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How Companies Can Achieve Effective Board Governance, Stakeholder Engagement, and NGO Partnerships

02/12/2014 11:37 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2014

In researching companies that lead the way in global problem solving, I observed three important success factors: effective corporate board governance; stakeholder engagement; and collaboration with other companies and NGOs/nonprofits. The motivation for multinational corporations to find solutions to the world's greatest challenges is that companies benefit -- while improving the world -- by reducing costs, mitigating risks, and increasing profits. I contend that one of the best ways for businesses to develop their leaders, engage with stakeholders, and partner with NGOs/nonprofits is by involving their executives and professional on NGO/nonprofit boards -- strategically and thoughtfully.

Multinational corporations have much to gain by finding problems to the world's most daunting challenges. Furthermore, in my new book, A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Finding Solutions to Global Problems...Where Governments Cannot (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), I maintain that only global companies have the vast resources, international footprint, and financial incentives to create transformational progress to address poverty and income inequality, climate change, education, healthcare, and human rights, among other things.

Yet effective leadership and partnerships are vital for success. And in my experience in training and placing several hundred business executives on global, national, and regional NGO/nonprofit boards and coaching board officers, I've observed these very benefits.

  1. Developing business leaders: Business executives who serve on NGO/nonprofit boards develop valuable leadership and strategic skills for their business roles, while also gaining knowledge of social, economic and environmental issues that are relevant to their companies.
  2. Enhancing corporate governance: Business people who serve on NGO/nonprofit boards gain experience and insights about governance, strategy, accountability, ethics, transparency, and crisis management.
  3. Engaging with stakeholders: Companies engage more deeply and productively in the community--including through new relationships with governments--while growing their leaders. Stakeholder engagement facilitates the ties that form the basis for successful and profitable business ventures.
  4. Strengthening NGOs/nonprofits: NGOs/nonprofits gain the talents of business people and company resources, thereby becoming more effective in achieving their social, economic, and environmental missions.
  5. Improving communities: Communities improve when NGOs/nonprofit boards are more effective. Stronger communities translate to a viable workforce, a vibrant consumer base, and sustainable resources.

Companies that seek to maximize the value of their board-matching programs need to do so just as strategically as they approach all other business initiatives. There are a several key steps.

  1. Creating a board-matching program mission, vision, and strategy that will advance and support the company's greater purpose and growth objectives, with clear objectives that will be measured and assessed on a regular basis.
  2. Setting a budget to support the board-matching program, including guidelines for the company or its foundation to make financial contributions to NGOs/nonprofits where its executives and professional serve.
  3. Providing high quality, interactive training and preparation for executives and professionals who serve on boards to ensure that their experiences are productive and rewarding.
  4. Offering training for NGO/nonprofit boards where the company's executives and professionals serve, so that they are functioning optimally.
  5. Ensuring that the board matches achieve all of the possible benefits including providing a positive experience for the board member, adding value to the NGO/nonprofit and the community, and achieving the company's purposes.

Defeating poverty, mitigating the pace of global warming and the destruction of natural ecosystems, and advancing education, healthcare, and human rights are ambitious goals. National governments do not have the authority and resources to address global problems, nor has the international community achieved binding and actionable agreements to provide adequate responses. The nonprofit sector has made great strides in improving the human condition, but lacks resources and scalability to make transformational progress. Only multinational corporations have the might, the profit motivation, the worldwide influence, and the long-term wherewithal to accomplish these purposes. Furthermore, businesses that are leading the way are showing that innovating solutions to social, environmental, and economic challenges can be profitable.

Through effective NGO/nonprofit board-matching programs, global corporations can further advance their interests in solving global problems by developing better leaders and relationships for their companies and the world.