Mark Hicken: Lessons in corporate partnerships

Janssen UK's managing director for UK & Ireland explains how to choose a third sector partner

Mark Hicken
Mark Hicken

Partnering with a third sector organisation often seems like a great idea in principle for businesses. But in practice the process of choosing a third sector partner, identifying its needs and ensuring you are adding value can appear challenging.

At Janssen UK, we are proud to work with Empower to Cook, a social enterprise that provides cookery classes and food education with the aim of improving the health and wellbeing of the local community. It has been a formative and rewarding experience for both organisations and we’ve learned some lessons along the way.

Purposeful pairing

If a cause or enterprise shares the same core values as your business and team, then a purposeful partnership will be easy to forge, meaning that businesses needn’t limit themselves to working with charities and social enterprises operating in the same sector.

The most important thing to look for is a shared sense of purpose. The link between Janssen and Empower to Cook might not be immediately clear at first, but to us it made perfect sense: we have a common goal – to improve lives through improved health.

Location, location, location

It sounds obvious, but location is key. It must be easy for both the company and partner organisation to reach each other easily, to build relationships and check in on priority issues.

Janssen UK and Empower to Cook both have their headquarters in High Wycombe, making it simple for our employees to reach them without disrupting their usual routines.

Establish their needs

It’s vital that you take the time to get to know any potential partners properly. The more you know about them, the more you fulfil their needs, and vice versa.

There’s little point in relying on fundraising alone for a social enterprise that needs more volunteers on the ground or sending lots of helpers to an organisation in need of top-level business advice. You must be realistic about what is needed and how much time you can give to the partnership to make the most of those hours.

We identified that the needs of a social enterprise generally fall into the following categories:

  • Strategic counsel
  • Volunteer hours
  • Financial support.

This framework helps us to offer the best support by ascertaining what our partners really need and tailoring our activities accordingly. In our case, the most suitable support has been a blend of volunteer time and consultancy, including regular employee volunteering and a full-time member of our team seconded as a business mentor. Additionally, we created a counsel of cross-functional experts to advise the team and help amplify awareness of the organisation.

In practice

Empower to Cook has taught us a lot. Spending time in a small, ever-evolving social enterprise helps your employees to challenge how they think and given them a different perspective on their day jobs. Giving your employees the chance to work in new environments aids development and teaches skills that can be brought back with them.

All businesses should to look to their local communities and networks for third sector organisations to champion. Even if you don’t have the means to support financially, offering a listening ear or piece of business advice could prove to be of immeasurable value. You’re not just helping an organisation, but you’re also helping the community in which you operate and where many of your employees and customers live.

Mark Hicken is managing director for UK & Ireland at Janssen UK, the pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson has committed to allocate £15m (3 per cent) of purchasing spend with social enterprises by the end of 2020

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