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Leaderships Perspectives: towards new models of collaboration
Working with others lies at the heart of all Oxfam’s efforts to overcome poverty and suffering worldwide. It is only by building relationships to support the actions of poor and marginalised people and communities that the necessary conditions will be created for sustainable change and development.
Oxfam is increasingly engaging with business in recognition of the critical role that the private sector can play in delivering positive development outcomes, particularly when they invest in sectors or regions that are important for growth, job creation, women’s empowerment and poverty reduction.
For example, in Ethiopia, Oxfam and its partners are working with Ambrosia, a honey-processing company, which has invested in a training school to give local women access to new skills and technology. With the help of loans from micro-finance institutions, women have been able to invest in new types of beehive, boosting productivity and increasing household incomes. In north-west Tanzania, Oxfam is working with a sisal processing, manufacturing and marketing company to set up 15 small processing plants in local villages. Up to 8,100 smallholders, processors and their families will benefit.
When working together, the motivations of business and civil society organisations will not always be fully aligned. However, joint action, guided by a clear common goal, and based on mutual respect and trust, can produce positive results. Oxfam has identified five key principles for successfully working with others, whether from civil society or business, as follows:
These principles underpin the commitment by Unilever and Oxfam to work together over the next five years to explore, develop and implement innovative sourcing models that link smallholder farmers into Unilever’s supply chain. After pilot studies to validate the feasibility of the project from both commercial and developmental perspectives, we are developing a project in Azerbaijan to source dried vegetables for use in soups and stocks, and working to identify a second country, in Africa, to replicate the same approach. The collaboration draws on Unilever’s expertise in agronomy, technical assistance and, above all, in ensuring sustainable commercial outcomes, together with Oxfam’s experience in gendered community and rural enterprise development, facilitating multi- stakeholder partnerships, improving smallholder services and the enabling environment.
Partnerships aren’t easy; they take time and resources, and require compromise on both sides. Not all NGOs and not all businesses are convinced that the potential benefits of working together outweigh the costs and risks. But Oxfam’s experience to date has produced both some interesting learning and tangible positive impacts.
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