Seven Lessons for Effective Cross-Sector Partnerships in China

August 9, 2012
  • Adam Lane

    Former Manager, BSR

Adam Lane, Manager, Advisory Services, BSR

BSR’s CiYuan initiative recently published the first of many case studies that share key lessons from several pilot projects designed to enhance the value of social investment in China through cross-sector partnerships. A three-year initiative now in its final year, CiYuan has fostered partnerships and built capacity among 200 businesses, nonprofits, and foundations and is now well into its eight pilot project. The first case study highlights an effective cross-sector partnership between Nike and the China Youth Development Foundation (CYDF) in China.

In 2010 BSR began working with Nike and CYDF, a large Chinese nonprofit affiliated with the government—as are many of the largest and most dominant nonprofits in the country— and well known for its Project Hope education initiative in rural China. Over the course of 12 months and with BSR’s support, Nike and CYDF launched, implemented, and revamped a multi-city program that empowers Chinese youth to make a difference in their communities through sports. Initially a grants initiative named Beyond Love, the program switched its focus to mobilizing youth as volunteer coaches and mentors and relaunched in the summer of 2011 as GameChangers.

This case study, which was recently presented in Beijing and Shanghai, highlights common issues in developing partnerships between a multinational company and an NGO in China. It also shares the challenges of promoting an innovative approach to address these issues and explores ways to widen a program's reach and engage the broader public.

There are seven key lessons that Nike and CYDF learned during their partnership:

  1. Monitor and evaluate (the partnership) smartly in order to leverage experiences and resources effectively.
  2. Align vision and strategy, but adapt as partners’ strategies and priorities change.
  3. Invest time in understanding your partner and making adjustments to support them.
  4. Engage senior leadership early and consistently.
  5. Understand and adapt to differences in structures and working styles.
  6. Be honest and communicate openly.
  7. Allocate resources effectively.

Many of these lessons are common across countries and cultures, however, there are some takeaways that are unique to partnerships in China:

  • Chinese nonprofits are relatively inexperienced in developing innovative programs that seek to engage and empower target audiences as well as benefit the organization.
  • Chinese nonprofits can be limited in capacity, size, and scale, and larger nonprofits often utilize the government system and local partners to implement programs.
  • There are tremendous cultural differences between multinational corporations and traditional Chinese nonprofits.
  • The working style of the Chinese government-affiliated nonprofit can be less structured than a multinational corporations and not based on extensive, formal written documents, reports, and management systems.

Have you found significant cultural differences in developing cross-sector partnerships around the world? Let us know what they are in the comments section below.

Over the next twelve months, BSR will publish more of our case studies and hold events to share the key takeaways. Our next events will be held in London on August 15 and Beijing on August 16.

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