Working together to achieve innovation and freedom of action


“Co-creation”, “co-construction” and “co-building” are terms that we at down to Earth often use when we talk about the social business projects supported by Danone. This is because these words are also often used by project managers from both the company’s funds and local partners (NGO or public entity). Co-creation is the only way to effectively build common projects that make the best of each actor’s expertise… and the only way to deal with the challenges arising in relation to the collaboration itself: how do we bring everyone’s aims together?


“Co-creation is a major practice of social innovation. It is used to build partnerships, innovate and reach a bigger impact.” This sentence opens the minutes of the workshop dedicated to co-creation at the Global Communities Meeting Tour’s event of May 2012. It sums up the biggest challenges faced by social innovation – especially when it is partly driven by large companies – and the main method for tackling them: by bringing varied expertise together. As Danone supports many social businesses with the Danone Ecosystem Fund and danone.communities, co-creation matters a great deal in the organisation’s approach to building projects that are socially beneficial, sustainable and profitable. This is why, based on the experiences of the funds’ projects, a “Guide to co-creation at Danone” was recently issued. It draws on previous experiences to “provide practical tips, testimonials and decision-making tools to facilitate the implementation of co-creation initiatives”, and as such is a precious testimony of how Danone co-creates and intends to extend the approach to a growing number of projects.


Co-creation’s six steps


As Muriel Pénicaud, (Executive Vice President Human Resources and Chair of the board of the Danone Ecosystem Fund) writes in the guide,

pooling our complementary fields of expertise to find solutions to current economic, societal and environmental challenges together is the aim of the co-creation approach that guides societal innovation at Danone.

And in fact, to co-create there must be at least two parties: Danone and another organisation, such as an NGO, a university, a local government, etc. A previous newsletter from the Ecosystem Fund dedicated to co-creation explained that “having a partner with a solid local base and full understanding of local issues is vital for long-term projects with a positive impact”. This partner plays a facilitating role between the companies and the communities they wish to operate in, and provides its knowledge of local habits, tastes, needs and issues, to build as tailored a project as possible. Equally, the NGO or local organisation benefits from the company’s networks, funds and expertise to upscale its projects and render them durable. As Hazem Fahmy, from CARE Egypt, says in the Ecosystem newsletter:

Working on an idea integral to our partner’s business and that has greater chances of sustaining and having an effect on an entire industry is very attractive.

Basically, co-creation is and has to be a win-win partnership where solutions are created together and the aims and challenges are shared equally. In short, co-creating means pooling the expertise and aims of a large company and of local actors to foster innovation. The guide digs deep into how exactly this approach is developed, focusing on six main steps for successful co-creation:

– Understand what co-creation is

– Communicate with the partner organisation

– Co-build the right partnership

– Co-design the project

– Co-manage it

– Co-end it


Common aims, common means, common trust


Within the six chapters, the main difficulties which can arise when co-creating a project and how they can be overcome are explored. Indeed, each and every actor brings not only expertise but also aims, and these do not necessarily meet, or at least not within the same time frame. When a company invests in a project, it usually needs the profits to start rolling in fairly quickly; at the other end, NGOs who are used to working in a “non-profit” perspective can have a hard time taking profitability into account as a necessity, and have a less hurried relationship with time. Having them meet halfway on these subjects is therefore vital to the success of the cooperation. The six steps defined by the guide are here to help achieve that. First, it is key to agree on a common definition of co-creation that involves actual partners and not mere contractors or service providers. Then, the dialogue must be set on the basis of mutual trust, respect and reciprocal commitment. The third step is to make sure that the partner you are dealing with is the right one for this particular project, with complementary skills and a common interest. After this comes the time of actually building and managing the project, which means on one hand establishing the right governance (instances, objectives, means and planning) and on the other being able to assess, regularly and together, both the project and the co-creation process. Finally, a successful co-creation project is a project that ends well, with all parties aware in advance of exactly when and how they should leave to let it have its own autonomy. In each section, many additional documents, testimonies and toolboxes are available for those wishing to go further into the concrete details of things. But even if you are not about to start a joint project with another entity or organisation, this guide to co-creation is definitely a good read to help you understand why, when it comes to social innovation, co-creation is – more than useful – needed, how it works and what it creates. In the words of Muriel Pénicaud, “co-creation makes it possible to turn a mutual dependency into greater freedom of action.” The fact that it is in fact the DNA of social innovation then becomes self-evident.

Photo © Shutterstock /bikeriderlondon

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