8 Tips for Developing Strong Business-Business School Partnerships Around Sustainability

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 09.38.14A new resource, launched at the Global Compact’s 2015 LEAD Symposium in Madrid on November 19th, provides an overview of mutually beneficial partnerships taking place between businesses and business schools with the aim to further sustainability. The launch of the Sustainable Development Goals provides even more opportunities for business and business schools to collaborate and co-create solutions for sustainability challenges.

Here are eight tips for business schools on how to develop stronger partnerships with business around sustainability.

  1. Clearly understand what your institution’s strengths are and what you can offer. Schools need to clearly outline their major strengths, what differentiates them, from other academic institutions and what they are looking to partner on. Strengths such as ‘organising events,’ ‘doing research,’ and ‘teaching’ are insufficiently helpful, as these functions are already assumed. Businesses are looking to partner with schools for a range of reasons but are often looking for schools that have a proven record in a particular area or scope of work that is of interest to their business. The clearer and more specific you can be about what your school offers, especially in any niche or unique ways, the more likely it is that businesses will partner with you.
  1. Look at who you are already working with and develop these relationships further. Finding an entry point to connect with a business can sometimes be the most challenging part of developing a new partnership. While it might seem obvious, advice from companies is to look at having a conversation with those organisations that are already actively engaged on campus. This may be companies or even particular individuals who come to campus as one-off guest speakers. As they have already shown an interest in the school and its students, why not bring sustainability and responsible management into the conversation as well?
  1. Explore a range of options: Simply seeing business as a financial partner is only exploring the tip of the iceberg. Companies are willing and interested to involve themselves more and are looking for schools to work with them in developing innovative partnerships that have strong mutual value. For more ideas see the Toolkit.
  1. Be open and willing to participate: Both businesses and business schools have distinct cultures, which can make it a challenge to work together. Faculty may need assistance with orienting research away from purely academic purposes and towards actionable solutions to help solve pressing business challenges. Business may set seemingly restrictive conditions, such as confidentiality and dictating how work can be used. Be flexible and open to discussing solutions that will be mutually beneficial.
  1. Remove barriers: Universities can be very complicated environments. Hierarchies, multiple contacts, and complex research papers can all scare business partners away. Even though a business partnership is seen as prestigious for the school, it is often additional work for the representative from the business, work that isn’t always acknowledged or rewarded by the company. Be prepared, set clear expectations, get your best students/staff involved, do whatever you can to set the project up for success.
  1. Create mutual value: Schools are very good at articulating what the value of a partnership is the students and faculty, but it is equally, if not more, important to understand and be able to do the same for the business partner. Know clearly what the business case is for them to get engaged, how they are benefitting, and what impact this will have on their business.
  1. Be relevant: Faculty have flexibility in what they choose to research and will naturally choose topics of interest. However, these may not be, and often aren’t the same topics that are of interest to business. Focusing research and student partnerships on topics that are relevant to business today and in the future will result in more interest from business. For example, the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals provide a wide range of new opportunities to do research around the impact of the goals on business and the implementation of the goals internally within individual businesses, sectors and industries.
  1. Follow up: Be sure to do a thorough debrief at the end of all projects to learn from each other as well as explore how you could partner on new projects. Understand what the value was for the business, how working together has impacted them positively or negatively and, in particular, how your work together has influences/changed their approach to sustainability.

Download the Partnership resource and accompanying promotional brochure.

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