It’s a given that collaboration is a potent accelerator for progress, particularly when it comes to delivering change in solving other big global problems, such as hunger, mental health, literacy and climate change mitigation. That goes some way to explaining why a multitude of sources put the sustainable development goal SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals, at the top of their priority list. Put simply, SDG17 is about strengthening and streamlining cooperation, using the SDGs as a shared framework and a shared vision for defining a collaborative way forward.
Evidence shows that one of the rare bright sides of the pandemic is that it has increased the pressure on companies to collaborate for the greater good. Businesses have come together with a sense of urgency to help those most impacted in their value chains and communities. The pandemic has shown our interconnectedness and what we can achieve together.
The emerging spirit of cooperation is evident in the number of private sector companies that have collaborated with charities to increase social impact efforts. As Siena Parker, head of creative responsibility at Penguin Random House UK, explains: “Charities and businesses working in partnership can provide vital levels of support in times of need and they can also drive more systemic and widespread positive change, which ultimately offers business benefits too.”
At Penguin, this has seen an increase in collaboration to help raise literacy, particularly among more disadvantaged communities, as well as helping to improve diversity in the literature taught in schools. “We see investing in this area as not just the right thing to do, but also a unique opportunity for us, both as a book publisher and a brand,” says Parker.
Like so many things in business, collaborating with other organisations gives you a far greater impact than what you can do alone. A readiness to collaborate with other organisations, whether competitors, charities or third-party organisations, will only multiply the impact a business can have in their community, at the same time as building organisational resilience…something increasingly expected by employees, customers and shareholders.
When companies, academia, government, civil society and other groups come together to deliver on a common purpose it is a great recipe for holistic thinking. Diversity of perspectives is a powerful way to develop new solutions to the big problems we all face. When such collaboration is well-orchestrated, its potential to address systemic challenges can be remarkable.
More and more evidence is showing that we may not be able to meet the greatest societal and planetary challenges without cooperation. The remarkable power of networks to accelerate cooperation and progress on sustainable development is well documented.
Some notable examples of effective collaboration include:
🔶 Google, the University of Maryland, and Global Forest Watch in a collaboration to offer free forest-monitoring support for tropical nations. The aim is to help forest managers and law enforcement agencies identify deforestation threats and protect endangered forests
🔶 USAID has partnered with more than 150 of the world’s top companies, political leaders, and financial institutions to bring online 30,000 megawatts of cleaner and more renewable energy, to connect 60 million new homes and businesses and to promote gender equality and female empowerment
🔶 The Green Climate Fund has partnered with international and national commercial banks, multilaterals, regional and national development finance institutions, equity fund institutions, UN agencies, and civil society. The aim is to deploy a range of financing instruments to catalyse climate innovation, test new business models, and crowd-in private finance. There are also plans to establish a dedicated Private Sector Facility to engage the private sector in climate finance and de-risk private investment.
🔶 The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Roadmap to Zero Programme saw a collaboration between brands, manufacturers, chemical companies, NGOs and others across the apparel and footwear value chain. All parties worked together to successfully eliminate 11 substances harmful to consumers, workers and the environment.
🔶 Next Wave is a consortium of multinational technology and consumer brands collaborating to rapidly decrease the volume of plastic litter entering the ocean by developing the first global network of ocean-bound plastic supply chains.
🔶 The Closed Loop Fund leads collaborations between brands, investors, NGOs and industry leaders to identify, test and scale solutions that solve material challenges and advance the circular economy.
🔶 Field to Market is a well-established multi-stakeholder collaboration driving sustainability in the food system. They openly share plans on how they use their unique levers to drive racial justice via proactive partnerships with organisations representing Black farmers.
🔶 We Mean Business is a cross-sector collaboration designed to raise the bar for leadership and send a signal that the private sector is not only acting on climate but also that it expects government and other stakeholders to act as well, moving all of society along.
🔶 The Collective is a network of senior leaders who seek to integrate sustainability more deeply and ambitiously within their companies and catalyse greater collective action in the transition to sustainability.
The call for more collaboration initiatives as a key solution to the climate crisis is coming from every angle. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, itself a collaboration, issued a Building Back Better policy brief for governments, which is peppered throughout with calls for more collaboration and partnership. In their book The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac issue an urgent call for collaboration to not just avoid the worst of climate change, but to co-create a thriving society and planet.
It is evident that the urgency of our collective challenges means that we must accelerate action by collaborating and working together. What examples have you seen of effective collaboration for social good?
A former organic farmer and environmental campaigner, Mat is now head of partnerships and engagement for an inclusive collaboration technology called Axis. The Axis mission is to help businesses and individuals tackle the big issues - sustainability, diversity & inclusion, and the new hybrid world - by helping them connect, collaborate, communicate and partner with impact.