In today’s hyper-connected world, social responsibility projects inevitably
cross borders—adding another wrinkle to partnerships between not-for-profits and corporate players. But enlisting help on the ground can help
ensure project goals don’t get lost in translation.
“If you don’t have national connections, seek them out,” says Dr. Oren
Cohen at Quintiles Transnational Corp. “Having people who understand
healthcare, clinical trials infrastructure and the regulatory framework within
that culture makes a big difference.”
When Johnson & Johnson joined up with Task Force for Global Health on
a Children Without Worms project in Sri Lanka, the healthcare giant added in-country team members, for instance.
“Having people on the ground helps the project team develop perspective
about the issues facing these people,” says Dr. Nilanthi de Silva, University
Too often, though, companies go barreling in without a local presence—
which can lead to a mismatch.
“The project has to be helpful to the community and include community
participation for it to be a success,” says Philip Darko, founder and director
of international programs for World Partners for Development (WPD). With
offices in Haymarket, Virginia, USA and Accra, Ghana, the not-for-profit
group delivers education and micro-credit loans in Ghana.
“If local community members are not involved in choosing the project
that suits their real need and in implementing it, there will be no ownership,” Mr. Darko says. “And that’s what leads to failure.”
Enlisting a local not-for-profit partner can give companies an edge.
Having grown up in Ghana, for instance, Mr. Darko says he has a sound
understanding of the underlying cultural issues.
At WPD, Mr. Darko’s team first conducts a needs assessment in Ghana
to identify projects that will deliver the most value to the community.
Before it ever meets with potential partners, the group develops a project
plan. After that, Mr. Darko recruits skilled local non-governmental
organizations and volunteers to help his corporate associates choose and
implement projects in conjunction with community members.
In one case, WPD worked on a video project sponsored by Coca-Cola
to address the need for teaching resources through training and support.
By engaging students and teachers early on, he says, the organization
managed to get the community excited about the project and eager to
“Because we are from Ghana, we can identify situations and projects
that are of interest to companies, and tell them where to get best
involved,” he adds.