By Jenny Ekelund, TPI Associate
What can the international partnering landscape tell us about cross-sector partnerships for sustainable development? When setting up a new initiative, understanding what has gone before is arguably as important as local context and future ambition.
TPI’s new Business Partnership Action (BPA) Initiative supports the creation of locally-owned and run country-level platforms or Hubs that facilitate innovation and directly support partnerships between companies, international agencies, government and NGOs to achieve sustainable development priorities. Zambia is host to one of the pioneering Hubs, and the Zambia Business in Development Facility (ZBiDF) will focus on partnerships in manufacturing, tourism, extractives and agriculture.
As the ZBiDF sets out its programme, the Hub’s partnership brokers were particularly keen not to reinvent the wheel. Just as the concept of partnering in Zambia is not new, and there are existing initiatives to be built upon and complemented, there is a plethora of international case studies to be learnt from. In what ways have partnerships successfully unleashed the power and resources of business on poverty reduction and other development goals, while achieving business benefits?
A piece of research work was carried out to dig up examples of cross-sector partnering for development from around the world. TPI’s Stuart Reid has already blogged on strategies for building a successful platform for partnership. We wanted to understand more specifically what good practice looked like for the Hub’s four focus sectors- but also learn from others’ experiences. What partnership models work best? What pitfalls might we encounter and how can they be mitigated? In other words- the process was as interesting as the result.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is difficult to find publicly available, good quality sources that go beyond reporting outcomes and impacts of partnerships and delve into the process that was followed, complete with highs and lows. However, those that are freely available have some valuable points to share. The following insights emerged:
Where challenges threaten to derail a fledgling partnership, it is valuable to focus on securing one initial win. This was a theme for many of the sectors studied, but particularly well illustrated by this tourism development initiative in Indonesia, where the ILO supported partnership’s success was aided by a willingness to be flexible and achieve one goal at a time- the mantra being ‘positive events lead to other positive events.’
Partnerships where the private sector contributes knowledge or resources that are core to their business are more powerful. This was particularly evident in manufacturing, demonstrated by UNIDO brokered partnerships featuring the Volvo supported vocational training academy in Ethiopia and Scania’s Industrial Training centre in Iraq. In both cases, the companies provided curriculum input, apprenticeships and technical equipment as well as funding, working in conjunction with government ministries and local training colleges. UNIDO’s library of case studies is impressive and well worth browsing for further insights.
In agriculture, the challenge of linking smallholder farmers to markets was a recurring theme and one which partnering seems well placed to address. The most inspiring partnerships took a holistic approach- linking smallholders together in professionally managed hubs to address market access issues as well as providing training to improve quality and yield. A Grow Africa facilitated partnership in Burkina Faso supported a local entrepreneur to set up a distribution centre and field school for sesame and black-eyed pea growers across 50 villages. The partnership is now working with an expert NGO on an inclusive business model which allows smallholders to become shareholders. This case study, and many other useful examples can be found in Grow Africa’s 2013-14 agricultural partnerships report.
Several successful mining partnerships focused on enterprise development: decreasing the community’s reliance on mining income whilst simultaneously strengthening the SME sector. In South Africa, Anglo American’s Zimele fund, a long-established and much imitated model which has been adopted by the World Bank, owes its success to a comprehensive incubator approach. Zimele combines funding with hands-on, practical support for entrepreneurs. One of the key success factors is that Zimele takes a stake in the SME, thereby risks are shared and the fund takes a proactive interest in the firm’s progress. In this case, the primary partnership exists between Zimele and the entrepreneurs it supports, helping to ensure long-term commercial viability and sustainable growth.
These are interesting and encouraging reports from the international partnering frontline- but the importance of local perspective is key. The next step will be for the ZBiDF to take this knowledge and tailor it to the Zambian environment and to initiatives already underway. It is a challenge the team is keen to take up.