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Enhancing the Effectiveness of Sustainability Partnerships: Summary of a Workshop
partners expend a great amount of time and resources to create something that has not been done before, for which there are no sound blueprints. Through sheer commitment and several failed efforts, these cathedrals were built and those that survived continue to be inspirational. However, in the interests of conserving precious time and limited resources, are there ways to produce more efficiently, to learn from these earlier efforts, and begin learning to mass produce or scale up while still delivering on goals? Much of the panel discussion focused on the greatest challenge each partnership faced in co-producing, and how it dealt with this challenge. Subsequent discussion focused on the added value of a collaborative approach and the rationale for taking this approach despite the known challenges.
For Smithfield Foods, the greatest barrier was a legal one. Its initial partner, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, wanted it to begin reporting environmental impacts from its contract farms. However, corporations like Smithfield maintain a strict separation of responsibility from their contract farms, referred to as vertical integration. Through creative thinking between Smithfield and the Cummings Foundation, they developed a workaround that used a surrogate (a Smithfield corporate farm) and an externally developed reporting mechanism, which led them to approach an NGO with experience on this topic, Ceres. For the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG), the barrier was not a legal one per se, but energy policy in general was—surprisingly—the limiting factor. To overcome this, the partnership decided to expand its objectives and become involved in policy advocacy, which involved partners testifying in Congress and writing letters on behalf of the GPMDG. Progress in this regard was much more difficult to trace back to the partnership’s interventions, but partners felt that they needed to take a proactive approach if they were going to succeed in developing a market for green power. The other limiting factor GPDMG discovered was that it was meeting community resistance to projects it hoped to implement. The partnership had not considered engaging external actors, e.g., communities surrounding a green power project, but the GPMDG as a forum provided critical support and a learning mechanism on how partners could open up their “internal” goals and engage the communities productively.
The Multilateral Initiative on Malaria also cited community engagement as its greatest challenge, although in this case the specific community is African malaria researchers. Funding and initiatives are increasing in the field of malaria research, but little goes to building capacity for Africans, leading to a fear that the strong interest in the topic—and in MIM—is diluting the original intent of the partnership. MIM’s solution has been to invest in young African scientists, who become the new leadership, energy, ideas, and voice of African malaria research. This has also aided the secretariat as it transitions to an African country (Tanzania) for the first time.