Together we are greater than the sum of our parts

Only by breaking down boundaries and working together in unprecedented ways can we tackle the entrenched issues that cause millions of children to continue to die each year from preventable causes.

That was the shared understanding which brought GSK and Save the Children together three years ago, creating a ground-breaking partnership to help save one million children’s lives. We knew that by combining our resources and expertise, we could achieve more together than alone.

It took us a year of discussing the nuts and bolts of our partnership before signing on the dotted line. Since then, we’ve had honest, sometimes difficult conversations. Running programmes across two large organisations with their own particular processes and principles is challenging. Trying to effectively measure the impact of our partnership is even more difficult. We have had to seek academic expertise to help us achieve this.

Collaborations of this nature can be tough, but they are necessary. They drive results. Already we have directly reached 1.3 million children; treated more than 125,600 children for malaria, pneumonia or diarrhoea; fully immunised more than 23,900 children; and helped more than 108,400 children in emergencies. Behind these figures is a willingness to change the traditional approach to NGOs and businesses collaborations, in three important ways:

Innovation in the lab and field

Helping to prevent needless deaths among children in the most marginalised communities demands new approaches and interventions. When it comes to scientific innovation, we need to look beyond the walls of our own laboratories; in the field, we need to think laterally about how to reach those who need it most.  

An example of this is our advancement of an antiseptic gel for preventing umbilical cord infection among newborns in developing countries. On-the-ground knowledge and insights from Save the Children helped GSK to develop a gel with the toughest settings in mind – stable in high temperatures and packaged in single-use foil sachets, which can be opened without scissors.

In April 2016, the gel received a positive scientific opinion from European regulators, marking a major milestone for the partnership. Given this gel is intended for babies in some of the poorest countries, if approved for use, GSK is committed to making it available at a not-for-profit price.

The first baby born at a GSK funded birth clinic in Kenya

Embedding different business models

Through the partnership we are always striving to operate in a way that is ultimately sustainable. This focus has driven incredibly innovative projects. For example, GSK will share its manufacturing knowledge on the chlorhexidine gel with other interested companies to enable them to make it.

From the outset, GSK has also been supportive of Save the Children’s scalable programmes, where it aims to be the voice for children, be the innovator, build partnerships and achieve results at scale.

This mutual commitment to implementing new ways of working provides a strong foundation for our partnership.

One example is in making health systems more accessible and robust. Since 2009 GSK has reinvested 20% of profits generated in the least developed countries back into their healthcare infrastructures. Save the Children uses these funds in West and Central Africa to train health workers and help communities access health services. More than 10,600 health workers have been trained so far.

This has provided a platform for deepening our approach to making health systems more resilient. The partnership has created two flagship programmes in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, providing a package of healthcare services for mothers and children – from emergency transport to vaccinations. Altogether these programmes have reached more than 300,000 children. By strengthening health systems in this way, we hope to create sustainable infrastructures that will last beyond the lifetime of our collaboration.

A mother with her newborn at a health dispensary in Kenya

Championing change for children

Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. But there is only so much two organisations can do. To achieve far-reaching, sustainable change, we need to inspire others to challenge traditional ways of working and to forge partnerships and interventions that give children a chance to survive and thrive.

So an important element of our partnership’s work is in championing change. This involves sharing our insights so that others can learn from our partnership’s success and challenges; and engaging with governments and communities so that our interventions are aligned with their aims and ambitions. Advocacy supported by the partnership has helped women and children under five in Burkina Faso to receive free healthcare. This is a great start. Uniting our voices can be a catalyst for change.

We have been able to demonstrate that bold partnerships can generate tangible shared value. Not only in making a real difference to children, but our own organisations have learned and evolved from this partnership. In the next two years of our partnership we will build on our insights so far. In particular, ensuring our programmes are sustainable and developing metrics that assess the business impact of partnership activities. And most importantly, keeping a laser focus on generating impact for children.

Lisa Bonadonna is head of GSK-Save the Children Partnership and Natasha Parker is deputy partnerships director of Save the Children UK. This article first appeared in Business Fights Poverty.

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