooperative College and Malawi Organic Growers Association. 

The long-term sustainable goal was to provide more than 1,000 farmers with the means to establish sustainable livelihoods with organic farming techniques, equipping them with the knowledge, skills and equipment required. After a series of consultations with all parties, it was determined that if the village is self-sufficient in home-grown food by 2020, it will have been a success for all involved. 

Define the goals of the partnership early on

Without a tailored set of goals, your approach risks being fragmented. As a significant local employer and food company, WJFG decided that education, nutrition, health and employment skills were the areas in which we could have the greatest impact in the communities in which we operate. With this focus, we found it far easier to identify the right relationships and begin some truly valuable project work.

Finding partners and projects will be easier once you have a set of guiding principles. Embark on pilot projects to hone your process and remember it takes time to succeed. Start small and learn as you go. Don’t worry if there aren’t any concrete results after the first year; any time invested in building relationships with charitable stakeholders will be well-spent. With sustainability in mind throughout, you can expand the positive impact of your enterprise.

Lisa Cunningham, director of community investment at Business Connectors, explores five ways she’s learned from the Business Connector programme that SMEs can get to grips with local issues.

Gavin Milligan is sustainability director at William Jackson Food Group.

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