Upcoming Online Event: Business / Donor Partnerships for System-Level Impact
As part of Business Fights Poverty NYC Online 2020, Bayer, Mastercard, The European Commission, The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Unilever, USAID and The Partnering Initiative are sharing their insights during the webinar and online peer discussion to explore Business / Donor Partnerships for System-Level Impact. The webinar will take place on Friday, 25th September 2020 at 8.30AM EDT / 1.30PM BST, followed by 30 minutes Peer Discussion ending at 10AM EDT / 3PM BST.
Register here to attend.
The following blog by Darian Stibbe, Executive Director of TPI complements the theme of the event:
As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach that man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Of course, the aphorism is too simplistic to reflect the complexity of the real world. It could only work if the man happens to: live by a thriving lake with a fish stock so sustainable it’s able to support the needs of all the other people who have been taught to fish; have access to and be able to afford to purchase and upkeep the necessary equipment to be able to fish; have the time to be able to spend fishing while also holding down a job that brings sufficient income for his family; have a security net of family or community-based support which would feed him when he is sick or old and cannot fish; and have refrigeration or other means of preservation for the weeks when the lake is too stormy to fish. And he must really, really like eating fish.
Business sustainability investments and international development generally is littered with examples where simplistic solutions to complex problems fail to deliver lasting change: schools being built to improve education only to find there aren’t sufficient teachers to teach in them; training up teachers in rural areas only to find they migrate to the city where opportunities are brighter.
For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. H.L. Mencken
Systems approaches appreciate that we live in a complex, interconnected world (a ‘system’). They attempt to model a defined part of the overall system, understand the variety of complex, interconnected entities and factors within it, and use a range of levers to adjust different aspects of the system simultaneously and adaptively.
System transformation aims to use these levers to shift a system from an unsustainable (in economic, social or natural resource usage terms) situation to a sustainable (or at least more sustainable), ongoing situation. In other words, it attempts to tackle the underlying causes and leave behind a self-sustaining, resilient legacy where little or no further action, and no ongoing external inputs, are necessary.
Transforming a system will usually require significant energy and resources, particularly where there is strong inertia or opposition to change. However, once transformation has taken place, the benefits (the difference between the system operating sustainably and unsustainably) will continue to accrue indefinitely. For example, Europe’s switch from using incandescent lights to LED lights took a huge investment, including the political investment (regulations to outlaw incandescent lights); research investment to develop new technologies; business investment to develop new factories and adjustment of whole supply chains and new marketing materials; and consumer acceptance. However, the benefits (notably, a massive reduction in electricity usage for lights) accrue every year, with no significant further investment required. Hence, the initial investment required becomes smaller and smaller in comparison with the benefits gained.
Multi-stakeholder partnerships are a powerful mechanism to achieve transformation, as they can collectively bring to bear a whole range of different levers from all sectors of society. Government can bring their powers of policy and taxation to create incentive for change through both carrot and stick. Government and private sector can bring investments in infrastructure: water, transport, energy, factories etc. Finance can be brought by private investors, by donors, by development banks. Business, civil society organisations and governments can all influence behaviour through company marketing, through media, through education. Social enterprises and traditional companies can bring commercially viable approaches that have the potential to deliver at scale. Companies and government labs can bring innovative technologies. And all sectors have access to data which, when combined, can itself be hugely powerful.
While system transformation partnerships are an essential mechanism if we are to deliver real, lasting change, they are not to be entered lightly. They require a long term commitment from all involved – something that can be challenging for both public and private alike. They need ‘systems’ leadership to be able to engage widely and collectively create a vision for the future. And they must continually monitor and iterate as they go along to be able to navigate and create change within the complexities of the system.
*This article has been adapted from: The SDG Partnership Guidebook: A practical guide to building high impact multi-stakeholder partnership for the Sustainable Development Goals
 A similar analogy, in animated form, has been made by Duncan Green.
How can I be a part of the conversation?
Please join us for our webinar on Friday, 25th September 2020 at 8.30AM EDT / 1.30PM BST, followed by 30 minutes Peer Discussion ending at 10AM EDT / 3PM BST.
Hear from the expert panel
- Bonnie Glick, Deputy Administrator, USAID
- Dr Matthias Altmann, Policy Officer, DG DEVCO, European Commission
- Payal Dalal, Senior Vice President, Social Impact, International Markets, Center for Inclusive Growth, Mastercard
- Rebecca Marmot, Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever
- Mita Samani, Head of Private Sector Department, UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
- Helga Flores Trejo, Vice President, Global Public Affairs International Organizations, Bayer
Moderator: Darian Stibbe, Executive Director, The Partnering Initiative