THE BLOG

Extreme Collaboration: How Charity and Business Can Work Together

20/05/2014 12:26 BST | Updated 19/07/2014 10:59 BST

Partnerships of any kind - be they romantic or professional - are never straightforward. There are differences of opinion that it can be difficult to reconcile and different ways of working can cause tension.

But partnerships are undoubtedly powerful. Bringing together two very different, yet complementary sides can unleash untapped potential and encourage fundamental change. Working together in this way is essential if we are to operate effectively in increasingly complex and challenging climates.

That is why GSK - the healthcare company I work for - is teaming up with other organisations, be they companies, academic bodies or charities to break down some of the barriers to accessing healthcare. This is helping - for example - to strengthen healthcare systems and to accelerate research into neglected tropical diseases.

This time last year, we took the idea of collaboration to a different level, forming a groundbreaking partnership with Save the Children to help save the lives of one million children.

This marriage might be unexpected, but innovative partnerships like this are needed to address the entrenched issues which mean millions of children die each year through lack of access to basic healthcare, vaccines or nutritious food. To meet challenges like that, we need the expertise, resources, reach and influence of different groups.

Over our first year together, we've made good progress against the aims we set out at the beginning of our partnership.

With the help of GSK scientists, we are continuing efforts to develop medicines to reduce child mortality and newborn deaths.

For instance, pneumonia is the leading killer of children; it claims more than 1 million lives each year, with children living in developing countries like the DRC most at risk. Many children in these countries do not get any antibiotic or are treated with inappropriate antibiotics. In April this year, a GSK antibiotic in a child-friendly powder sachet form was given marketing authorisation in DRC. This is designed to help fight pneumonia in under-fives.

Meanwhile, we have taken steps to widen vaccination coverage to reduce the number of child deaths in remote or marginalised communities. In the DRC, the partnership has already reached over 2,000 children with a catch-up vaccination programme.

Feet on the ground are vital to making sure those in even the hardest-to-reach communities can access the care they need. Since 2011, we've been working with Save the Children to train health workers. Through our new partnership, we're building on that collaboration, which has already helped fund the training of more than 5,000 health workers.

This is heartening progress; but our partnership has much further to go and it will be exciting to see where collaboration takes us.

So what has this partnership and others taught us about how to make a marriage work? Firstly, that good partnerships are focused: organisations need to decide on their objective and find a partner who shares that goal. Secondly, they are transparent: partners are always clear on their intentions and what they are bringing to the table. Thirdly, clearly agreed measures for success can help demonstrate a partnership's results and keep it focused.

Through our partnerships, we have also learned that at the heart of every successful collaboration is a shared goal, a likeminded vision. But, what divides us is just as important as what unites us. Partnerships only function effectively if players bring different, complementary - and sometimes opposing - qualities.

Collaborations between corporations and NGOs are a case in point. We are evidently not the same, nor should we be. But when it comes to sustainable development, both of us need to be at the table.

Business brings intellectual as well as financial capital; robust service delivery; and an ability to scale up programmes. NGOs bring knowledge of working in resource limited settings and an understanding of working at the grassroots. We can learn from and influence each other, enhancing the way our own organisations operate, and how we work together.

By combining our complementary skills and powers, we will be better placed to come up with innovative solutions that secure healthier lives and livelihoods.