FROM SOCIAL INNOVATION EXCHANGE: Partnering with Purpose: Centring Communities in Business for Good

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Published Date
March 6, 2024
Written by Zaf Choudhury


In today’s rapidly changing world, with divisions and crises affecting us now more than ever, cross-sectoral collaboration has never been more pressing. At SIX, we’re interested in the role the business sector can particularly play in deepening its positive impact on the communities it interacts with, through genuine and purposeful partnerships.

Last week we had the privilege of hosting speakers from TELUS, Togetherall, and eBay, each offering unique perspectives on the practice of ‘partnering with purpose’ and placing communities at the centre of their business strategies. Our discussion unpacked what ‘purpose’ and acting authentically mean in practice. We dived into the importance of accountability to avoid social-washing, recognising power imbalances, and what keeps them inspired to keep moving the needle.

  • Marissa Nobauer, Director, Reconciliation, Community Engagement and External Relations – TELUS 
  • Matty McEvoy, CEO – Togetherall
  • Chris Gale, Head of Circular Innovation and Impact UK – eBay  
  • Louise Pulford, CEO – Social Innovation Exchange 

Working in partnership with other organisations and communities isn’t easy. Marissa, Matty and Chris shared reflections on navigating what is a complex journey of partnering with purpose; from avoiding social-washing and the risks of over-consultation of communities, to challenges of involving all colleagues across the business, and the need to be comfortable with being held to account both internally and externally. 

Chris spoke about the importance of the ‘starting point’; finding ‘purpose’ by starting from what a business wants to change in the world, and using its existing skills and tools to drive impact. Marissa shared the importance of embedding social purpose and responsibility across the entire organisation as well as marrying business goals with the needs of the community, and finding key intersections. Similarly, Matty reflected on the importance of finding the right partners (those ‘who beat to that same tune’), as well as being especially clear about what you are trying to change – upholding that across the organisation and consistently projecting it outwards.

Below are 5 key insights that came out of our discussion – just a snapshot of what was a deeply rich exchange. Dive deeper into their reflections by watching the full recording below.

Staying authentic to a mission – and engaging authentically with communities – means actively listening to their needs, and finding the right partners who align with your purpose. Marissa (TELUS) emphasised the importance of striking the right balance; engaging communities is key to developing robust and meaningful strategies that intersect well with community feedback and reflect diverse perspectives. 

At the same time, she argued businesses should be aware of the risks of ‘engagement fatigue’ if communities are over-consulted, establishing an Indigenous Advisory Council as a way to address this challenge. Made up of 10 leaders, subject matter experts and youth from across Canada, the Council meets twice a year for guidance and feedback on the evolution of the business’s actions and commitments to ensure they’re in line with indigenous perspectives. 

Meanwhile for Chris (eBay), authenticity comes down to the partners they choose, working with smaller and agile organisations to effectively collaborate and build a programme together, creating a sense of partnership rather than service provision. On a simple level he points out it’s about getting out there and speaking to those who are working on the issues to better understand their challenges and needs.

Marissa reminded us that ‘the work is only as good as your accountability to it’, and though businesses will find this inevitably challenging, creating meaningful feedback loops with community representatives relies on prioritising a two-way dialogue.

Matty (Togetherall) shared insights into their external Guardian Council that ensures that, as the organisation grows, they stay true to their purpose and mission. The Guardian Council’s sole responsibility is to hold Togetherall accountable to its company charter, and publish a public report that details their partners, and who and where they take investment from. As we dived into the ‘criteria’ for advisory councils and external groups, Marissa underlined the importance of recruiting members that are non-partisan, gender diverse, and urban and rural perspectives, to ensure their communities are truly represented in the TELUS case. 

Ultimately, the aim is to foster a collaborative partnership mindset by engaging with communities regularly. As well as reporting progress on a regular basis, Chris highlighted the role of the eBay for Change programme Steering Committee (made up of 6-8 alumni) as a way to engage quarterly to listen to the challenges experienced by social enterprises and make appropriate adaptations to programme design. 

Purpose needs to be embraced by everyone company-wide, rather than being owned solely by a specific team or individual. It’s crucial to bring every team member on board, which requires investing time in ongoing dialogue — in practice Marissa reiterated that this means distributing ownership across various business units to ensure that strategies keep moving forward. 

Externally, leadership can play a pivotal role in this process by publicly representing the work and engaging in meaningful conversations with communities to see the positive impact firsthand, such as TELUS’s leaders connecting with communities to learn about their cultures and the difference the organisation is making. 

Internally, leveraging self-organised employee groups such as eBay’s ‘Black’, ‘Pride’ and ‘Women at eBay’ groups was highlighted as a powerful strategy; with support, these groups can serve as conduits for diverse perspectives and champions of impactful initiatives driving change within the organisation. As a ‘distributed organisation’ operating in multiple countries, Matty highlighted how their Guardian Council is written into the articles of the business, ‘taking it out of the hands of any one person in particular’.  

Businesses need to be aware of inherent power imbalances that exist, particularly in the case of partnerships where larger companies can hold more money and resources. Recognising these, Chris emphasised the significance of showing up consistently ‘as a human face rather than as a soulless corporate’.  

He reflected that building trust and navigating power dynamics also relies heavily on transparency in how partnerships work in practice, and means investing in consistent effort and time. It relies on creating space for partners to be able to ask questions and pushback where appropriate, as well as using an organisation’s platform to raise the profile of community partners. 

Businesses also have a responsibility when talking about communities and collaborations externally, to ensure that marketing and communications strategies are representative and sensitive of the communities they serve.

Finding inspiration for meaningful change ultimately comes full circle – by listening to the community and partners, and learning continuously from their insights. 

Matty pointed out that one way to leverage this is by sharing impactful stories within the business. A regular feature at the company’s town hall meetings includes hearing about positive mental health interventions from previous weeks. Community stories are a powerful way of energising a business and reinforce the mission, reminding everyone of ‘why they’re there’.  

To close, Marissa shared the significance of being a ‘good ancestor’ and making sure the work they’re doing is creating collective change for everyone. Ultimately, there is no shortage of inspiration when spending time in communities and seeing the tangible real-time impact being made for future generations.

At SIX, we believe a multi-sector and multi-stakeholder approach is needed to address the increasingly interconnected societal challenges we face globally. As we’ve already seen, more and more businesses are playing their role and demonstrating innovative ways of putting their purpose into practice.   

Whether you are at the beginning of your journey embedding social in your business, or whether you’d like to amplify the work you are already doing, we’d love to hear from you.

We are also exploring how businesses can meaningfully engage with young people to drive positive change and shape a brighter future. If you are interested in this topic, or if you want to learn more about our programme of work on Business for Good, get in touch via


Zaf Choudhury

Programmes Lead

Zaf is a Programmes Lead at SIX with a focus on the Funders Node and Business For Good programmes. 

He is a Fellow of On Purpose, an exploratory leadership and development programme for experienced professionals entering the social and environmental impact space. Over 12 months he worked with two purpose-driven organisations; eBay UK Social Impact, working on e-commerce and entrepreneurship programmes for the social enterprise and charity sectors; and the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in the Civil Society and Youth Directorate, working with the Tackling Loneliness policy team on their world-leading Loneliness strategies.  

Prior to On Purpose, Zaf worked at the advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty as a Senior Producer, with 6 years of experience in moving image, radio, podcasts and events. 

Zaf is passionate about the strengths of intersectionality in collaboration, advocating for underrepresented young voices, the power of creativity, and driving positive, inclusive action for our planet.


About us

SIX believes in the transformative power of people working together. Exchanges based on mutual value and reciprocity are the missing link in tackling the world’s problems. As a friendly, expert entry point to global social innovation, our work connects organisations, sectors, communities and nations to build capabilities and create opportunities for collaboration. When we open the world, people connect and discover the collective power to change their societies for the better.


Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good