Head of Sustainability & CSR, Santander UK
Director of Development, Alzheimer’s Society
Director of Partnerships, Age UK
When businesses and charities work in partnership, they can pool their expertise, find effective solutions to complex issues and drive systemic change.
These days, most forward-thinking organisations and companies understand the importance of acting sustainably and responsibly.
In order to achieve this ambition and thrive, businesses need local communities and the wider society to prosper too.
Indeed, we know that ‘no business can ever succeed in isolation’, insists Elisa Moscolin, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility at Santander.
The importance of partnership
For example, to improve the lives of older people and those affected by dementia and ensure they have better access to financial services, Santander and the charities Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK have formed a strategic partnership.
The charities advise us on how to best support older people and those affected by dementia. So, when COVID-19 struck, the bank was already using their expertise to support and respond to our customers’ needs.
The operative word here is ‘strategic’. Many organisations will partner up with charities, but offer arm’s length support, such as donations.
There’s nothing wrong with this because charities need the financial support to deliver their vital work, notes Moscolin, but her organisation wanted to do something over and above cheque-writing.
Working as ‘one’ makes a partnership stronger
“We’re always asking how we can better serve an ageing population and people living with dementia to empower them to stay financially independent for longer,” Moscolin says.
“We’re not experts in dementia or later life, but the charities are. By working as one, we can make the most of our different areas of expertise and, together, find effective solutions to complex issues.”
One outcome has been the creation of a steering group — made up of people living with or affected by dementia — to make sure the bank’s products, services and process are dementia friendly.
In developing this type of initiative, it’s not enough for strategic partners to be close, says Moscolin; they must identify as a collective.
Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK have seconded staff to work within Santander to influence and drive change across the bank.
The charities also participate in team meetings. “We realised that if we work as one, our partnership will be stronger,” says Moscolin.
An effective way to make big improvements
The trust and respect fostered by this way of working allows the charities to speak “as critical friends” to the bank.
“Because we’re a team’, we’re able to ask: ‘OK. We’ve hit a brick wall. How do we collectively go around this?’” says Moscolin.
Having a strong strategic relationship also helps during a crisis. “The charities advise us on how to best support older people and those affected by dementia. So, when COVID-19 struck, the bank was already using their expertise to support and respond to our customers’ needs. In partnership with the Santander Foundation, we also offered support to the charities to help vulnerable people in our communities.”
“All three partners have big ambitions,” says Hannorah Lee, Director of Partnerships at Age UK. “We all want to build a better world for people who are most in need and we recognised that working strategically is our best chance to drive big, systemic change.
“If we can influence the way an organisation works with other people and harness its skills to help us achieve our objectives, we thought it was the obvious thing to do.”
Why strategic partnerships are the future
Charlotte Matier, Director of Development at Alzheimer’s Society, agrees. “Other organisations will see there’s a different style of working with charities that goes far beyond fund-raising — one that adds commercial value and improves the experience of customers. It is not just a socially responsible step to ensuring that people are embraced and understood. There is a clear economic case demonstrating that dementia-friendly businesses are more successful in retaining and attracting customers.
“There’s also a bit of peer pressure. Do you really want to be the only company working in your industry that isn’t dementia inclusive?”
This type of private sector/third sector strategic partnership is still relatively rare, but it’s the future say Lee, Matier and Moscolin.
“Obviously, we want to be a commercially successful organisation, and we want to do that by being a responsible and sustainable bank. This means taking a broader, holistic view to make sure our commercial decisions are also socially and environmentally sound.
“Working in strategic partnership with charities has done that by changing the way we think and operate” concluded Moscolin
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