I just sat in on the David and Goliath session with fellow Skoll Associate Mutsa Mutembwa. We are both interested in seeing how innovative social interventions are taken to scale (water management for Mutsa and HIV/AIDS prevention for me), and we came to this session to understand how two top social entrepreneurs had negotiated significant deals with some of the largest corporate giants – McDonalds and PepsiCo.

We were introduced to the collaboration between PepsiCo’s Luis Montoya and Albina Ruiz Rios, whose organization—Ciudad Saludable—has turned the waste problems in Peru into an entrepreneurial success story. She has been promoting an inclusive solid waste management model that incorporates informal waste collectors into waste management systems creating employment and improving living conditions for more than 6 million poor people. One of her biggest supporters—none other than one of the producers of recyclable materials (PepsiCo!).

Luis Montoya of PepsiCo stressed the importance of the development of performance and purpose. Growth strategies for companies, he said, must address both “P’s” in tandem. Crisis is the barometer for understanding when corporates are just doing CSR work for public relations and when they are truly committed to social development. While many companies retracted on CSR budgets during the economic downturn, those who understood how purpose fueled performance left CSR budgets unchanged.

Keith Kenny and Rupert Howes interjected with the story of the collaboration between the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and McDonalds. The partnership, Keith stressed, was a perfect business decision. Helping MSC to achieve its mission also preserved the stability of one of McDonalds’s best selling products. While it wasn’t easy to negotiate how McDonalds could keep its supply chain in tact while also working with MSC, both parties stressed that goliath businesses often seek out social entrepreneurs to help them solve business solutions.

Perhaps the most poignant questions were asked nearest the end of the session (which is OK, because there’s another David and Goliath session this afternoon!).  While we saw how ‘David entrepreneurs’ and ‘Goliath big business’ could work mutually in pursuit of very different goals,  the audience got into a heated debate about when it was OK for social changemakers to use funds from corporates that had blemished track records.