Do Business Like There IS Tomorrow: Why Georgian Businesses Should Partner with CSOs
By Shorena Megrelishvili, Partnerships and Fundraising Manager at CiDA and Global Compact Network Georgia
Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships, particularly between business companies and civil society organizations (CSOs), are one of the most effective approaches to contribute to the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As someone who brokers and promotes multi-stakeholder partnerships, I can say it is a complex yet valuable process with vast potential.
In Global Compact Network Georgia, a local representation of the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative, UN Global Compact, we strive to transform mindsets in the Georgian corporate sector into more sustainability-focused, futuristic thinking. We have already brought together in our network tens of responsible businesses, which are motivated to take their corporate responsibility to the next level. Yet, there is still a lot of work ahead until corporate responsibility among businesses will be an indivisible part of corporate strategy.
One of the ways we promote corporate responsibility is promoting partnerships between business companies and civil society. Corporate-CSO Partnerships are an effective way to join forces across sectors for the common good and shared value. As every collaborative process, it may have its inherent challenges, but today I would like to focus on 3 reasons how Corporate-CSO partnerships could bring benefits to the future of both, the business sector and society.
- There is Nothing New Under the Sun
Corporate-CSO partnerships are not as new of a concept as we might think. If we delve into our near past, we might find that such partnership is not a “Western trend,” but an ethical and sustainable way of doing business that already existed in Georgia 150 years ago. For example, it would not be exaggerated to say, that Ilia Chavchavadze, our prominent 19th century public figure, laid the foundation to social responsibility within the Georgian business sector. Chavchavadze ran the first Estate Bank in Georgia for 32 years, which generated profit through providing low-interest credit to peasants (modern day farmers), merchants and others, in need of financial solutions.
The bank directed up to 40 % of its profit to social good. It partnered with local civic organizations, for example, „The Society for the Spreading of Literacy among Georgians” and “Common Benefit Capital,” to better promote education and development of Georgian schools, public-cultural institutions and organizations while it was simultaneously ensuring profit and continuity of business operations. Education was a strong catalyst to empower the population economically, thus reducing the number of non-performing loans and increasing profit. With its futuristic principles, the Bank turned the partnership into the shared value and incorporated it into its corporate strategy.
- It is Business and It is Personal
Running a business, no matter how large, in a small country like Georgia, is personal. Everybody knows everybody and every step counts – for better or worse. If one makes a strategic mistake, the word will spread at light speed; however, sustainable and responsible business conduct does surely pay off and will get you a solid reputation. Through cooperating with civil society organizations, company representatives can invest their time and resources in developing and transforming the communities where they operate for better. Cooperation and partnerships with civil society organizations that operate in the regions of Georgia could broaden business horizons, help gain new insights, extend businesses’ reach to various societal groups and communities (which can translate into new markets, new products, new ideas/initiatives) and achieve long-term positive impacts.
- It is not a Zero-Sum Game: It is a “Win-Win”
Large corporations that set the agenda in the business world have long understood the importance of choosing stakeholder value over shareholder value. The reasoning is simple - if a company does not focus on its stakeholders, it cannot deliver to its shareholders.
Surely, CSO-Corporate partnership can be about “win-win” arrangements and not competing interests. CSOs and Businesses can learn and benefit from each other, for example:
- CSOs can receive substantial resources (including financial and pro-bono support) from Businesses;
- CSOs and Businesses, both can embrace innovation through an exchange of technical expertise and collaboration;
- Thanks to CSOs, businesses can strengthen their organizational cultures, increase morale and promote ethical values internally;
- CSOs can promote sustainability and accountability in business companies through introducing businesses to sustainability principles, international standards, etc. leading to a reduction in their operational risks and bolstering their brand, reputation, and credibility;
- Businesses can promote socio-economic and environmental aspects by identifying common goals with CSOs and working with them side-by-side;
As the abovementioned reasons indicate, collaboration, cooperation and partnership between CSOs and Businesses may and can serve the social good in Georgia and crucially, these partnerships can turn out to be successful. There already are promising examples and practices of cross-sector cooperation in Georgia, which hopefully will motivate more business and civil society actors to engage in sustainable partnerships.
Our work to promote multi-stakeholder partnerships across various sectors continues – after all, sustainability, whether societal or corporate, is a journey, not a destination!