Private Sector-NGO collaboration for rebuilding post-pandemic Sri Lanka

28th April 2022 : 

By Neelam Makhijani and Dinantha Thambavita

The COVID-19 pandemic has already changed forever the lives of billions of people and the world faces a daunting challenge of rebuilding after the pandemic; to even reach previously established levels of accomplishment is going to take a long time and a major effort by all stakeholders.
Playing a crucial role in the rebuilding will be the NGOs in the humanitarian sector and they will need innovative strategies to address the new paradigms required in helping to build back nations.

Sri Lanka too faces the unprecedented challenge of managing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as the number of cases continues to decline, the implications of dealing with the post pandemic crisis are immense and requires purposeful partnerships among many stakeholders to protect the population and support economic activity.

To rebuild the country, creating a more inclusive, prosperous, and sustainable economy requires the collective responsibility of corporates, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the government working together. Especially in dealing with post pandemic challenges faced by communities such as job losses, poverty, food insecurity, which can particularly impact youth and children who are the nation’s future. With Sri Lanka’s economic revival crucial to ensure a resilient rebound, it is vital that the corporate sector plays a pivotal role in supporting the road to recovery.

In most developing economies, the private sector plays a key role and is undoubtedly the engine of growth. Through public-private partnerships, corporates can act as a pillar for economic growth and development.

Purposeful partnerships with NGOs, help corporate aspirations by being empathetic to community needs in the new normal and also by contributing to a corporate’s brand as an intangible but necessary value. While socially responsible entities have better brand value, receive strong support from the government and are able to increase customer loyalty, there is an acknowledgement of the contribution of others in the success of the enterprise and the work done towards making a bigger, long-lasting impact.
Thus, NGOs and private sector companies working together create a potent synergy for successful projects with sustainable outcomes. NGOs have rich grassroots experience, strong local knowledge with ability to tackle on-the-ground concerns, helping businesses bring about transformative social change more swiftly than they can achieve on their own. Corporates usually are a welcome source of much needed funds for a programme; but more importantly they bring a range of specialized expertise and a certain structure and timelines into their work, together with targets and goals.

Today, NGOs operating in Sri Lanka, engage in a wide range of interventions, including poverty alleviation, health and hygiene, water and sanitation, education, disaster management, rural development, women’s issues and empowerment, rights of children, etc. Throughout the years, corporates too have worked jointly with NGOs to support marginalized and disadvantaged communities through numerous programmes.

It was heartening to witness companies supporting communities during Covid-19, but even as we emerge from the post pandemic era, companies have a unique opportunity to integrate their social and environmental stewardship, working together with NGOs on partnerships that are both profitable and poverty reducing.

Motivations for Private Sector and NGOs to engage
Today, over 1600 Local and International Non-Governmental Organizations are registered in the country. While Corporate-NGO partnerships are complex and challenging, it is undisputed that together they can harness the wealth of capacities between them including knowledge, expertise, while at the same time recognize their individual values and differences which complement their work.

Corporates certainly do invest in communities and there are indeed many great examples of such efforts. However, there is also a need for corporates to help institutes and NGOs build capacities to create greater impact at larger scale. By investing in the Institutions that implement the work, corporates also contribute to a stronger NGO sector, reaping greater dividends in the field.

NGOs on the other need to communicate their engagement and impact and showcase the effectiveness of their activities through their monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. This will create awareness among the corporates that they are in fact meeting their set objectives which ultimately contributes to the improvement of lives and livelihoods.

Corporates should also invest more in the NGO sector as it is they who have first-hand experience of needs in communities where they work. Youth and adolescents are the country’s future. They need access to education, healthcare etc. Today they are being challenged because of Covid and the impact of Covid. Importantly these are the potential employees for the corporates and towards this trajectory is what companies should invest in.

Corporates should work together with the NGOs, not just acting as a source of funding but devise mechanisms/tools and solutions and contribute to not just the programs but also building a strong NGO sector in Sri Lanka. If the corporate sector raises its bar in its support of the NGO sector this will be in the best interests of every country and will result in a very robust charity sector Post-Covid rebuilding, calls for forging of new collaborations, most notably public-private partnerships (PPPs), to combine the strengths of different stakeholders. Ideally, the best partnership and model is the Government-NGO sector and the corporate sector.

Some of the services that could be provided in the field by the private sector are 1) Conducting assessments of value-chain carbon footprints and developing strategies to reduce them 2) Measuring environmental and social impacts and setting strategic targets 3) Integrating health and safety requirements into business planning and 4) Documenting and disseminating best business practices.

Choosing the right partner
The most successful corporate-NGO partnerships leverage the strengths of both parties to create unique value. ChildFund Sri Lanka with a rich history of over 40 years continues to invest in the development of the country and vulnerable communities.
During the onset of the pandemic, ChiildFund together with the NGO sector rose to the challenge of supporting marginalized communities bridging gaps to access to welfare and healthcare.

ChildFund’s key fundraiser ‘Sri Lanka Gives Back’ has served to support worthy causes during the pandemic, especially keeping children and their families safe from the effects of the devastating third COVID-19 wave. Partnering both the Government and the private sector, ChildFund has donated funds and vital medical equipment offering a lifeline to those affected as a result of the pandemic

Childfund’s recent partnership with Pizzahut Sri Lanka helped to transform the lives of 30 young girls with disabilities, enabling them to dream of a brighter future. Similarly, water, sanitation and health (WASH) interventions have improved the lives of Batticaloa communities. Additionally, providing equal opportunities for all especially, Persons with Disabilities (PwD), ChildFund has engaged in key interventions including enhancing capacity of service providers, advocacy and strengthening Disabled Peoples Organizations (DPOs) and empowering the PWDs.
The potential for NGO-private sector partnerships should not be a short-term phenomenon but a win-win model in creating purposeful unions to champion social and environmental causes and bring about positive change.

Neelam Makhijani, Country Director, ChildFund India & Sri Lanka has over 25 years of rich experience in journalism, communication, fundraising and social development, across the US, UK and India and built her reputation as a thought leader and expert communicator.

Dinantha Thambavita, Resource Development Director, ChildFund Sri Lanka has over 27 years of experience in the development sector, along with 7 years of experience in proposal development and resource mobilization