BFP: What do you do?
DS: I am the Director of the Partnering Initiative, at the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF). IBLF is a forum of multinational companies focusing on critical sustainability, leadership and growth issues. IBLF works at the interface of business and society on the understanding that sustainable business requires sustainable societies and vice versa.
IBLF believes that for business and societies to be successful, we must redefine the concept of growth – an essential element of our capitalist society – to be smart, inclusive and responsible. It should be smart growth, in other words as efficient as possible, using as few resources as possible. It must be inclusive to ensure that as companies grow and prosper so do the communities and societies in which they operate grow and prosper. And it should be responsible, companies should ensure that their products or business models are not doing harm and instead can be forces for good. By redefining growth in this way it is possible for economies to grow, and companies to prosper without reaching limitations – whether these are natural resource limitations or societal challenges due to inequalities in society or due to the lack of education and skills. IBLF’s work is essentially about the convergence of business and societal interests.
IBLF was founded in 1991, we knew then that in order for this to happen business needed to work much more strongly and effectively with other sectors of society, with governments, the UN, NGOs. At a time when this was not a popular notion, IBLF very much pioneered the theory and practice of cross sector partnering, by going ahead and doing it. Succeeding sometimes, failing other times, but at all times learning from it, to really understand what it takes to make these forms of collaboration happen.
In 2004, based on a lot of the understanding and knowledge that we had gained, whilst also realising there was a huge amount still to learn, we created The Partnering Initiative, a specialist unit which aims to drive effective cross sector collaboration globally.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
DS: The work that we are doing has the potential of creating real innovation and sustainability. Any job that you do, that makes you feel you are part of a movement for positive change is hugely fulfilling. At its core what I do is help people achieve things they could never do alone – and that is exciting!
BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?
DS: The ultimate objective for the Partnering Initiative is for a much more collaborative society. So when development actors have a problem to solve, we would like them to think about a collaborative, all-of-society approach to the issue.
The challenges that businesses face are the same that society face – around rule of law, education and health and extreme poverty. All of which can prevent businesses from being able to expand into new markets. Business needs to understand that if it is going to be able to grow in these markets it needs to be part of helping to build a society where business can be a success. There is awareness to be raised on all sides -that we can genuinely achieve the win-win solutions we always talk about. People have been talking about this for 20 years. Partnering in Rio, for example, became huge yet again, where everyone was talking about the failure of governments and the need for much better cooperation amongst other sectors. However this rhetoric has outpaced the actual implementation of these partnerships very, very significantly.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges and what advice, would you give to others? What is the secret of your success?
DS: The Partnering Initiative (TPI) aims to make this rhetoric become a reality – to mainstream partnership. We believe that to achieve the necessary systemic shift, the issue must be addressed across four different levels:
- Individual: We need people who understand what partnering is about, who have the specific competencies and the skills set to be able to make the partnership happen and the mindset to be able to work effectively in partnership. This is a skill or competency set that is growing in importance and at some point will be just as mainstreamed as financial or IT skills in business, governments and NGOs.
- Organisational: In order for organisations to enter into business they need to be what we term “fit to partner”. They need to have in place the leadership and the mandate and the strategy around partnering. They need to have the incentives, systems and process for partnering in place and the skilled staff to be able to partner well.
- Partnership: Partnering across sectors is difficult. In most cases they take too long to set up, have too high transactions costs, run sub-optimally and are not achieving the significant potential they should, could and need it. So one of the things that TPI does is help partnerships form much quicker by helping to broker and facilitate the partnerships. And through health checks, evaluation and review, and trouble-shooting we help partnerships to remain effective.
- Societal: We need many, many more partnerships. What’s missing is a systematic approach to making that happen. This means creating the incentive, the awareness, the capacity and the opportunity globally and in-country for these partnerships to take place. If everyone understands what the benefits of partnering are, has the capacity to partner and the appropriate spaces made for dialogue and the partnerships are then supported, then there is a huge potential for scaling up the number of partnerships.
TPI already works at all four of these levels and has learned a great deal from the experience. We are developing highly ambitious plans to achieve scale through a number of innovative approaches in partnership with others. The ultimate aim is to build a neural network of individuals and organisations who are able to support partnering at each of these four levels. We’ll be holding an event in London in October for organisations from all sectors where we’ll be thinking big – how to systematically embed collaboration across the world.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
DS: In terms of career path, my advice would be whichever sector you work in, find opportunities to work with or in other sectors. If you work in a business, then perhaps consider some kind of volunteering in a charity or a secondment to a government agency, so you can understand how other sectors work and think.
You’ll also need a number of soft skills such as relationship building and empathy- being able to understand people’s different perspectives. As well as being able to listen and a desire to embrace diversity.
In terms of educational training, The Partnering Initiative runs a range of partnering courses including The Certificate in Partnering Practice, which gives people a strong introduction to the theory and practice cross-sector partnering. Our sister organisation, the Partnership Brokers Association, which came out of IBLF, runs more specialised courses, focussing on the skills a broker would use to help a partnership happen. We are also hoping to develop a postgraduate certificate in partnering, similar to the one we used to run with Cambridge University.
BFP: Finally, what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
DS: It’s just brilliant to be part of a community of likeminded, interested and intelligent people who genuinely want to make a difference. The topic that we’re dealing with is complex and difficult. To have a community with which to share and to learn makes an enormous difference.
TPI is planning an event in October “Turning the rhetoric into reality: How to systematically drive effective cross-sector collaboration globally”. The event is for organisations from all sectors who believe in the power of collaboration and want to make it happen systematically. If you would like to join the event, please contact Francesca Rhodes and you will receive an invitation once the date is set.
Thank you to Darian Stibbe for taking the time to do this interview.