Cross‐Sector Partnerships: An Examination of Success Factors

Date01 March 2018
AuthorKanwalroop Kathy Dhanda,Laura Pincus Hartman
Published date01 March 2018
Cross-Sector Partnerships: An
Examination of Success
In this paper, we examine the drivers involved in an alter-
native business model: cross-sector social partnerships
(CSSPs) between for-profit, predominantly multinational
corporations (MNCs) and nonprofit organizations (NPOs).
We explore these cross-sector social partnerships (CSSPs)
from the perspective of these primary stakeholders, exam-
ining the questions of power differentials and the defini-
tions and determinants of success. In order more deeply
to understand these drivers, we review the evolution of
the concept of “value” and the perception of the value that
each stakeholder brings to the partnership. We then
describe and offer the results of an empirical, qualitative
study of 18 CSSPs, where we analyze each partner’s rep-
resentations of success, outcomes sought and distinc-
tions in determinants of value within the partnerships.
At time of submission, Laura Pincus Hartman was Director, Susilo Institute for Ethics in the
Global Economy, Boston University, Questrom School of Business. Hartman currently is
Executive Director, The School of Choice, Mirebalais, Haiti. E-mail:
Kanwalroop Kathy Dhanda is Professor of Management, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT,
USA. E-mail:
C2018 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University. Published by
Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
Business and Society Review 123:1 181–214
Over the past quarter century, remarkable changes have
taken place within and across the for-profit and nonprofit
organization (NPO) sectors
that have demonstrated a vast
capacity for impact on social issues, often from a position of vested
interest. Privatization and deregulation policies, the globalization of
supply chains, and advances in information and production tech-
nologies have accelerated flows of capital and trade across increas-
ingly porous national borders, resulting in the intensification of the
global impact of institutional practices on a broad and diverse
array of stakeholders. These economic globalization processes have
outpaced global governance arrangements, exposing nations to the
potential volatility and uncertainty of global markets at an unprec-
edented level, disproportionately impacting vulnerable economies
in developing countries, and therefore those individuals at the base
of the economic pyramid (United Nations Conference on Trade and
Development 2012). As an outgrowth of these trends, the same
period has seen a dramatic proliferation of NPOs seeking to
address socioeconomic barriers or challenges that increasingly
exceed the boundaries, resources and, in some instances, political
will of nation states. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of inter-
national NPOs grew by approximately 450% (Dahan et al. 2010);
and, in 2012, more than 1.5 million NPOs were in operation in the
United States, alone (U.S. Department of State 2012). As global
trends have encouraged growth in the scope of activity and the
impact of both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, cross-sector
relationships have undergone an evolution, as well.
In this article, we examine the drivers involved in an alternative
and relatively creative business model: cross-sector social partner-
ships (CSSPs) between for-profit, predominantly multinational cor-
porations (MNCs) and NPOs. We explore these CSSPs from the
perspectives of both of these primary stakeholders, examining the
questions of power differentials and the definitions and determi-
nants of success. In order more deeply to understand these drivers,
we review the evolution of the concept of “value” and the perception
of the value that each stakeholder brings to the partnership. We
then describe and offer the results of an empirical study of 18
where we analyzed each partner’s representations of
success, outcomes sought, and distinctions in determinants of
value within the partnerships.
On the basis of this examination, we suggest that there is a per-
suasive business case to be made on behalf of MNC engagement in
partnerships with NPOs in order to fulfill their corporation mis-
sions as well as basic social needs in many arenas of significant
impact, such as education, sustainability, humanitarian relief, and
others. However, we learned that the foundations of that collabora-
tion—how it is forged and implemented—are highly germane to its
ultimate capacity to create value. The more that MNCs are able to
recognize the NPO capacity for and perspective on value, and the
more that NPOs are able similarly to be aware of and benefit from
the MNC focus on strategic implementation and oftentimes a prag-
matic, utilitarian balancing of interests, the more that the partner-
ship will be able to flourish and succeed. What is most important
in establishing a CSSP that is perceived as bringing value to all
partners is a recalibration of mental models such that the viability
of co-creating value is affirmed by those partners.
While much has been written on corporate social responsibility
(CSR) over the last several decades, scholars have convened on the
Davis and Blomstrom (1975) definition of the term, later extended
by Carroll: “The social responsibility of business encompasses the
economic, legal, ethical, and discretionary expectations that society
has of organizations at a given point in time” (Carroll 1979, p. 500;
see also Carroll 1991, 1999; Waddock 2004). The original CSR
umbrella thus covers not merely compliance and ethics but also
volunteerism and philanthropy (see, e.g., May et al. 2007).
During the 1990s, the tension between NPOs and MNCs increased
to what some considered confrontational, with NPOs seeking to
impact corporate behavior through negative pressure focusing on
expanding corporate responsibilities, and companies responding with
CSR initiatives aimed at restoring or improving their public reputa-
tions (focusing on their social/community building efforts) (Doh
2008). During this period, most NPO attention was oriented toward
corporations who were perceived by the public or the media as

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