The rise of collaborative social change

One exciting trend to emerge from the fallout out of the tragic global economic meltdown is a heightened awareness of our connectivity in both the offline and online worlds. In addition, a heightened awareness of the challenges we face thanks to access to information on the Internet and our increased ability to share it through social media, has meant that more people than ever are looking for new different solutions in new ways. This is taking the form of many new collaborations that give us all a better chance than ever to scale positive change.

This rise of such collaboration can be seen in four broad categories:
1) Corporations becoming increasingly involved in socially transformative thinking or actions. A great example is Patagonia’s Common Threads recycling program and its Footprint Chronicles, which measures the company’s sustainability profile for every one of its products. There’s also Unilever’s goal to implement 100 percent sustainable packaging by 2020, and Sony’s Open Planet Ideas in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund that is a crowdsourcing effort inviting the public to create new ideas to solve problems using any of nine “seed” technologies that Sony produces.

2) Corporations partnering together for change. Examples include Timberland’s membership in the Outdoor Association, in which 200 companies have agreed to a new industry Eco-index regarding the environmentally sound production of outdoor sport gear and equipment. Also, Unilever is a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, set up in co-operation with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2004, and the Round Table on Responsible Soy, both industry-wide associations of companies that seek to adhere to higher socially responsible standards.

3) Corporations directly participating with NGOs. The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect program is another example of a nonprofit-corporate cooperation. Proposed by Maria Eitel, President of the Nike Foundation, the concept focuses on finding ways to educate the estimated 600 million adolescent girls who live in poverty, at risk for HIV, and often abused in the Third World.

4) Companies working to assist governments. One truly inspiring example is ‘Change the Equation’, involving a network of 100 CEOs who are committing their companies to help rebuild science and math literacy in America’s school systems. Companies such as Intel, Kodak, Sally Ride Science, Time Warner Cable, and Xerox, have agreed to start aligning all the separate programs they each conduct in schools to help boost science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. Another intriguing example of government reaching out for new ideas from the private sector was the April 2010 State Department-sponsored TED talks.

These cross-sector collaborations demonstrate the recognition by all parties that the challenges we face are now too large, complex and deeply entrenched for any individual, company or government to fix alone. Each effort is an inspiring example of how we can find and apply smarter scalable solutions if we chose to adopt a We First attitude and build a better world together. It’s a challenging time but also extraordinarily exciting with great cause for optimism.

Can you name any other examples of cross-ector partnerships for change? Do you think by working together individual companies improve their own reputations?