CB: I lead global partnership development efforts at FSG with a focus on one of our core programs: the Shared Value Initiative. As we explore and outline the contours of the emergent field of shared value, we have to engage a wide range of constituencies—companies, nonprofits, government, and more. Exploring shared opportunities and challenges across these diverse partners illuminates partnership opportunities that support competitiveness and business ROI while simultaneously solving a social or environmental challenge.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
CB: Our shared value field-building and advocacy efforts have included developing a network of consulting affiliates trained on shared value strategy. The Consulting Affiliate Network now counts more than 50 firms from 30 countries. I am continually inspired by the work these firms are leading, as well as by the chance to explore opportunities in such a wide range of markets. The Network provides us with the unique ability to zoom in on local shared value knowledge, as well as zoom out for a more complete picture across all Affiliates and field-building partners.
BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?
CB: Two things come to mind: 1) a steep learning curve on how to build and advance a movement; and 2) identifying and nurturing shared value champions.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? What advice, would you give to others?
CB: On the learning curve, our approach has been to invest time and resources in prototyping field-building activities, fail and adapt quickly, and move on. In many ways it’s a nod to the fact that the Shared Value Initiative team is based in San Francisco and Boston—both hubs for knowledge, learning, and innovation. For example, we tried to launch an executive education course on shared value in 2013. While companies were interested, a groundswell of interest actually came from the nonprofit sector. Rather than start with an executive education for corporate practitioners, we altered course and are testing a shared value affinity group for large international NGOs.
On identifying champions, it was easy at the outset to default to shared value conversations with regular contacts in corporate philanthropy and CSR. Yet the real opportunity with shared value lies in using core business assets and expertise to create new products and services, unlock value chain productivity, and enable healthy business environments. We have found that finding and nurturing these champions has taken us outside our comfort zone with traditional constituencies – and that has had a tremendous impact on our learning.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
CB: A common thread throughout my career—from the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam to BSR to FSG—has been a passion for finding compelling ways to engage business in solving societal problems. For the past decade, leading this work within consulting firms as a non-consultant has been a fascinating perch from which to explore strategic partnerships that aren’t immediately apparent to consultants who move from project to project. I would encourage anyone interested in thinking about strategic partnerships to actively build and cultivate their professional network from the very beginning. I have a list of roughly 50 “influencers” who I actively stay in touch with regardless of whether they are a client or not.
BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
CB: Access to and partnership with a group of idealists and practitioners who punch holes in our early concepts and ensure we are learning from others and not wasting time reinventing the proverbial wheel.
Thank you to Chad Bolick for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.