Multi-sector CSR partnerships can drive organizational successes and value creation. Yet why do so many fail to start or start and fail?
Natural Partnerships – Unnatural Partners. Business, NGOs and development agencies might have natural partnership opportunities but organizational history and the often conflicting perspectives of internal and external stakeholders can make these partnerships hard to realize. Far too often they start and fail, or even fail to start.
The private sector is playing an increasingly important role in development. Companies from all sectors, including especially the extractive and fast-moving consumer goods sectors, are investing in development initiatives in areas such as education, health, poverty alleviation and livelihoods, environment, gender equality and overall development partnerships.
These businesses strive to positively impact these areas at the community, local and national levels, recognizing that doing so is good for their business in many ways (or else why would they do it) and also good for the communities and countries in which they work.
The impact areas of these private sector social responsibility investments closely maps the impact areas outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and anticipated impact areas of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The MDGs and SDGs serve to guide the development activities of the member countries of the United Nations and the vast majority of development NGOs and organizations. Every member country approved the MDGs at a special Millennium Session of the United Nations. Official Development Agencies (ODA), national governments, multi-lateral and international organizations and NGOs focus development efforts on MDG/SDG focus areas such as education, health, poverty alleviation and livelihoods, environment and gender equality
While the various private, public and civil society organizations noted above approach development with a focus on common areas and themes, they often bring unique skills, experience and capacities to the work. Coupled with the natural diversity of their organizations this should/could add a lot of value to development efforts.
They seem like natural partnerships, but chasms often separate the partners
In many cases this focus on common themes and areas appear complimentary and synergistic, at first glance, would seem to naturally invite partnerships and collaboration and the various sectors (e.g., ODA agencies, private sector companies, NGOs, etc.) even have stated goals of collaborating with each other in support of their development efforts.
Simple logic would suggest that collaboration would result in efficiencies and more and better development impact per dollar spent or effort expended for all parties.
That government, NGOs and industry would see a more and better impact for their spending and their efforts.
Yet, the reality is that, while there are notable exceptions, this collaboration is not easy to achieve.
Natural Partnerships are too often held back by seemingly unnatural partners
Whether on an individual project level or a strategic organizational level these natural partnership opportunities too often do not result in effective partnerships. Value is lost for the organizations involved but the real price is paid by their community partners who do not receive the full impact that they could have received had these natural partners found an effective way to collaborate.
Partnerships that fail to start or start and fail cost companies, communities, governments, NGOs and all stakeholders
The good news is that progress is being made. There is increasing collaboration amongst business, NGOs and development agencies.
ODA Agencies such as Germany’s GIZ, America’s USAID, Canada’s DFATD (formerly CIDA) and many others are developing and implementing programs that enable co-investing in development with private sector partners.
NGOs such as Care, World Vision, WUSC, Cordaid and many others are actively working to find productive ways of partnering with industry on CSR and development programs.
Companies such as Golden Star, Kosmos, Tullow, Newmont, Kinross, IAMGold and many others are working with NGOs and development agencies.
There are some great examples of success – for example see From Pariah to Exemplar: CSR & Stakeholder Engagement in Six Best Practices (here) for an analysis of a 2001 CIDA, Placer Dome, World Bank and various NGO partnership that was credited with ‘changing the social face of the South African mining industry’.
An early success and yet, the progress is, in my opinion, too slow.
Development Agencies often have approval and operational criteria that is slow, cumbersome and makes the cost of the partnership way too high.
NGOs too often struggle with fully embracing the value of partnering with the private sector and communicating that value effectively to their internal and external stakeholders, including especially individual and organizational donors.
Businesses struggle to accept and adapt to the execution speed, launch processes and reporting requirements of ODA agencies and NGO partners.
Much more can be done, and should be done.
A veteran of 20+ years of award winning CSR and sustainability work, Wayne Dunn is President & Founder of the CSR Training Institute and Professor of Practice in CSR at McGill. He’s a Stanford University Sloan Fellow with a M.Sc. in Management from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He develops and delivers training programs worldwide and consults on strategy, economics and operations to industry, government and international organizations. His work has won major international awards and has been used extensively as ‘best-practice’ by industry and academia, including being made into a Stanford Business School Case Study.