With nearly 22 million children under 1 year of age lacking immunizations, 161 million children under the age of 5 whose growth is stunted as a result of malnutrition, and 6.3 million who die before their fifth birthday, it is clear that innovative solutions are needed.

However, a few trends are making it harder for governments, and for humanitarian and development organizations, to adequately respond to these alarming statistics. First, governments are stuck in an environment of austerity that has reduced aid budgets. Second, numerous competing priorities, and more frequent and intense natural disasters worldwide have stretched the remaining human and financial resources to the limit.

Taken together, these trends make it difficult to effectively scale up activities. It has become ever clearer that all sectors, including the private sector, must play a role in order to give children worldwide the assistance they need and deserve. The good news is that companies worldwide are increasingly looking to provide their often considerable financial, in-kind and human resources towards realizing the rights of children globally. In this respect, two additional trends are presenting new opportunities: First, companies in developed and emerging economies are gradually realizing the short- and long-term value of integrating social innovation and sustainability into their core business strategies. Second, companies are increasingly looking for guidance from humanitarian and development organizations on where they can best leverage their products, services and other resources towards solving the world’s most pressing problems. As a result, the interests of the public and private sectors are increasingly overlapping, which creates fertile ground for new partnerships between the public and private sectors.

By taking advantage of this increasing alignment of interests, children’s rights organizations can unlock new opportunities for innovative partnership models that address key challenges for children. In fact, this is already happening. A promising development in public-private partnerships, cause-related marketing (CRM) has created new opportunities for scaling up fund-raising and advocacy activities. CRM, one of the most innovative forms of partnership to emerge in the last decade, is at its most basic level a collaboration between a company and a public or non-governmental entity to raise funds and awareness for a cause. In the most common model, the company’s contribution is linked to the volume of products or services sold within the scope of the campaign. The non-profit organization is shown as the beneficiary by adding its name or logo to the business partner’s product or service, packaging or promotional material.

Numerous successful examples of CRM partnerships illustrate the potential of these types of campaigns. For example, the ‘1 Pack = 1 Vaccine’ partnership between the Pampers brand of Proctor & Gamble and UNICEF has provided over 300 million vaccines for maternal and neonatal tetanus, while the ‘World Hunger Relief’ campaign between Yum! Brands Inc. and the World Food Programme (WFP) has raised more than US$148 million, primarily for WFP’s school meals programmes.

The innovation of cause-related marketing stems not only from the potentially large financial and advocacy gains for the organization, or the reputational gains for the company as a result of ‘doing good’, but particularly from the potential that these types of partnership offer for programmatic sustainability. Whereas traditional private sector donations of financial, in-kind or human resources were often embedded in marketing budgets, which were subject to cuts depending on financial performance of the company, CRM campaigns are valuable to companies in that they are linked to sales of their core products or services. The fact that these campaigns can lead to both tangible financial gains, as well as intangible gains such as brand differentiation or higher employee satisfaction, for companies increases the chance of long-term partnership and, in the best cases, positive and lasting outcomes for children.

While CRM partnerships represent an innovative approach towards fund-raising and issue advocacy, they are no silver bullet, and organizations with a mandate to protect the well-being of children must understand the risks as well as the limits of such partnerships. Some have criticized the profit motives behind these types of engagements by claiming that, for example, such campaigns allow companies to use self-interested incentives to influence the debate around a particular cause and, in doing so, draw attention away from other socially or environmentally damaging corporate practices. This is a valid concern and, to avoid a negative backlash and potential reputational damage of such partnerships among the organization’s stakeholders and the general public, great care must be taken in choosing business partners that have, for example, strong policies against child labour in their supply chains (which includes any subsidiary companies), a generally positive corporate reputation and a genuine commitment to the cause.

Even when such risks are overcome, there are limits to the potential value of CRM campaigns. Doing CRM correctly requires considerable investments in due diligence of potential partners, legal guidance, strong partnership management, campaign transparency and evaluation, among other requirements, and the costs may actually exceed the benefits – particularly for smaller organizations.

Despite these risks and limits – and regardless of whether organizations utilize innovative partnership models such as CRM to achieve their goals – the private sector, with its resources, reach and influence, can and must play a key role in helping solve the pressing challenges facing children.