Today, we need to have not only a compass and a radar to navigate the accelerated present we are living in, but also a smart approach to mobilizing likeminded and often less traditional partners for action and collaboration. In this day and age, a company, or even a sector, cannot tackle alone the challenges we all face. The most successful and progressive leaders have built an ecosystem of innovative partners – private sector peers, multilateral agencies, NGOs, academic networks, tech disruptors & innovators and more. Our partnerships and global engagement work at APCO focuses on building and activating a unique ecosystem and network of innovative organizations working at the forefront of critical issues on the global agenda today, from climate action & circular economy to future of work & up/re-skilling to economic prosperity, gender, equality and more.
I had an opportunity recently to shape and lead a fascinating discussion that brought together leaders that drive innovative, business and societal impact-focused partnerships at Airbnb, Inter-American Development Bank, Meta and 500 Start Ups. Here are a few key trends and insights from our conversation:
- A cross-functional mindset: Strategic partnerships often sit within either business development, corporate affairs or social impact functions of an organization. Sometimes it is a standalone unit that creates value for the entire organization, or a function in each business line or department. Increasingly, ability to identify a common agenda and broader strategic partnerships is becoming a must-have muscle, irrespective of where one sits. For example, 500 Start Ups is working on that mission at scale, where its broader network of new ventures helps large multinationals – from Visa to GM and Petronas identify new growth areas. Through its work IDB’s Natural Capital Lab helps translate the impact of climate change challenges to each audience it brings to the table, from policy-makers and local leaders to communities of fishermen in vulnerable coastal areas to private sector investing in infrastructure and local business. A shared vision on what’s at stake can serve as a powerful Rosetta Stone.
- Bringing your organization’s assets to the table: Some of the more successful partnerships help accelerate broader strategic objectives and organizational missions. In case of Meta (still FB, at the time of our session), its social impact team leveraged company’s existing products tools – from fundraising and charitable giving to community building and data analytics to help non-profit partners scale their capabilities and reach. Airbnb partnered with local tourism authorities in India and South Africa to better understand the pain points of local communities, subsequently launching the Airbnb academies, focused on skills building and training for the next generation of tourism entrepreneurs.
- New frontiers in collaboration: A number of organizations are starting to co-invest with their social impact partners, creating longer term “skin in the game” for partners, whereas multilateral organizations are expanding existing and bringing new tools for collaboration with the private sector, from more traditional grants, funds and loans to new insurance vehicles and moonshot grants.
- Strategic partnerships as ESG accelerators: In my experience, one of the more challenging first steps in finding the right partner is assessing the common denominator and priority criteria. Often these focus on mission alignment and partner’s ability to extend your organization’s knowledge, network, capacity and impact. Our team is grounding the partnerships and platforms engagement work in critical issues that are impacting our society today. Sustainable Development Goals have often been used as a litmus test for progress and a mobilizing factor for a number of cross-sectoral players. Increased momentum on ESG and how the private sector is measuring (and being measured) on critical commitments underscores the importance of joining forces with organizations and broader coalitions, like Mission Possible that can help accelerate a net zero transition or One-Ten that can advance diversity, equity and equality commitments.
- Leveraging global agenda-setting moments: Timelines and global agenda deadlines on the one hand can serve a catalyzing role in bringing critical organizations together – at the UN Food Summit, General Assembly, COP or the G-20. The year seems to be punctuated with key stock-taking opportunities, while some initiatives take much longer to incubate and achieve meaningful results. Building trust with partners in the early stages and throughout the collaboration is essential to long term success, while key global events can create unique opportunities for shared advocacy.
- Making progress and evaluating success: Creating initial low-stakes partnership pilots that can allow organizations coming to the table to iterate quickly, evaluate and potentially change course has been helpful in structuring more durable long-term initiatives. Measuring progress can often be challenging, especially in isolating the impact that is attributable to successful partnership. It is equally important to articulate a quantifiable real world impact – number of new jobs, ecosystems restoration, new skills or behavioral and mindset shifts.
For more insights, watch the full session: