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The power of partnerships: driving innovation and tackling policy initiatives

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Shevaun Haviland
Shevaun Haviland, Deputy Director, Business Partnerships Team, Prime Minister's Office and Cabinet Office

There are deep-rooted social challenges in the UK that affect the lives of thousands of citizens every day.

Over 800,000 young people are not in education, employment or training, meaning they cannot secure and retain meaningful employment. Some 5.5 million people are in bad debt and do not have access to affordable credit. Additionally, many employees do not feel their mental health is supported in the workplace – an issue that costs the economy an estimated £74 billion to £99 billion per year.

Tackling these entrenched challenges, to unleash the potential of people and communities across the UK and create a fairer, more inclusive society, requires a new and innovative approach. That is why we have created the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP), between the economy’s three major sectors, business, civil society and government, bringing together their distinctive skills, insights and networks in pursuit of a common goal.

The partnership model

The IEP partnership model is designed to accelerate progress towards meaningful change: amplifying the efforts of organisations working on the same issues, helping companies and social innovators to scale proven solutions, and pioneering new initiatives to age-old problems. Such partnerships allow every IEP member to achieve more by working together than they could alone.

The approach of organising, planning and collaborating across government and sector boundaries to address complex, multi-dimensional national issues, echoes that adopted in the Strategic Framework for how government and the wider public sector can work together.

Social impact

The IEP, driven by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has harnessed the unique convening power of government to create an initiative that doesn’t just talk about change, but delivers it.

Supported by an advisory board of business leaders, government ministers and civil society champions, including the CEOs of Nationwide, the Co-op, the National Lottery Community Fund and UnLtd, we have convened over 175 organisations and catalysed over 100 social impact partnerships. Thanks to the these partnerships, over 50,000 additional people will now benefit from: fairer and more informed access to financial services; access to services that support their mental health; and tools to improve young people’s access to the job market.

The IEP’s first accelerator programme supported the scaling ambitions of innovators with proven, ontheground solutions to social challenges. During the accelerator, we made 230 introductions between the social innovators and corporate partners, resulting in over 100 high-impact partnerships.

In addition, the social innovators generated around £650,000 in additional grant support, and £1.2 million in savings and in‑kind support, with revenue of £3.2 million forecast over the following year.

Creating healthier workplaces

One example of a high-impact partnership set up through the accelerator was between This is Me – a campaign, part of the Lord Mayor’s Appeal scheme, that aims to create healthy workplaces by encouraging employees to share their mental health stories – and Landsec, which buys, sells, develops and manages commercial property in the UK.

For This is Me, the partnership provided access to a whole new sector and a typically hard-to-reach audience of young males, and also helped expand the campaign beyond London. For Landsec, it gave them access to high-impact mental health resources, allowing their employees to be more open about their own experiences and creating a more productive work environment.

Into work and beyond

Similarly, we supported MyKindaFuture, a mobile platform that improves disadvantaged young people’s access into work and beyond, via digital mentoring from employers and a peertopeer forum.

Through the IEP, MyKindaFuture formed successful partnerships with Accenture (who provided pro-bono advice in utilising cutting-edge technology to enhance the digital platform) and M&S (who used the platform to support 3,000 young people transitioning from work experience into full-time employment).

Cross-sector projects

Alongside the accelerator programme, we have developed a series of innovative crosssector projects. For example, we led a pilot in the West Midlands – in partnership with Accenture, Movement to Work, UnLtd, O2, Youth Employment UK and the West Midlands Combined Authority – to open up 1,000 new work placements in the region. The placements were delivered by local employers in conjunction with training providers with an aim to support the young people into full time employment or further training following the placement.

We also launched a challenge prize, Open Banking for Good, supported by a £3 million fund from Nationwide, to find and scale ways to improve financial inclusion and wellbeing using open banking technology.

Lessons learned: secrets to building excellent partnerships

The IEP’s innovative approach to partnership working has shown real impact in addressing tough policy challenges, but that’s not to say we don’t face challenges. Deep-seated competitive dynamics or a lack of understanding between businesses or civil society organisations – or even different government departments – can often preclude true partnership working.

While we convened some of the most successful CEOs from business and civil society, we still had to encourage them to leave their organisational cultures at the door and define a new way of working with one another in equal partnership.

Discussion at an Inclusive Economy Partnership event
Discussion under way at an Inclusive Economy Partnership event

Three ingredients critical for success

Firstly, we did a lot of work to make sure we had the right people around the table – the entrepreneurial leaders who were ready to unleash their inner activist. We needed to

find leaders who were ready to take a new approach to problem solving, and we needed them to be from a range of industries across the UK. Using the established reach of the Business Partnerships Team and the 120 accounts we manage, we were able quickly to identify who those people were. We put the time in to ensure they got to know each other as people, not just as CEOs of organisations. This helped to build strong working relationships and establish an inclusive community built on respect and trust.

Secondly, we established a culture of experimentation and quick delivery. This was an important signal that we were interested in impact over and above convening people for a talking shop. By encouraging experimentation, we also showed that we prioritised trialling new solutions over guaranteeing success. This gave our partners more confidence to push themselves out of their comfort zones and lead new initiatives, such as Nationwide’s Open Banking for Good.

Finally, we ensured that our CEOs had a real understanding of the deep-rooted challenges we were tackling. Meetings and decisions were not confined to corporate boardrooms in London. Instead, we visited different communities and included the voices of citizens or organisations driving action on the ground, which created a shared ambition and motivation to drive change.

A call to action

The IEP has proved that to create a society we can all be proud of, everyone has a role to play. We must all do more.

Businesses can do more to harness their skills and networks; creating inclusive employment opportunities, serving vulnerable customers and helping to build thriving communities. Likewise, civil society can do more to share its knowledge of the problems; sharing best practice more widely and co-creating models for change that can be adopted by others facing similar problems.

In government, we can do much more to harness our influence and convening power; joining the dots between organisations and looking to bring diverse voices around the table to help us develop new approaches to perennial policy challenges.

Although we are working on three specific social issues, we believe our partnership model can work across many more, both nationally and regionally, by joining up previously siloed initiatives, amplifying successful ones and enabling good ideas to be shared.

If you, too, believe in the power of partnerships to create social change and want to find out more about how our partnership model can be used to solve seemingly intractable policy challenges, please get in touch with the Business Partnerships Team at We have the network, skills and passion to drive cross-sector partnership working across government.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene posted on

    The overview of partnerships created to do real work rather than discuss entrenched problems has been presented credibly. Government bodies, civil society and businesses who begin with the knowledge of the exact figure of young people outside education, of people in debt or otherwise encumbered can succeed in their endeavour to engage people and to help them solve their employment, health and financial problems. The summary of criteria critical for success (the right people engaged, who have a real understanding of the challenges, the culture of experimentation and quick delivery) in addition to ground work explain how real achievements were made. I appreciated so well organised and informed partnerships on the government's initiative for the benefit of civil society and business. Thank you.