Photo credit: Nicola Corby
Reflecting on the events that I was privileged to attend during UN week in New York, I was struck by the immense potential that exists to crack the code for scalable business to business partnerships that directly aim to address the Millennium Development Goals through inclusive business practices. While examples of effective public private partnerships in this space seem to be growing, business-to-business partnerships appear to mostly struggle to get past the conceptualization or ideas phase. These types of partnerships are essential if we are to see accelerated progress against some of the MDGs such as poverty alleviation.
At a Business Call to Action event titled ‘Enhancing Value Through Inclusive Business Strategies’, Ted London of University of Michigan Ross School of Business spoke of the need not just for ‘new ventures at the base of the pyramid but for better ventures’.
Across Sub Saharan Africa, in my experience, there are significant numbers of private sector initiatives focusing on different components of the MDGs that are effective in their own right. However, in general, there is little evidence of coordination between these initiatives – meaning fragmented efforts that may or may not address the most critical issues. While there are a number of underlying reasons for this situation, one is that business collaboration of this nature is still a relatively new concept that has to be better developed and for want of a better word, ‘sold’ to the private sector.The debate about the role of business in society has come a long way in the last few years and B2B partnerships represents a significant opportunity in the evolution of this framework.
In order for us to seize this opportunity we need to create a framework for ‘champions’ within the private sector to be able to develop these models. Mostly they do not progress past ‘good ideas’ because the practitioners tasked to drive the initiatives forward are often not equipped with the experience to move forward to action.
One area where organisations do currently coordinate well at a local level is through industry associations where they may have a collective goal to address policy issues that could negatively or positively affect their industry. In other words there’s a clear common goal with a clearly articulated outcome. Creating these same conditions – could provide a clue as to how to create more B2B partnerships related to inclusive business projects.
In these early stages as we aim to create some success stories, it is likely that an intermediary organization or individual able to facilitate that common ground could be a vital ingredient to develop practical ideas. Let’s call that individual a broker.This is where the public sector and civil society could play a role – either as the ‘broker’ or in supporting the ‘broker’.Defining those roles clearly and equipping people to play those roles would be a key next step in developing a framework for action.
At a local level, the use of economic and social data could also be useful in mobilising the private sector. From experience there is often data available related to key development issues but it is not always packaged in a user friendly way. Business leaders generally respond positively to a fact-driven argument and data that presents the need, as well as maps out the unique roles that different organisations could play in addressing the need could be a significant tool for the ‘broker’ to create the platform for collective action. In addition to B2B partnerships I can also envisage high impact public/private/private + partnerships making a significant contribution.
Developing effective B2B partnerships is going to require specific focus, energy and a good measure of old fashioned resilience. The code has not yet been cracked, which means space for pioneers both internal to organisations and outside to seize the opportunity.