This post is the first in a three-part blog series. We highlight our latest observations and findings on corporate-NGO and foundation-NGO partnerships gleaned from “Social Innovation Week,” a three-day program of roundtable discussions, workshops, and exhibitions to promote social innovation among Chinese nonprofits. The second blog provides insights on the emergence of employee volunteering programs in corporate-NGO partnerships and the third post explores foundation-NGO partnerships.

In early May, 10 winners were selected for the Innovation Initiative for Nonprofits (IINP), an award program offering a wide range of support to nonprofits in China. BSR contributed to the Corporate-NGO Partnership Award category of the IINP as part of BSR’s CiYuan initiative, which aims to build cross-sector partnerships to enhance the value of social investment in China.

There were 38 applications for the Corporate-NGO partnership award, mostly from local NGOs working with local companies. The winner, Huai He (in Chinese), had originally campaigned against a local company that was polluting the Huai River. This campaign attracted significant public attention, and one of the company’s investors withdrew its investment. The company then reached out to Huai He, and they began working together to solve the company’s pollution problems. The company provided funding and human resources to the NGO for clean-up efforts, while opening up its production process to the NGO and investing in new technology. Huai He provided expertise and staff to help the company address its pollution problems and engage with the public.

The impact of the partnership was significant—not only was there a measurable reduction in pollution, but the local government amended its emissions regulations for the company’s entire industry, and the NGO has grown in status, resources, and expertise.

Other examples were similarly innovative. The Zhengweining Foundation (in Chinese) has worked with Walmart to establish an income-generating initiative for people with disabilities. Supermarkets allocated space for counters that are run by—and sell products made by—people with disabilities. The counters make enough revenue to cover costs, with surplus donated to other charities. Companies have also donated products to be sold through the counter, generating additional income. Additionally, Walmart provided marketing training to the NGO.

As these examples show—and there are another 48 finalists profiled on IINP’s website (in Chinese)—many nonprofits in China are taking unique approaches to old problems. I am confident that despite the many challenges the sector faces, civil society can provide some of the solutions for China’s sustainable development. Partnerships between companies and nonprofits have an important role to play: As the government retreats from providing social services and seeks new ideas to solve many intractable problems, nimble and efficient nonprofits will need to utilize the resources of companies to develop sustainable solutions and replicate them in order to make a difference in a country as large as China.