The debate about corporations and their foundations as genuine agents of change is a key one for our times. I recently attended a conference for European Corporate Foundations in Munich organised by the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) and the Donor And Foundation Network for Europe (DAFNE) to learn from different models and approaches on the continent.
There are a huge range of Corporate Foundations with a wide diversity in how they work with their corporate partners. To understand this, the EVPA have created a typology on how Foundations work with their Corporate partners from those who are ‘instrumentally aligned’ to those who are ‘industry or business aligned’.
At the ‘business aligned’ end, we heard from the Syngenta Foundation helping small farmers in the developing world to increase their profits through extending science-based know-how drawn from its parent company Syngenta. This helps people living in rural communities and boost sustainably.
Representing the ‘Industry alignment’ model was the C&A Foundation who seek to address labour and environmental issues in the supply chain of cheap clothes manufactured in the developing world for wealthy consumers in the West. They work closely with C&A through a shared common agenda for change and are beginning to work more widely across the fashion industry.
The Lloyds Bank Foundation is seen as an example of ‘instrumental alignment’. Our focus is on complex social issues across the UK tackling complex social issues like homelessness, dependency and mental health and we team up with our corporate funder where it helps to achieve that. For example by work utilising experts from the Bank to act as mentors to small charities. But like the C&A Foundation we also seek to influence the Bank from the ground up, helping it to better support vulnerable customers who have experienced domestic abuse and homelessness.
This isn’t easy to get right. Some might see these relationships as ‘greenwashing’ – masking unpalatable Corporate actions. But at their best, they facilitate a level of leverage and impact which no small foundation could get near.
If there is one lesson to take home from this conference, it’s that corporations have a role to play in civil society and, by aligning with the goals and values of their foundations, can help make change happen and tackle some of society’s complex social issues.
Paul Streets OBE is Chief Executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation