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Stellar Partnerships

Stellar Partnerships: Corporate & Community Partnership

Inspiring a new generation of corporate partnerships: Glaxosmithkline and Save the Children UK

“We are the generation that can stop children dying of preventable diseases. Will you take on the challenge?”

Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children UK, asked this bold question at the global leadership conference of GlaxoSmithKline’s most senior executives in 2011. Sir Andrew Whitty, CEO of GSK, rose to accept the challenge. What happened next would lay the foundations of one of the most innovative and integrated partnerships ever seen between a corporate and a not for profit.

The relationship between SCUK and GSK had been solid, but firmly anchored in the area of corporate philanthropy. GSK gave 20% of its profits in lesser developing countries to promote better healthcare in each local market of operation. The donations were shared between SCUK and two other international aid agencies. In return, GSK built its brand and relationships with its local markets, particularly in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. So what would it take to shift from localised corporate philanthropy to a global, integrated partnership?

Starting at the top

The key to getting started was the prompt allocation of resources and the involvement of the most senior executives at SCUK and GSK. The CEOs and senior managers from both sides got together for two days of brainstorming and collaborative strategy development. There was commitment and enthusiasm on both sides to step up to the challenge and no shortage of great ideas about how to seize this opportunity. Faced with a myriad of possibilities, the executives decided to start in a focused area and build from there, rather than try to work on a long list all at once.

The areas of focus were coalesced into a document with 5 Pillars, each with their own working group of joint SCUK and GSK staff and with regular scheduled meetings in each work stream. The early commitment of resources and support from the CEO and senior leadership were crucial in ensuring that the right people were made available for the working groups. The 5 Pillars were:

1. Investment in programs

2. Core business and product development

3. Joint advocacy activities

4. Brand and commercial initiatives

5. Global employee engagement

A steering group for the partnership was appointed with very senior people from both organisations. The group met quarterly and monitored the work streams under each of the 5 Pillars. GSK went further and appointed a Vice President dedicated to leading the GSK/SCUK partnership on their behalf. Dr Lisa Bonnadonna, Head of the GSK-Save the Children Partnership says, “It’s a philosophy that goes beyond volunteering and fundraising, it uses the skills of the company and its employees”.

Aligning strategy and aspirations

GSK is a global pharmaceuticals and health company with a mission to “help people do more, feel better and live longer”. SCUK is an international humanitarian aid and development agency, focused

on children. With a 98% brand recognition, it is one of the UK’s best known and trusted charities.

An ambitious goal was set for the partnership: to help save one million children’s lives. This goal was further refined into four key objectives:

1. Widen immunisation reach for the hardest to reach communities

2. Increase in investment in training, reach and scope of health workers in the poorest countries

3. Address the nutrition needs of children in the poorest countries to prevent malnutrition

4. Develop an innovative partnership model to demonstrate best practice in the sector

The goal and objectives reflected the synergies in the core business, mission and talents of each organisation. In addition, it tapped into the underlying aspiration of GSK to be the market leader in its field and to inspire a different way of thinking. An innovative partnership would reposition the GSK brand at the forefront of global health and would enable SCUK to change the lives of many more children than it could reach alone.

Mobilising the stakeholders

The senior levels of GSK and DCUK were motivated, enthusiastic champions of the partnership and had set a clear strategic direction. The next challenge was to mobilise and inspire their staff and key stakeholders.

Communications were key to mobilisation. A communications plan was developed early for each stakeholder group. Open staff forums dealt with initial issues and encouraged attendance and Q&As from employees across each organisation, not just those who would be working directly on the partnership. In SCUK this meant not just the fundraising team, but also teams as diverse as programs, advocacy, marketing and human resources.

Importantly, both organisations took the time to provide briefings to external stakeholders. For GSK this included shareholders, media, regulators and government. Making such public statements about commitment and intent not only kept everyone fully informed, but had the added benefit of locking both sides firmly into the partnership. There could be no backing out, once the commitment was publicly made, and all stakeholders were entitled to hold the organisations to account for delivering on the partnership. Once the initial communications plan was complete, annual forums were held to update both internal and external stakeholders. A joint presentation was made to both boards annual, to ensure ongoing support and transparency of progress.

Whilst the steering group had oversight of each of the 5 Pillars and work streams, it was important that staff working in each area maintained regular communications and contacts with their counterparts in the partnership. Joint teams of SCUK and GSK staff worked at multiple levels and across a number of different departments to ensure delivery on the partnership objectives. At one stage, there were 5 corporate partnership staff in SCUK working solely on the GSK partnership. To reinforce the senior level commitment to the partnership from both organisations, the KPIs of the staff involved were aligned with their work plans and they were measured on their contribution to the partnership. To achieve the ambitious goals of the partnership, this couldn’t simply be done as an addition to business as usual.

The communications plan also involved the global divisions of GSK and the field offices of SCUK in developing countries. Localised engagement of GSK and SCUK teams was encouraged in each common location. The ability to be part of a bigger global ambition was inspiring to staff. Equally

valuable were the local incentives: 50% of in-country staff fundraising was allocated to local

programs. SC international staff could see clear benefit for their participation and GSK staff could visit the local programs and see first-hand the impact of their efforts.

Monitoring and measurement

The partnership had been publicly announced and a wide range of stakeholders were now keenly interested in how it was progressing. When the overarching ambitious goal was developed, the group also agreed on how progress was to be measured. GSK funded one full time resource solely for monitoring and evaluation purposes, working within SCUK.

Measurement and a dashboard of metrics for the partnership outcomes were an important part of keeping both organisations motivated and moving forward. Equally important was the need for ongoing monitoring of activity within the work streams. The activity schedule was managed tightly, including weekly team meetings, monthly steering committees and regular communications updates.


Bringing together two large organisations in a partnership presents a range of challenges. The strength of the partnership is not only in the mutual success achieved, but in how the partners overcome the challenges.

At the launch of the partnership, expectations were high- perhaps unrealistically so- and everyone wanted to get involved. The difficulty for SCUK was in keeping up momentum after winning the partnership – particularly at the senior executive level. Typically, many charities see this as the end point and spend insufficient time on the implementation. However, the senior leadership were firm in their decision to build the partnership stage by stage, rather than risk an unwieldy group of staff working on lots of small scale activities. This systematic approach was effective at maintaining momentum and achieving regular milestones.

Both SCUK and GSK had established reputations to protect. Before the partnership was finalised, a full risk assessment was conducted to work through any problem areas. A high degree of trust and transparency was required on both sides for the assessment itself to be conducted, especially given the highly market sensitive information within a global pharmaceutical company. Equally, SCUK ran the risk of compromising its brand if it partnered with a corporate whose business practices were not found to be consistent with SCUK’s position as a trusted children’s charity.

The size and complexity of the GSK/ SCUK partnership was the biggest and most complex ever undertaken by SCUK. It was critical to assign the right resources to the partnership and to ensure that the whole organisation took the delivery and implementation very seriously. Complacency was not an option and it was a challenge to some staff members who didn’t typically get involved in fundraising or partnerships. Regular communication and ongoing senior executive focus helped to sustain the momentum of the partnership.

Successes from the partnership

What does mouthwash have to do with saving the lives of newborn babies? It wasn’t obvious until GSK made the extraordinary commitment of welcoming a technical expert from SCUK onto the board of its Research and Development arm; something that demonstrated the depth of trust and transparency within the partnership.

Chlorhexidine is a known antiseptic that is found in everyday mouthwash. GSK had developed the technology to formulate this into a gel, but had not found a compelling reason, or consumer market for doing so. The insight of SCUK’s maternal and child health expert uncovered the potential to use this gel to prevent umbilical cord infection in newborn babies. This is particularly prevalent in developing countries with poor healthcare systems where babies are delivered by village health workers. With three million newborns dying each year within the first four weeks of life, this product had the potential to be transformational. SCUK brought their knowledge of infrastructure challenges in developing countries to help develop a packaging that could be tough enough to travel to remote areas and yet able to be opened without scissors. This product has successfully passed initial trials and is now awaiting approval by regulators before launch. In addition to saving lives, it has opened up new product development and new market opportunities for GSK. The company intends to make the product available at a not-for profit price and also share the manufacturing process with interested parties to encourage maximum reach. An outstanding example of how synergies between the partners can achieve much more than either could do alone.

In further product development successes, the partnership is working on the reformulation of Amoxicillin, an antibiotic, that can be used in powdered form mixed with food, rather than with water. This will overcome the lack of access to clean water in developing countries and make it accessible to many more children. Work is also underway with a nutrition supplement that can be used in countries with acute food shortages, particularly across West Africa.

Advocacy activities around global health are now conducted jointly by SCUK and GSK across the world. The activities are focused on improving health systems and have been augmented by the use of GSK’s assets in locations such as the DRC and Kenya but also in developed counties such as the UK and USA.

Employee engagement in both organisations is high. There is a waiting list at SCUK to join the team managing the partnership. GSK employees have embedded staff fundraising as part of their core activities (the Pulse Program) and are now raising STG 1mln each year. SCUK are able to tap into the broad range of talents in GSK for skilled volunteering. This is not the tokenistic 2 days per year that many companies offer, but secondments of 6-12months to solve important issues. Every GSK staff member becomes a partnership champion after the secondment and inspires further staff commitment among their colleagues.

The financial value of the partnership to SCUK has increased significantly. The original philanthropic partnership yielded approx. £STG 200,000. By the end of 2015 the financial contribution had increased to over £STG 7mln per annum. This did not include any of the new health products that were still in the pipeline or awaiting approval nor the value of services in kind. GSK is spending £STG 16mln (approx. A$31mln) top train 5000 health workers in remote Kenya and the DRC to improve childbirth practices and health services.

GSK has used the partnership to relaunch its global brand and reinforce its core messages to its global market. It clearly considers that the partnership has added to its future market value and positioned it as a market leader in healthcare.

The longer term implications

The GSK/ SCUK partnership is viewed as the ‘gold standard’ of partnerships by many other charities in the UK. It has also inspired other corporate partners to consider

something similar: Reckitt Benckiser, makers of Dettol and other hygiene products, is investigating opportunities for their own product development in developing countries.

UNHCR has developed its partnership with IKEA from a philanthropic relationship into one that taps into IKEA’s core business and skills to solve a big problem. UNHCR and IKEA are developing prototypes for shelters that can be used in refugee centres worldwide. In a humanitarian crisis, the agency must respond quickly to large flows of displaced people. IKEA have core skills in construction, packaging and distribution. The partnership is now testing a range of timber and plastic shelter that can be mass produced cheaply and easily transported for use in humanitarian centres.

These partnerships have been bilateral relationships between one charity and one corporate entity. The future challenge will be to bring multiple corporate entities together to address a major issue.

Lessons for corporate partnerships in Australia

Douglas Rouse, former Director of Corporate Partnerships at SCUK and the driving force behind the SCUK/ GSK partnership, was asked for his message to not for profits in Australia wishing to create their own significant partnership. He asserted that whilst many NGOs aspire to a similar partnership, he saw a “lack of confidence and ambition” from the NGO side as a major impediment. It requires the charity to be demanding with a partner and to ensure that conversations are not conducted at lower management levels but with the CEO. The support, enthusiasm and interest of a corporate CEO combined with active participation from the charity CEO and board is critical to securing a partnership that is significant.

The partnership between SCUK and GSK holds valuable lessons for the Australian market place. The message for corporate entities is that, if you’re serious, you can create a transformational partnership that delivers clear commercial value. Your large shareholders will come on board and it will become an integral part of your long term business strategy and core brand identity. For Australian charities the challenge is to be strategic, be ambitious and be disciplined in your implementation. Otherwise, Australian charities will be forever mired in the cycle of short term philanthropic corporate donations or campaigns. The big social issues that charities are trying to solve will not be addressed by thinking small.

The Australian Centre for Corporate Social responsibility, in its 10th annual report, stated that the progress of CSR in the last decade has been “too slow, too little”. Perhaps the Australian market place should look to its UK counterparts, and the partnership between SCUK and GSK, as an inspiration for the future.

The last word belongs to Dr Lisa Bonnadonna of GSK,” Nobody has ever said this challenge is too difficult. They just say ‘we’re going to do everything possible to make it happen’ “.