Despite the growing public pressure and endorsement by key institutions to collaborate across sectors to tackle social and environmental concerns, there is research gap concerning the actual impacts of partnership efforts. Instead, the cross-sector literature is dominated by the corporate reputational benefits of partnering as a CSR strategy, meanwhile, the ambiguity and lack of impact assessments from an NGO perspective is evident. The study explores how environmental NGOs in Sweden characterize the impact of corporate partnerships, and the facilitating and constraining conditions to achieving impact in a collaboration. The methodology consists of in-depth semi-structured expert interviews with senior managerial and decision-making NGO-employees involved in corporate partnerships. An inductive thematic approach explores the recurring themes and topics in relation to how the experts perceive partnership impact, as well as the barriers and facilitators to impact. Three overarching defining impacts were discovered through the thematic analysis: increased awareness of the collaboration and the issue, process and behavioural improvements, and facilitating collaborators to meet the higher expectations of partners, legal entities, and consumers. Although the impact of corporate collaborations was defined differently among participants, the characterization of impact primarily depended on the partnership goal and scope. Thus, impact was not perceived as an ambiguous concept. The results also confirm the paradox NGOs face, whereby the facilitators and barriers to impact mirror each other, namely, the trust between collaborators, maintaining independence from corporate interests and the ability to assess long-term impact. The NGOs expressed a desire to be involved as strategic partners to their corporate partners. However, the findings indicate that NGOs had not experienced reputational damage through corporate affiliation due to that the partnership efforts were perceived as separate from the corporate operations. Thus, if NGOs adopt a more integrated strategic role in corporate collaborations, the reputational risks increase. Participants also expressed that partnering with large influential corporation ensured the most impact, thus the biggest risk also has the most potential. In Sweden, NGO partnerships and environmental CSR efforts have become increasingly visible since the turn of the century, and approximately 500 Swedish companies have committed to the UN Global Compact initiative and the UNs Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The findings in the study confirm that environmental issues hold an institutionalized status in Sweden and engaging in environmental initiatives is mainstream in the private sector. Thereby, environmental NGOs in Sweden can focus their efforts on establishing long-term collaborations with large corporations, instead of allocating extensive resources to determining the strategic fit of their potential corporate partners in terms of the firms’ environmental mission and vision.

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Dr. Vidhi Chaudhri
Media & Business
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Annie Engström. (2022, June 27). Partnering for Impact How Swedish environmental NGOs define the impact of corporate collaborations. Media & Business. Retrieved from