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From looking good to doing good: Mapping CSO-business partnerships

Discussion Paper 182

December 2015

Byiers, B., Guadagno, F., Karaki, K. 2015. From looking good to doing good: Mapping CSO-business partnerships. (Discussion Paper 182). Maastricht: ECDPM.

Key messages


2015 saw agreement within the development community on the prominent role that multi-stakeholder partnerships including CSO-business partnerships will play in achieving the Global Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. While seen as a way to pool complementary resources, capabilities and knowledge, very little is known or discussed about how they work in practice.

Increasingly aligning commercial and social interests are creating new business models and logics that benefit from partnership. By reviewing the literature and existing taxonomies on CSO-business partnerships this paper highlights the enormous heterogeneity in partnerships, ranging from pure philanthropy to market-based shared-value models. In turn this raises questions about how to draw lessons and learn from partnerships.

The mapping discusses partnership variation in motivation, activities, partner roles, but also challenges. Partnerships can also evolve through time from philanthropic to being more strategic. This raises questions about impact, the balance between development and commercial interests. It also underlines the need for policy-makers to understand partnership processes if such mechanisms are to be supported.

The mapping identifies four key dimensions to classify CSO-business partnerships: the relation to core business; the degree of partner engagement; the partnership activities; and the governance structures. These dimensions are directly related to the processes and dynamics internal to the partnerships, and so with their relative opportunities and challenges. These dimensions will be crucial for looking at case studies to deepen our understanding.


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Photo courtesy of DFID via Flickr.

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