Last week I was privileged to attend a meeting of Henry Schein Dental’s Key Suppliers in Kent. Patrick Allen of Henry Schein and many members of his team have been good friends of Bridge2Aid for a number of years, and it has been fantastic to have their support since the beginning. I was very pleased to be offered the opportunity to speak to his supplier network.
One of the reasons for Bridge2Aid’s success over the past 12 years has been the outstanding support we have received from the UK dental industry and the companies in it. Over the years, this has grown steadily from a few items of donated dental kit, through to brand new complete surgeries and state of the art sterilisation equipment, as well as the many fund-raising activities and donations of cash, which have come along the way. We simply could not have grown at the rate that we have and achieved the results that we have without this generous support from the many companies in the industry.
Firstly, we run our own business. Hope Dental Centre is a commercial dental clinic in Mwanza which donates all of its profits to help fund the operational costs of the NGO, and runs like any dental practice in the UK. We have the same requirements of staffing, supplies, maintenance, finance and all the other requirements that are needed to run a successful business. We have learnt a great deal of lessons in setting up the clinic and in running it for the last 12 years.
We are also run like a business. From the very beginning, Bridge2Aid has benefited from the involvement of a number of trustees who are significant and successful business people in their own right. Early on they instilled principles of good operational and financial, as well as taking decisions in a business-like way. This process continues to this day and makes us one of the most sharply run and efficient charities in the sector.
We are also committed, as many businesses are, to measuring and testing new initiatives before we invest in them. One of the downfalls that we sadly see with charities around the sector is that they carry out work which appears on the surface to be good, and is well-intentioned, but ultimately does not achieve an impact. If charities were businesses, they would cease to exist very quickly by operating in this way. If a product fails to work, then customers will not buy it, and income dries up. However, some charities continue to collect money from donors and spend it on programmes which fail to create a measurable impact in ways that bring about sustainable change for beneficiaries. This is something we have worked hard to avoid, rigorously evaluating our work, focussing on what demonstrates real results, and working hard to communicate this to our donors. We know that our work has meant that over 4 million people now have access to emergency dental treatment – a way out of pain. It’s a measurable success and has had a tangible impact on health in East Africa.
I am very keen that people invest in us as a charity because we achieve results, not because of the perceived value of what we are trying to do or the need we are trying to meet. Impact is key and is what the beneficiaries that we are aiming to help deserve.
Finally, we believe in win/win. For any company to get involved with a charity, and continue to be involved with a charity, there needs to be some benefit for them. From the very beginning and at every level, we have worked hard to make sure that there is a return for our corporate donors. This is true for our Unity Partners (who sponsor the training of a Health Worker), and all the benefits they can use in PR and promotion to their patients, or the positive profile that our corporate partners receive. Also, we work hard to make sure that there is a distinct benefit for the team members of companies that get involved with Bridge2Aid. It is not just about taking money or support from people and giving nothing in return; we want to make sure that the company comes out with added value as well.
Mark Topley Feb 2016