Nearly two decades ago, the UN’s Rio Declaration had the goal of “establishing a new and equitable global partnership through the creation of new levels of cooperation among States, key sectors of societies and people”.
And then a decade ago, the major outcome of the Johannesburg follow-up Summit (Rio+10) was around the launching of 350 ‘partnerships for sustainable development’. Another decade later, more recently, Michael Porter has taken up the language of ‘creating shared value’. And now Accenture has developed the concept of a ‘convergence economy’ in which multi-stakeholder coalitions can effect systemic change.
It has been a journey towards deeper cross-sectoral cooperation to which IBLF and its member companies have contributed significantly since it was founded 21 years ago. This has been based on the understanding that, firstly, business needs a stable sustainable society in which to operate and secondly, that business, as a powerful and intrinsic part of society, has a great deal to contribute through the way it does business.
The current development landscape means that the case for cross sector collaboration is even more imperative. Aid budgets are being cut and governments and NGOs are looking for alternative resources, whilst the failure of traditional forms of aid to make systemic improvements, particularly in Africa, means that the sector is looking for alternative ways of working.
This means that in recent years, the range of initiatives which aim to promote core business-led solutions and promote and support inclusive or pro-poor business models has increased. IBLF is an implementing partner in a number of these including UNDP’s Business Call to Action, DfID’s Business Innovation Facility and SIDA’s Innovations Against Poverty.
How can we achieve effective and systemic collaboration?
Much has been said about the potential of cross sector collaboration, yet there remains the serious challenge of how to make it happen systematically, at much greater scale and with much greater effectiveness.
IBLF’s The Partnering Initiative was set up in 2004 to capture and disseminate the learning from IBLF’s 20 years of partnering experience and now aims to drive the use of widespread, effective cross-sector partnerships worldwide. A key part of TPI’s work is to look at how to make partnerships happen more systematically, and some of the key drivers we’ve identified are:
- Motivation / awareness – leaders from across all the sectors need to understand the benefits of cross-sectoral action and be inspired by successes.
- Means / capacity – bringing together different sectors with different values, interests, timescales and vocabularies is difficult. People often don’t appreciate the need to learn the skill set and develop the mindset necessary for effective partnering.
- Opportunity – It’s essential to have the right platforms through which people from all sectors can meet, discuss issues, find common interests and spark possibilities.
- Research and learning – finally this all needs to be underpinned by knowledge drawn from research on what works, what doesn’t work and why, and an enabling environment that encourages and rewards cross-sectoral collaboration.
In order to address the capacity issue, TPI runs major open training programmes such as our new Certificate in Partnering Practice course, and are delivering tailored training for a range of international NGOs and companies including Shell, BG Group and Microsoft. Our Partnership Brokers Training, which builds the capacity of those building and maintaining strong partnerships, has trained over 600 people around the world.
What would a systematic approach look like in practice?
We don’t have all the answers to this yet, but through our programmes of work we’re beginning to see the effects of a partnership approach.
In Rwanda, TPI is working with the Ministry of Education and UNESCO to engage the private sector in education through a multi-stranded programme. As well as providing partnership training, we have hosted two Forum events bringing together leaders from across the sectors to promote education as vital to business and to Rwanda to meet its ambitious development goals and discuss opportunities for working together.
We’re already seeing the fruits of our labour, with a number of nascent partnerships beginning to bubble up including between the Ministry of Education and the Private Sector Federation to develop the Rwandan curriculum to be more in tune with the needs of business. And in an evaluation of the training course, close to 100% of participants said they felt ‘very significantly’ confident in developing partnerships, that they felt such partnerships were essential for Rwanda, and that their organisations would now actively pursue them.
In the Americas, we are working with the Pan American Health Organization to develop a Partners Forum for Action Against Chronic Disease. The Forum will promote, catalyse and support new multi-sectoral partnerships to tackle what is an inherently multi-sectoral issue: a rapidly growing unfit, unhealthy population that threatens to bankrupt health systems and eventually economies. Working at both regional and country levels, PAHO is planning an online platform and in-person events to exchange knowledge and to bring actors together, working groups on particular topics, and even a partnerships support unit within PAHO to help support specific partnerships.
In Bangladesh, we are working with the Business Innovation Facility and Care Bangladesh, to deliver a series of events – including awareness-raising for CEOs from across the sectors, and trainings for managers on building partnerships for inclusive business. We’re hoping to expand the programme to provide ongoing support and facilitation.
Some of the early lessons we’re drawing…
Ongoing programmes are vital – it cannot just be a series of one-off interventions, there needs to be physical local presence constantly providing support, constantly building momentum, and brokering possibilities into realities.
Local ownership is key. You need to get the business organisations, the government, the NGOs fully bought in and preferably running the programme themselves as quickly as possible.
Partnering with the public sector remains one of the hardest challenges, for a variety of legal, political and human resource reasons. As part of our ‘Partnering with Governments’ programme with GIZ, we developed a template for a ‘partnering landscape’ report to assess the enabling environment for public-private partnerships and we’re in the process of developing a couple of those reports. We’re hoping to then move on to working directly with governments on the legislative and capacity issues to help them become more effective partners. Watch this space.