Collaboration recipe for corporate social investors

EVPA’s 2022 C Summit will focus on how we can do good faster, stronger and bolder. Collaboration is key in this process. But what does collaboration look like in the context of transformative change?  How does this apply to corporate social investors? What’s the recipe for collaboration?

Isabelle Schiltz |
Collaboration recipe for corporate social investors
NurPhoto, Getty Images

Driving transformative change

The world’s most difficult social challenges are complex, unpredictable and interconnected. Solving these challenges requires specific processes, capacities and mindsets. Solving these challenges at the system level requires collaboration. 

Corporate social investors are key players in increasing resources directed towards systemic solutions. As these stakeholders seek the most effective ways to advance their social impact, they often confront the complexity of systems – and just as often have first-hand experience in public-private partnerships. 

In order to produce some reliable principles and takeaways for collaboration, we drew on the experience of corporate social investors. The recipe below compiles insights from the recipients of 2021’s CoLab award, an initiative that focused specifically on driving transformative change through collaboration. 

Recipe for successful collaboration


1. Choose the right partners

  • Choose diverse partners with the right networks, connections, specific expertise and a shared objective
  • Choose a trusted third party, playing the role of a facilitator/overseer for the collaboration and managing the roadmap
  • Define several degrees of collaboration that enable information to flow between all the players at all levels
  • Get to know the other organisations (e.g. how each can add value) in order to build a trusted relationship

2. Keep clarity and maintain focus

  • Define clear and realistic goals/targets and period of time/timeline 
  • Be clear, fast and efficient in your answers to the market and the project order, thus avoiding duplicate solutions 
  • Be transparent on individual gains of each structure  
  • Don’t focus on too many topics; instead focus on what you want to achieve with all the collaborative partners (e.g. be mission-oriented, share a common narrative, focus on investees and their needs)
  • Keep social goals as a permanent guideline in your strategy

3. Be creative while simple

  • Create not only formal but also informal collaboration structures 
  • Use digital platforms to create level playing fields between stakeholders 
  • Manage complexity by breaking down the system into meaningful parts or themes 
  • Favour a bottom-up approach instead of a linear problem-solving approach 
  • Map the system: invest in data collection to understand the landscape and lay a foundation for the strategy and process 

4. Be open-minded

  • Be open-minded to collaborate together and don’t be competitive; 
  • See how to use the funds in a smarter way (e.g. favour a flexible financing model adapted to the needs and potential of the ecosystem)
  • Respond to and work with the context   
  • Think globally but act locally (in service of quick and measurable results)  
  • Stay humble, learn from those who how have “done it,” be patient and share knowledge 

5. Follow up on impact: 

  • Ensure you can follow up and make an approach sustainable (if needed, hire an external party to organise a rigorous impact study) 
  • Prioritise key indicators to measure systems change using qualitative and quantitative data (as it is not possible to measure/monitor all components of systems change) 


Collaboration champions 

Two practitioners (and CoLab awardees) break down valuable insights for any organisation seeking to implement a collaborative approach. 

Accenture: An impact-driven three-way collaboration to support 100,000 young people towards employment

Thematics: Youth, Employment

Context: Collaboration with Article 1 and Mozaik RH to leverage their two platforms in support of 100K young people toward employment within 3 years.


  • Take time and learn to know the other organization. This includes to work upstream on collaboration practice and identify potential adhesions.
  • Involve as many team members as possible to maximise chance of success.
  • Be transparent on the individual gains of each structure.
  • Chose a trusted third-party (e.g. facilitator, funder, common partner) to manage the roadmap and facilitate collaboration.

Royal Philips: Double blended impact financing for sustainable healthcare in the (primary) healthcare sector

Thematic: Health 

Context: Establishment of a Primary Healthcare Fund to unlock investments in high impact projects at scale for underserved communities, with a focus on the primary healthcare sector (to improve people’s health and well-being through meaningful innovation)


  • A key challenge is to design an impact investment vehicle that is tailored to the individual risk appetite and return requirements of the broad range of investors. 
  • Recognize that each actor has a role to play to mobilize the required financial resources (e.g. donors and philanthropists with grants and guarantees, impact investors investing according to their risk appetite; governments, development finance institutions, corporate social investors, foundations – each with their own aims and needs).
  • Take time to understand all the elements required to establish a sustainable solution and incentivise all the stakeholders required – there needs to be something in it for all of them!
  • Be open to adapt as you go and be patient. 
  • Let’s join forces to make existing funds more “usable” and to build a strong funnel of (investable) projects that can scale!