7 Social Enterprises Scaling Through Corporate Partnerships

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

Social enterprises are transforming the global economy, and corporations are increasingly embracing them in the wake of COVID and as part of building back better. 

We can only tackle our most pressing global challenges if we work together, and building these kinds of cross-sector partnerships is a win-win for both parties: they help social enterprises scale their revenues and impact, while at the same time helping corporations and institutions meet their equity and sustainability commitments. 

As our CSR research from early 2021 shows, if companies want to achieve their audacious CSR goals and ESG targets, they will need to partner with the social enterprise sector. Here are 7 great examples of social enterprises from our S-GRID Revenue Accelerator Program that leveraged corporate or institutional partnerships to accelerate their path to scale:

1. Seabin Project & Discovery Australia

The Seabin Project is an Australian social enterprise dedicated to cleaning plastic waste from our oceans, harbors, and marinas, which over time has evolved into a comprehensive research, technology, and educational initiative driving behavioral and policy change on a global scale. 

In December of 2020, Discovery Australia announced a new partnership with the Seabin Project to help reduce plastic pollution in iconic Sydney Harbour as part of a world-first program. The two-year partnership will grow the number of Seabin units by 30% in Sydney harbour for the Smart Cities Program, as well as help fund the role of an additional Environmental Technician. It is estimated to remove 28 tonnes of marine debris, from 4.3 billion litres of water in Sydney Harbour, filtered for microplastics, oil fuel, plastic fibres and more over a 12-month period.

Rebecca Kent, General Manager, Discovery Australia and New Zealand, said: “As a purpose-driven company, Discovery has a proud history of using our global scale and resources to make an impact on a number of environmental issues. Ocean conservation is in our DNA and we are proud to join forces with Seabin Project locally on one of the most important issues facing the world. Our partnership will add six Seabin units to the Smart Cities Program, immediately helping to improve the health of Sydney’s waterways; while the reach of our channels and platforms will focus on reduction and prevention, driving awareness of the effects of plastic pollution on ocean health.

Pete Ceglinski, CEO & Co Founder, Seabin Project, said: “The team and I at Seabin are extremely proud to include Discovery Australia as our principal sponsor for the Smart Cities Program starting with Sydney and its iconic harbour. This program is the first in the world, setting a benchmark in addressing a global problem and with the focus on sustainable development goals, it is only a matter of time where more cities will adopt the “work smarter, not harder” ethos, including in addressing plastic pollution in their waterways.”

2. Voiceitt and Amazon

Voiceitt is a startup that uses AI speech recognition technology to allow people with non-standard and dysarthric speech to communicate more easily with others, which could help people suffering from disorders such as Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, autism, strokes, and more. After a brief training period, the Voiceitt app can turn a user’s statements into normalized speech, which it outputs in the form of audio or text messages, instantly. Voice-controlled apps and devices can also easily understand the newly generated audio or written messages, but Voiceitt can also be used to help people with speech impediments communicate face to face with other people.

A woman with a speech impairment uses Voiceitt to “translate” her words into a clear message. Source: TechCrunch.

In December of 2020, Voiceitt partnered with Amazon to make Alexa more accessible to people with atypical speech. The collaboration was featured in Forbes, where Voiceitt Co-Founder and CEO Danny Weissberg shared, “We’re excited to work with Amazon to bring the benefits of voice technologies to a broad segment of customers who, until now, may not have been able to enjoy these products…Voice technologies are increasingly mainstream, and this Alexa integration is testament to the growing awareness among major technology players of the importance of ensuring these technologies address the diverse needs and preferences of their customers, including people whose voices deviate from standard speech. Integration of Voiceitt’s speech recognition with a powerful service like Alexa further demonstrates Voiceitt’s value proposition in a rapidly expanding industry, and of our vision—to make speech recognition accessible to everyone.

3. Fugeelah & Uniqlo

Fugeelah is a mission driven social enterprise created for children and youth seeking refuge in Malaysia. Its primary purpose is to contribute towards the sustainable running of Fugee School, a not-for-profit organisation that provides free education and community support to those in transit.

In 2018, Fugeelah partnered with Uniqlo on a t-shirt line featuring artworks by refugee students from the Fugee School. Themed “Head, Heart and Hands”, these t-shirts encapsulates the holistic approach to education at the Fugee School while nurturing creativity amongst students to translate their feelings and thoughts into sellable designs. 100% of the proceeds were given back to the school to continue supporting their mission to equip refugee youths with academic, creative and live skills.

Team members modeling the “Head, Heart, & Hands” Collection

4. Arqlite & CEMEX

Arqlite is a social enterprise that develops upcycling technologies to transform complex plastics (laminates, aluminized, mixed, degraded) into efficient, low carbon, environmentally friendly materials and solutions. Arqlite focuses on the construction industry in particular, offering eco-friendly alternatives like Arqlite smart gravel

In June of 2020, Arqlite partnered with CEMEX ventures, which is committed to finding and developing sustainable construction solutions. A team member from Arqlite shared with us that, “CEMEX has taken an active partner role in our business evolution by providing expertise in construction and concrete environments. They also helped us secure Arqlite’s first licensed facility, and continue to provide regional and global help in supporting and assisting our transformation – even to the extent of running multiple pilots to showcase our innovation and collaborative work. We’re thrilled to have CEMEX and the entire team on board; they’ve been a tremendous help and will continue to be a pivotal partner as we scale.

5. Studio Coppre & Forbes Marshall

Studio Coppre is a social enterprise dedicated to preserving heritage craftsmanship by adapting the heritage handcrafting process, artisanal skills, and know-how to create new products suited for contemporary homes and living.

In 2012, Studio Coppre partnered with India-based engineering firm Forbes Marshall to enable even more artisan communities to thrive by creating livelihoods through design and market intervention. Together, Studio Coppre and Forbes Marshall initiated a new livelihood project with copper artisans. Studio Coppre Marketing Director Sudakshina Sinha Banerjee shared that “[Forbest Marshall] continues to support us through strategic inputs like providing technological expertise, continuous orders, outreach to other corporates and institutes, and providing physical infrastructure and overall mentorship.”

6. I was a Sari & Gucci

I was a Sari is a social enterprise that takes waste-bound saris and upcycles them into beautiful clothes and accessories. Along the way, it employs women who did not have the opportunity – or we denied – an education and path to financial independence and security.

We featured Stefano Funari, founder of i was a sari, on a webinar earlier this year. Watch the recording to learn more about how he managed to build an effective partnership with one of the world’s most iconic brands: Gucci.

7. Desolenator & Carlsberg

We previously highlighted Desolenator which presented to our S-GRID community about some partnership best practices for partnering with the corporate sector. Desolenator has developed an innovative solution to turn saltwater into safe and potable water using the power of the sun. 

Originally developed for households and small businesses, it has scaled its operations to partner with municipalities and large corporations, including one partnership that was featured by the World Economic Forum. Learn more about their tips for building partnerships in this recording from an S-GRID webinar:

In Summary

As you can see in the seven examples above, each partnership is built on the foundation of mission alignment. Discovery Australia and the Seabin Project share a commitment to a cleaner and healthier environment. Voiceitt and Amazon share the goal of accessibility to a diverse range of stakeholders. Fugeelah and Uniqlo both share a commitment to sustainability and investing in communities. Arqlite and CEMEX are both committed to more sustainable building materials. Studio Coppre and Forbes Marshall are both committed to market interventions that level the playing field. The key takeaway here is this: whatever your core business or area of focus is, there are corporations and institutions that are working towards the same goal with the potential to help you catalyze your impact.

In a recent S-GRID webinar, SAP’s Procurement with Purpose Lead Kelvin Ward shared that “Increasingly, large corporations want to do good and support social enterprises. Procurement leaders in companies are invested in finding the right social enterprise partners, but it also means that social enterprises need to come with the right solution, value proposition, and systems to do business with us.” 

Looking for more guidance, connections, and best practices related to building corporate partnerships with your social enterprise? Apply to our S-GRID Program.