General context

A New Deal

Until the 1990s, firms and organizations acting for the public good, such as NGOs, social business or community-based groups, only related to each other through either sponsoring or conflict.

For the last 15 years, however, these relationships have been evolving. Change is brought about by an ever increasing number of factors: mounting social inequalities, the foretold end of fossil fuels supply, the awareness of climate change and its impacts on the most vulnerable populations … Those disruptions have contributed to the setting of new rules for the development of corporate economic activities, such as sustainable development approaches and the inclusion of stakeholders’ views in corporate decision-making and operational processes.

On the other hand, the number of civil society organizations has grown exponentially, and those societal concerns are often at the very heart of their action. Through the light they shed on business practices, they gained an ability to leverage business like never before. Through their knowledge of territories and people, through the innovative approaches that they propose, they have become an essential part of the solution to various sustainable development issues.

A time for action

Nowadays, the relationship that firms build with communities and territories, as well as the above-mentioned social and environmental issues have become top of the list on the decision-making agendas.

In that context, relationships to NGOs have taken a turn. In order to fit better in the society at large (be it in the South or in the North), to reinforce their acceptability and license-to-operate, to innovate and manage their risks better, companies have to integrate the relationship to NGOs in their decision-making processes. Neglecting that particular stakeholder would, directly or indirectly, affect their reputation with potential financial consequences.

This of course requires from companies an ability to adapt, to challenge their way to operate and to reconsider their relationship to society in general and to civil society representatives in particular. ,.
In a nutshell, businesses need to shift from corporate philanthropy to strategic value creating relations with civil society. Civil society organizations themselves, have every interest to consider the opportunities the private sector offer in terms of expertise and leverage for social change.