A partnership between the Danish Red Cross and pump manufacturer Grundfos provides solar-powered water systems for 10 rural villages in Kenya – benefitting more than 15.000 people. Based on a self-financing scheme that is funded through the villagers’ use of the water pumps, the partnership has developed a long-term solution for the local community.
By combining business and relief work, the Lifelink partnership between the relief organisation Danish Red Cross and the internationally renowned pump manufacturer Grundfos has solved what was seemingly a Gordic knot. By pooling the two partners’ core competences, the synergy has resulted in a groundbreaking way of doing business and benefitting some of the poorest people in the World.
Merging the agendas
For Grundfos, the objective of the partnership was not only to test solar powered water pump systems in an emerging market such as Kenya, but also to strengthen the company’s engagement in developmental issues.
“We started working with Red Cross because we had an idea that we wanted our employees to collect funds to provide clean water for impoverished people. Grundfos manufactures products that have been designed specifically to cover the needs of poor people, and our employees would like to contribute to the distribution of clean water. But we needed an NGO to help us work with the social part of the project; mobilising the local communities, setting up water committees and do the basic hygienic training,” says sustainability project consultant Vibeke Tuxen from Grundfos.
For Danish Red Cross, the collaboration with Grundfos was a valuable experience with the working modalities and expectations of a private business, preparing the CSO for similar collaborations in the future.
“With cross-sector partnerships there are still a lot of unmet potentials that we need to be better at identifying and exploiting. But these partnerships are already an integrated part of how we work, and it is definitely a way forward,” says project manager Line Thaudal Jakobson from Danish Red Cross.
It’s all about communication
Traditionally, civil society organisations and private enterprises differ not only in raison d´etre, but even more so in their work cultures
“When a customer orders something from Grundfos, we deliver as fast as possible with a product that is ready to use,” says Vibeke Tuxen. “But with the Red Cross we had to wait for external funding and mobilising local communities. That process took longer than we expected. There is more talk and more words in an NGO – more meetings and more writing than we are used to in a private company, and we don’t always mean the same thing even if we use the same words. When you add that to the prejudice that goes both ways, it can make working together a little tricky – unless you address your differences. We hadn’t thought about that before we started out, but we learned it along the way,” she says.
“Obviously, our outsets are differen and we are used to acting differently. Our focus is on the ‘human imperative’, whereas Grundfos is commercially driven. We always do our projects in close collaboration with local partners because we that this strengthens the quality and sustainability. That means that we are used to coordinating and expect that decisions may take some time to reach and are culturally very patient. Grundfos on the other hand has a speed that we are happy to be inspired by; so it is definitely our experience that all partners contribute valuable cultures and competences to the partnership,” says Line Thaudal Jakobson.
The different working cultures and expectations have at times challenged the project execution. In particular, there was a lack of proper expectation management in terms of risks of unforeseen changes, challenges and delays. Hence, a significant learning has been that the preparatory phase of a project is crucial, and that mutual expectations towards communication, working modalities and activities must be discussed and agreed upon between partners at the very beginning of the partnership.
Funding from employees
The LifeLink project was part of an internal programme in Grundfos, where employees collected funds to donate water pumps to the Kenyan community. The progress and results of the project were continuously communicated and shared with the employees. Their engagement initiative proved very successful, and ensured solid back-up and motivation from Grundfos towards the project.
“It was absolutely crucial to us that the funding was driven by our own devoted employees,” explains Vibeke Tuxen. “We haven’t used this project to gain external funding, because our own people were the primary target group. The funding was done by them and not by Grundfos. We want our products to make a difference in the World and we want our employees to work from that approach. That is the main reason why we joined the project,” she says.