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Rankings are rarely perfect and never popular – except for those who end up the winners. But they do provide a valuable service in helping to improve transparency, stimulate evaluation and trigger debate. In the field of corporate citizenship, such issues are clearly required.

The idea behind the FT’s pioneering collaboration with Dalberg Global Development Consultants and the UN Global Compact was to provide just such an assessment of the extent and value of business partnerships with non-governmental organisations and United Nations agencies.

“Partnerships are important and get a lot of public attention but they are still at a very early stage and a lot more could be done to professionalise them,” says Henrik Skovby, the head and founder of Dalberg. “We are really still at a very limited level at this stage.”

Dalberg’s own consultants and objectives reflect these concerns. Staffed by an international team of individuals with both private-sector and non-profit experience, the firm has specialised in providing advice on globalisation and international development, and emphasised the need for more rigorous performance measures.

If taxpayers, shareholders and individual donors are to provide money or other forms of support to organisations working on social and other worthy causes, they should be able to expect accountability and results in exchange.

“Many NGOs do not have strong corporate partnership skills – which is a bit problematic as they should be a core competency for most society organisations,” says Mr Skovby.

This first stab at assessing the quality of the corporate partnerships is inevitably incomplete. Definitions vary, assessments are subjective, and in most cases, just a handful of companies has rated each “global” partner. The variations between the best and the worst listed may not be judged meaningful.

There is a strong element of self- selection, too. Some projects and organisations may consider business partnerships inappropriate. Ironically, several non-government groups that were rated strongly were reluctant to be highlighted as having links with business, if only for reasons of appearance with other supporters and “clients”.

Inevitably, some of the global organisations most highly rated by business are those long linked to, or even created by, business itself: Lions Club International, Rotary International and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria are just a few examples.

United Nations agencies – led by Unesco, the Food & Agriculture Organisation and the UN High Commission on Refugees – do not perform as well as the best of the non-governmental organisations. But they rate far better than their labelling by critics as unwieldy bureaucracies might suggest.

National government agencies also feature in the rankings – notably GTZ of Germany and USAID. In a number of cases, they outperform well-known non-government organisations involved in similar work such as humanitarian relief and international development.

Most of the regional and local partnership organisations listed were cited by only a couple of businesses at best – a dataset we judged too small to merit placing formal numerical rankings against their names. But their identities are worth revealing, if only to make the point about the strength and diversity of such partners.

These are what Dalberg calls the “rough diamonds” buried in the local communities – those with the greatest potential, and which are generally preferred by companies as partners to those organisations operating globally.

One intriguing aspect of the second table is that many of the best local organisations – two-fifths – are based in Latin America. That may indicate the underlying strength of civil society, or the need for a hard-nosed approach to partnerships and fund-raising in order to survive in that region compared with others around the world.

Arguably more important than the rankings of the individual groups are the broader trends that the results of the survey reveal about motivations, patterns and assessments. Accountability and execution were valued most highly by companies in their partners, with communication and adaptability less significant.

When asked for their reasons for becoming involved in partnerships, the most frequent response from business was in order to implement corporate social responsibility programmes, followed by building trust with shareholders. Improving employee morale or advancing core business objectives was far less frequently cited.

Education was the most oft-quoted focus of long-term partnerships, mentioned by 37 per cent of companies. The next most common priority was environmental protection (for 30 per cent), and employment opportunities (14 per cent.)

But those seeking to forge links should not only look to past trends for inspiration. While only 3 per cent of partnerships assessed involved microfinance, those who were involved rated it very highly.

The scope for diversification as well as overall growth in partnerships is considerable.

More generally, while the sample is partial, of the 495 companies which answered, three quarters believed partnerships would be “important” or “extremely important” for them over the next three years and 62 per cent for the market as a whole. There may be a lot of refining to do, but the trend is for growth in the years ahead.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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