Partnerships for Sustainability: Examining the Evidence Background paper prepared for the symposium
The National Academies
Despite the substantial body of experience with partnerships for sustainability, there has been considerably less knowledge generated concerning when and where the partnership approach might be most appropriate. This paper attempts to synthesize lessons emerging from relevant case studies on sustainability partnerships, drawing primarily from 11 papers commissioned as part of the National Academies’ project to examine lessons learned, and supplemented with additional review papers and existing scholarly work. Partnerships offer several advantages over their more conventional alternatives, chiefly, resource mobilization, civil society engagement, and integrated “end-to-end” systems. Problem definition is a critical early stage for partnerships, and will determine who ought to be involved. Engaging potential end users and small shareholders (e.g., local farmers) is often essential. Understanding partners’ incentives to participate is also an important success factor, since these drive the partnership activities. Benefits accruing from reputation appear to be a substantial motivation that is generally overlooked. The important role for national governments also tends to be underestimated or at least not fully realized as partnerships become operational. Effective partnerships tend to benefit from a flexible coordinating body (e.g., a secretariat) that facilitates the work of the partnership without overtaking it. Accountability is a potential weak point for partnerships, but in reality, partnerships generally entail multiple layers of accountability. However, there is still considerable room for improvement in the areas of monitoring, evaluation, and communicating these results to bolster credibility. This paper is divided into three sections: (1) insights into
the contributions of partnerships to a sustainability transition; (2) common themes from partnership experience; and (3) observations on the different classes or types of partnerships.
THE ROLE OF PARTNERSHIPS IN A SUSTAINABILITY TRANSITION
Partnerships and Sustainability Challenges
To most partnership practitioners, the question of whether or not partnerships are uniquely suited to address complex sustainability challenges seems to have an obvious answer: of course they are. However, the world of partnerships is not without its skeptics, and despite trends indicating that partnerships are on the rise, there are many within government, business, IGOs, and NGOs who remain unconvinced. The general benefits that partnerships offer are fairly well known, but whether or not they consistently deliver on these potential benefits is another matter. They are being promoted as a way to fill gaps, particularly the “implementation gap” between what is agreed upon and what is taking place. It has been noted that top-down planning has not been bringing about substantive on-the-ground change, and that there is a disconnect between national strategies and the political will and resources needed to carry these out (Scherr and Gregg, 2006). Moreover, global agreements generally lack the context and level of detail necessary to effect change at the local level (Hale and Mauzerall, 2004). Thus, partnerships seem to hold the promise of matching global and national strategies with the resources and expertise on the ground to realize sustainable development objectives, such as those of the Millennium Development Goals. At a functional level, multi-stakeholder partnerships have been in use for decades to deliver services and implement projects, and increasingly, they are forming at local and regional scales to address sustainability challenges. Despite this substantial body of experience, there has been considerably less knowledge generated concerning when and where the partnership approach might be most appropriate.
In her review of locally organized partnerships, Julia Steets notes that few of these locally driven efforts target areas such as health, and tend to cluster in areas such as agriculture and employment (Steets, 2005). This raises the question as to whether or not certain sustainability issues lend themselves to partnering. Posed a slightly different way, which issue areas require some form of partnering if they are to be sufficiently addressed? Given the regional nature of so many environmental and development challenges, it seems that a partnership approach that works beyond political boundaries is often the most efficient way to engage the right stakeholders and to craft solutions. The Sustainable Silicon Valley partnership provides
a useful example. Here, stakeholders from all different sectors and political jurisdictions are working together, motivated by shared regional concerns (initially, energy security, but later, water supply and urban sprawl) rather than a top-down directive.
The term “public–private partnership” in a development context used to elicit cautious responses, if not total opposition. This is based largely on failed attempts at full privatization of vital services; water being the most contentious. However, existing partnerships are quick to point out their distinction from privatization efforts, many of which were imposed rather than voluntarily formulated. Public–private partnerships in water, sanitation, and numerous other sectors have formed not only as a way to deliver services more efficiently, but also to attract private investment in areas in which the public sector has either lagged or is currently incapable of providing the necessary resources. Major global partnerships such as the SEED Initiative and Global Water Challenge have helped shine the light on these public–private partnerships. In fact, the subtext of this trend toward partnering has been an effort on the part of governmental and non-governmental actors to engage the private sector more directly in sustainable development efforts. This has also often required the public and civil society organizations to take a results-oriented approach, which businesses tend to favor.
One issue ripe for more public–private partnering is sustainability standards and certification. Certification schemes and standards already exist for many goods and production practices, but their sustainability “credentials” vary widely, as do their goals (e.g., organic versus fair trade). What is clear is that the most credible schemes involve independent verification, and to be widely effective, they must have buy-in from all stakeholders. Niche standards, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Standards, are a positive first step, but the challenge is in scaling these up to the level of industrywide standards. The Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) represents one such effort, and although it has taken years to develop and is too young to fully evaluate its impact, it is nonetheless instructive. Within the private sector there is an increasing focus on supply chain issues, requiring corporations, both large and small, to look “upstream” to find ways to cooperate with partners.
Partnerships also offer several advantages over their more conventional alternatives. In addition to tapping into multiple sources of expertise, they facilitate access to different levels of expertise, which aids the diffusion of knowledge and learning (Andonova and Levy, 2003). They are well positioned to engage civil society, in both problem definition and implementation, both of which are critical prerequisites for assuring on-the-ground results (Scherr and Gregg, 2006). Moreover, they are also an avenue for local and regional action, even in the presence of deadlocks or inaction at higher levels (Andonova and Levy, 2003). Of course, this is manifesting
itself in the United States in the proliferation of climate change partnerships, which are progressing in the absence of clear federal mandates. At an international level, partnerships can serve a unique yet often underappreciated role in transformational diplomacy (U.S. Department of State, 2008). Complementing traditional channels, international partnerships provide a form of soft power that can yield benefits not only for security, but also for economics and general sustainability. Quantifying these benefits in comparison to measurable outputs is difficult but should not be overlooked. Finally, partnerships offer the opportunity to operationalize capacity-building efforts, which are consistently identified as a critical need for sustainable outcomes. As will be explored later, partnerships with plans to scale up or replicate successes should consider capacity building a central tenet of all their activities, not just an additional one-off exercise.
Partnerships as a Means Rather Than an End
Over the past several decades, governmental organizations, businesses, and NGOs have formed alliances to address specific challenges. This straightforward, utilitarian approach reflected the notion that a partnership across sectors was a means to an end. Partners were strategically selected based on their overlapping interests and complementary core competencies. These partnerships might be viewed as the typical “win-win” situation in which partners can meet their individual goals more efficiently through an alliance. However, as more and more actors adopted this approach and it moved from being an anomaly to a trend, this notion of partnering as a means to an end slowly eroded. The WSSD unknowingly shifted this focus, encouraging many to believe that partnerships would help fill the “implementation gap” and thus were an end in themselves. Indeed, there was a rush to form partnerships that could be announced at WSSD, and several hundred were announced shortly thereafter (Andonova and Levy, 2003). The U.S. Agency for International Development offered financial incentives, competitively awarded, to public–private alliances, and organizations began building on successful early efforts and forming new partnerships. This, however, has made governments and corporations vulnerable to criticism that their partnering efforts are little more than “greenwashing” or diversions from implementation failures.
Transparent monitoring and evaluation could go a long way to discrediting these claims, but as many have noted (Hale and Mauzerall, 2004; Witte et al., 2003), these recently formed partnerships often measure success through soft, qualitative metrics that measure the partnering process more so than the outcomes it may generate. This is not unreasonable, since there is a great deal of inherent value that is forfeited if partners do not view their collaboration as an outcome (El Ansari et al., 2001). Still, this
adds credence to the claim that these new partnerships are more diversionary than visionary.
Nonetheless, it is useful to view partnerships as a means rather than an end. It should be noted that partners may have different “ends” in mind when forming an alliance, but as long as they are clear and open about their own incentives and goals, this is not an impediment to an effective partnership. Zadek et al. (2001) brilliantly separated out “endearing myths” from “enduring truths” about successful partnerships, and point out that partnering organizations need not share common interests or goals, so long as the partnerships contains the right combination of institutional mandates and delivery mechanisms to achieve the individual aims of each partner. Their efforts to decode private sector incentives also suggest that businesses are increasingly engaging in partnerships as a risk management strategy to develop new markets and to comply with legal obligations. Manga and Shah (2004) echo this in their examination of business-led partnerships and observe that corporate involvement, at least in the cases of successful efforts, is not focused on philanthropy.
Understanding the incentives of respective partners is a critical factor for success, as will be explored later. Partnerships target problems strategically, and cluster where interests overlap; in other words, they will not necessarily emerge in areas most in need, but where the incentives exist for collaboration (Andonova, 2006). Furthermore, “being in a partnership” is not the sort of incentive that will lead to a successful effort, and instead leaves partners open to criticism that the partnership is a substitute for meaningful individual action. Incentives will generally be unique to individual partners (e.g., a government agency has a mission it seeks to fulfill, while a corporation might be seeking to profit financially), although there are some common incentives, such as benefits associated with reputation and risk reduction, that can be generalized.
Partnerships, Science, and Technology
If one accepts that science and technology (S&T) have a critical role in meeting many sustainability challenges, then it is worthwhile to explore the relationship between partnerships and S&T. First, are partnerships particularly effective in validating the scientific merit of ideas or solutions? There are certainly examples of this being the case, although the process is much more nuanced than a simple validation. Partnerships offer the opportunity for more “end-to-end” systems, an alternative to the more typical stove-piped or unidirectional approaches to development. Specifically, they offer—and should be defined by—three important characteristics: user-driven problem definitions, ongoing user–producer dialogues, and a safe space for collaboration and innovation, all of which have been identified as
critical to better linking knowledge with action for sustainable development (NRC, 2006). Granted, not all partnerships exemplify these. In particular, many global partnerships continue to be criticized as “donor-driven” rather than demand- or user-driven. Nonetheless, the most successful partnership efforts will be the ones that engage end users at the outset in developing sustainable solutions, e.g., having farmers substantially involved in initial discussions of an agricultural program.
Research-oriented partnerships provide an opportunity to “fast-track” the validation process and more efficiently establish research priorities, combine basic and applied agendas, adapt to new learning, and move effective solutions into commercialization. In the U.S. experience, government laboratories, universities, and industries have a rich history of collaboration, and much of this experience is relevant to emerging sustainability challenges. The FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership is one such recent example, in which U.S. public and private partners are cooperating to support the wide variety of research needs to enable a transition to a sustainable transportation infrastructure (NRC, 2008). The Green Chemistry Institute provides another example of a sustainability challenge so complex that no actor could address it in isolation, and no amount of regulation could address all of the intricacies. Not all challenges require high-tech solutions, although indeed, there is likely much to be gained through a better understanding of low-tech, indigenous knowledge in several sectors, notably agriculture and health. Moreover, research partnerships need not be restricted to major national or global efforts, although the chronic underfunding of research and development into public goods is well known, and makes this an area to which it is difficult to attract private investment (which accounts for roughly 60 percent of total R&D expenditures, variable by country). Nevertheless, partnerships which engage the private sector early on stand a better chance of having their successes validated and potentially scaled up. The Alternatives to Slash and Burn Programme (ASB) provides an example of an integrated approach which has been able to link local knowledge and research with a more global agenda. Through its unique connection to global actors, ASB has conveyed information on smallholder and indigenous land systems which helped these systems become less marginalized or dismissed as “primitive” (Tomich et al., 2007).
This general movement toward more dynamic innovation systems, broadly referred to as open source, has branched out beyond its beginnings in the information technology community. Recent proposals for open-source approaches to drug design,1 “patent pools” to separate R&D
from drug production,2 and an “Eco-Patent Commons” to aid technology transfer3 all suggest that this open innovation approach is gaining traction, and partnerships will almost certainly be required to carry out such approaches. One might even argue that the whole partnerships movement, which encourages cross-sector collaboration to identify more effective solutions to sustainability challenges, is a form of open source. However, the success of open-source collaboration is predicated upon users all having the same access to information, and building upon that information. At the individual partnership level, partners that might otherwise be working on a solution in isolation can work collectively. Yet at the global level, it is indeed difficult to see how practitioners within these individual efforts are learning from other, similar efforts, leading to overall sectoral or systemic improvements. There are an increasing number of knowledge networks forming to link practitioners, but it is too soon to tell whether or not such networks are having a demonstrable impact on moving the field forward.
On the flip side, it is worthwhile to consider whether or not science is particularly conducive to partnerships. After all, science is by its nature international and thus amenable to global collaboration. Science also relies on common methods, holds basic values vital to effective partnerships (including accountability, transparency, and objectivity), and it speaks a common language (NSB, 2008). However, the language of the science and engineering community is not always effectively communicated outside of the community. Ultimately, science communication must improve to reach a broader audience if it is to have the impact that it promises. This is an area in which partnerships with other sectors can go a long way toward encouraging that change, as the scientific and engineering communities become increasingly engaged with non-technical audiences that have different needs and time frames.
Partnerships and Resource Mobilization/Expenditure
Resource mobilization is the most well-known potential benefit of partnerships. The most successful partnerships are generally well resourced and backed by high-level commitments from the leadership of all partnership organizations, which helps move the required resources. Resources go beyond financial contributions, although this is a significant factor, since most partners aspire to see their own funds leverage additional funding.
Partners also contribute in-kind resources and “core competencies,” the oft-cited unique qualities that actors in a particular organization or sector possess. Sometimes these core competencies are likely overstated and not leveraged to their full potential. Global Water Challenge partners from the private and NGO sectors expressed surprise that the private sector partners were not being asked to contribute field expertise or specific knowledge (e.g., of supply chain management) to projects. In the Sustainable Forest Products Global Alliance, managers commented on the difficulties of engaging local communities, an area in which USAID has considerable experience but which is apparently not feeding into the partnership. These and similar examples suggest that overcoming the traditional role of private sector and government partners as funders but not implementers is more difficult than anticipated.
Engaging the private sector appears to be a top priority for partnerships and organizations interested in partnering, yet progress on this front has been slow to materialize. Nonetheless, especially in the context of developing world challenges and emerging markets, there seems to be increasing evidence that private investment will play a crucial role in filling gaps and helping meet needs. Strengthening private sector participation has been a recurring theme at the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) meetings, echoed by both ministers and practitioners (ECOSOC, 2006). This is perfectly reasonable, given that foreign direct investment (FDI) outpaces official development assistance (ODA) by a factor of greater than 40 to 1. In fact, more than one-quarter of ODA is spent on improving the investment climate for private investment, and public–private partnerships may be a key tool in using future ODA to catalyze greater private investment (OECD, 2005). However, FDI is also notorious for seeking high returns and tends to concentrate in areas experiencing growth, not necessarily areas in need. Nonetheless, the partnership model offers one mode of guiding this investment into areas that are traditionally underserved. Industry likewise leads the way in supporting global R&D, though public sector support is nearly as much, and in many countries, is the primary funding source for R&D. Public sector funding can be more effective in guiding private investment to various R&D activities, particularly through partnerships, which are also well suited to identifying areas critical to sustainability, but are currently suffering from low investment.
To date, much attention has been focused on how to make the business case for the private sector to become involved in partnerships. This is natural at a project scale, and there are certainly numerous opportunities for entrepreneurial partnerships that can ultimately become self-sustaining. In fact, some partnership programs require that business partners take a financial self-interest in commercial success so that they take on entrepreneurial
risk, which is viewed as the best guarantee for sustainability of the project (Altenburg, 2005). However, there also appears to be a major opportunity to leverage another asset that corporations value—their reputation. As the Smithfield Foods case points out, companies are increasingly recognizing that their reputation is a significant and potentially growing percentage of their value. There also appears to be a trend in global companies addressing global challenges as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts (Hurrell and Tennyson, 2006). CSR is often dismissed as public relations or greenwashing, but the reality is more nuanced. Initiatives like Global Water Challenge (GWC), which is driven by major multinational corporations, represent the interrelation of economic and reputation risk; participating multinationals are major water consumers, and though they do not stand to profit directly from their involvement in the partnership, they nonetheless all cite important benefits to leading such an initiative. Companies, particularly global brands, tend to be highly conspicuous in the communities in which they operate, and therefore, if they are not viewed as part of sustainability “solutions,” then they are almost categorically labeled as part of the problem. Moreover, corporate action is based on risk assessment and calculation. In the case of GWC, corporate partners used risk assessment results to conclude that ensuring sustainable resource supplies meant that they would need to go beyond their four walls and proactively engage other community actors. Increasing the efficiency at a specific plant would mean little in the long term if a resource was being unsustainably exploited or polluted elsewhere in the region. By definition, however, global companies manage operations in multiple regions, and thus have the opportunity to effectively encourage or even require that sustainable production practices be implemented. Partnerships offer the means of engaging other regional and local stakeholders, seeking solutions with multiple ancillary benefits, and potentially leveraging public subsidies for projects, which is another attraction for the private sector (Andonova and Levy, 2003).
Often, FDI—and to a lesser extent ODA—are predicated on sound national governance, which provides a suitable investment climate. Sound and receptive governance is also usually cited as a critical factor in scaling up pilot projects. Linking national priorities (e.g., poverty reduction) to existing partnership efforts is one way to engage a national partner and access additional funding (Tomich et al., 2007). However, this also suggests that national governments participating in a partnership may also have an important but overlooked role in engaging counterpart governments (from developed and developing countries). To date, it is unclear to what extent development and diplomatic agencies are considering this as one
of their core competencies.4 Instead, asymmetries persist where national governments of developed countries partner with either international organizations or local partners. More attention to engaging host-country governments could yield substantial benefits.
Possible Success Factors and Areas for Improvement
Though partnering as a field is far too complex to have a blueprint for success, there are certain recurrent themes that can be broadly applicable. First, in almost every case, there seems to be an important role for a facilitating agent, both in brokering the partnership and in managing it once it is formed. It is no secret that partners often engage in these activities at the margins of their everyday work, making it especially difficult to keep everyone on the same page. There are examples of partnerships forming organically, a result of individual champions from several sectors converging on an issue and agreeing that they should somehow work together to address it. More often than not, though, there is at least a behind-the-scenes facilitator, which is either the first to recognize these synergies or is well-positioned to make the connections. Foundations and other NGOs can play this role well. Regardless of how the partnership forms, if it is to grow and become operational, it will rely on an able facilitator (which may be the broker or a newly created secretariat) to keep it functioning. Partnerships that fail to identify this facilitator role, or conversely, turn it over too quickly to an existing organization, tend to quietly fade away without realizing their full potential.
For each individual partner, it is useful to have “interface capacity” within their own institutions; this often requires some level of institutional reform, with the ultimate goal of integrating partnership-related work into the broader institutional framework (Witte and Reinicke, 2005). The partnership itself offers a safe space in which to be innovative and work across sectors (NRC, 2006), but without institutional support, the partners may find it difficult to marshal the resources necessary to be effective collaborators. This institutional support includes policies, knowledge, tools, and financial resources specifically dedicated to partnering. There is evidence of this happening within development agencies, the UN, the World Bank, and several other actors, but it is still likely an area for growth.
While it seems logical that partners would seek other partners based on ideal characteristics, such as their level of interface capacity, partners in fact select other partners not systematically, but by familiarity. Partners tend
to be building on existing relationships at the institutional and personal levels, whether these are formalized through other alliances, or less formal, such as participation in or joint sponsorship of events. This may be another important factor for success, since trust among partners appears to be the bedrock of effective partnering efforts (Hemmati, 2002; Tennyson, 2003). Trust-building can take years, and while it does not preclude previously unacquainted partners from successfully collaborating, it does allow those that have established that trust to quickly make a partnership operational. Even partners that might be described as strange bedfellows or adversaries can and do become effective partners, based in large part on an existing relationship and a level of mutual understanding. It is not imperative that partners be unified by a common goal. What is most important is finding the right combination of organizations to secure necessary institutional mandates and delivery mechanisms (Zadek et al., 2001).
Two classes of partners that are indispensable to effective partnerships are end users and local and small-share stakeholders. Depending on the partnership, these may be one and the same (e.g., a project to support small-share farmers). End users are on the demand side of the partnership equation, but many recent partnerships, particularly at the global level, have been accused of being donor-driven rather than demand-driven. Engaging end users at the outset is no small feat, as they are likely to be diffuse and may not be able to articulate their needs relative to what a partnership could deliver. Small-share and local stakeholders may have difficulty speaking with “one voice,” which can make an already fragmented system even more fragmented, but as partnership efforts such as the Common Code for the Coffee Community have shown, creative solutions such as holding pre-meetings specifically for these stakeholders to deliberate can yield important benefits. This also helps mitigate power imbalances resulting from large governments, NGOs, and corporations attempting to work hand in hand with less organized groups. In some cases, NGOs may be able to “represent” these interests, but in most cases, it is critical to engage the stakeholders more directly. Actively engaging local or small-share stakeholders also helps a partnership access indigenous knowledge, which can be crucial to both the success and the sustainability of an initiative. Engaging all relevant stakeholders also has implications for ownership and responsibility. In the Agua para Todos case, local ownership is identified as being particularly critical to the success of the partnership; local owners are true owners because they finance part or all of the water distribution networks in their communities. The Global Water Challenge also places an emphasis on local ownership and seeks to identify creative financing mechanisms to make this a reality.
While the next section addresses some more specific success factors and areas for improvement, one general area in need of improvement in
almost every partnership, and which has direct implications for how they define success in the first place, is partnership monitoring and evaluation. As has been suggested, there has been an emphasis on qualitative data and metrics, which might reflect success in terms of positive collaboration, but which give no indication of how successful the partnership has been as an intervention to deliver the goods. These metrics may be sufficient for the partners in a partnership to justify continuing their participation or replicating the experience, but they rarely offer enough justification for new organizations to enter the partnership, or for large agencies and corporations that are reviewing the role of partnerships in their strategic plans. This monitoring and evaluation area has many challenges, which will be explored in more detail shortly.
LESSONS FOR PRACTITIONERS
This section identifies some of the lessons from the partnership experience that cut across issue areas. There is a healthy body of literature on lessons learned for partnership practitioners, much of it coming out of the International Business Leaders Forum (e.g., Tennyson, 2003) and the Business Partners for Development (BPD) series, which itself grew out of a multi-stakeholder partnership.5 The following sections build on those early lessons and draw from the 11 commissioned case studies and other recent partnership reviews. In order to foster cross-cutting dialogue, it is organized into broad themes and attempts to identify some common challenges and potential solutions.
One of the first advantages that a partnership approach brings to sustainability challenges is that it can identify highly specific problems and solutions, which help make sustainability issues more tangible (Hale and Mauzerall, 2004). Providing a clearer directive is no small feat, given that sustainability challenges are often complicated by fragmented knowledge systems, a low demand for public goods, and a lack of clear leadership or authority guiding action (NRC, 2006). Therefore, the problem definition stage is critical because it determines who ought to be at the table. Effective partnerships have gone through this stage deliberatively, surveying what else is being done in the field, examining where partners’ comparative advantages may lie, understanding the context of the problem they seek to address, and engaging the right combination of partners. Involving end users at this stage is paramount. This appears to be a shortcoming of
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many existing partnerships—those characterized as donor-driven rather than needs-based—but addressing this early on helps identify appropriate solutions and avoids the proliferation of “solutions searching for problem.” The Multilateral Initiative on Malaria offers one example of this process. The partnership grew out of a series of deliberative meetings, beginning with major international health organizations, but informed by African scientists’ participation, organized into ten discussion groups to identify research priorities. The Global Water Challenge (GWC) developed its mission and objectives after a number of meetings with stakeholders to flesh out the most important issues that the partnership should address.
Effective problem definition must go beyond the general terms that are appropriate for a partnership’s motto or as bulleted points on an outreach brochure, but insufficient to articulate how the partnership itself is best suited to address the problem. In fact, partners need not be nor are they generally motivated by the same problem. This can be viewed as a strength rather than a weakness of partnerships. They can offer a synergy when partners face differentiated but interrelated problems in their own work streams, which together add up to a sustainability challenge. The important act is putting those pieces together. This goes back to the idea of a partnership as a means to an end whereby partners, in the right combination, have the necessary mandates and resources to jointly achieve their individual goals and the goals of the partnership (Zadek et al., 2001). The Green Power Market Development partnership was successful in framing its issue in a way that appealed to its corporate partners, and in pooling existing interest in renewable energy into a particular direction. Partners must also be cognizant of the fact that broadening their scope, or framing it slightly differently, can be an effective way to secure additional funding or support. In the Alternatives to Slash and Burn (ASB) partnership, the Cameroon government became involved once project goals, which had previously been focused on agriculture, were also linked to poverty reduction (Tomich et al., 2007).
It may be useful for partners to work on identifying a “solution” and then working backwards. This allows partners to envision the entire system within which they are working. The FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership is good example of this, where the various industry and government partners map out what a petroleum- and emissions-free transportation system in the United States might look like, and then identifying the steps needed to enable the various pathways and coordinating efforts in basic and applied science, along with policy development (NRC, 2008). Even localized challenges are often more complex than what a single on-the-ground project can address. Global Water Challenge (GWC) partners expressed interest in addressing the “root” of systemic problems in the water and sanitation sectors, and noted that project-centered approaches often repeated similar
mistakes without learning from one another, were not yielding transformative results, and generally did not consider the sustainability of the intervention. The ASB experience reflects this well, as its approach went through stages over the years, beginning with what partners characterized as “technological optimism,” which was replaced with “win-win” strategies (combining technological change with institutional reform), and ultimately became “negotiation support,” which included managing the conflicting interests and necessary trade-offs (Tomich et al., 2007). As will be explored later, partnerships need not endure forever, and in fact, this is generally not considered a long-term, sustainable solution. Thus, it is important that partners understand the systemic nature of the problems they seek to address, so that they can develop projects and interventions that will sustain themselves even if the partnership dissolves.
Incentives and Drivers
Partners come together for a variety of reasons, and so understanding these motivations is important, not only for the sake of trust-building and collaboration, but also in understanding the goals of individual partners, and how pursuing those goals might also benefit the partnership’s goals. The generic incentives and drivers are well known (e.g., leveraging funds, minimizing risk) but drilling down a level reveals that partners are not always motivated primarily by these traditional partnership benefits. In particular, reputation seems to be a significant driver, especially for private sector partners, but this is often underestimated or written off. However, it is important to recognize that private sector partners can be drawn into partnerships even if they do not stand to directly profit from their involvement. Much recent focus has been on developing entrepreneurial partnerships that have the potential to pique private sector interest, but these economic motives might be overstated, and ignoring reputation-related benefits means missing opportunities. As the Smithfield Foods case points out, the role of corporate reputation is becoming more and more tangible in its importance to customer loyalty and long-term stock value. One additional point here is that NGOs often also have brands and reputations that are affected by their participation in a partnership, and this has prevented many from participating and led others to withdraw from partnerships. The primary tension may be in an NGO that occupies a “watchdog” role and believes that entering a partnership will compromise its ability to maintain that role. There can also be general unease in collaborating with the private sector; government must answer to concerns that it is abdicating responsibility and corporatizing or franchising away some of its functions. Fair or not, partnerships bring these matters to the forefront, and effective collaborations with a clear understanding of partners’ motivations should
be able to overcome them. One way to overcome these misgivings is by building on existing relationships, and it seems that most partnerships are doing this. As mentioned earlier, these existing relationships breed trust which becomes the foundation of a successful partnership, and also helps partners understand one another’s incentives to join a partnership. This then also helps the partnership to be results-oriented and issue-driven, two characteristics that many successful efforts seem to share.
Although the public–private mix of partners can sometimes be labeled as strange bedfellows, partners from all sectors have been leaders in the field of sustainability. This may be important, as it suggests that partnerships may not be the ideal vehicle to change institutional behavior (though this can be an ancillary benefit). Instead, effective partnerships have succeeded by catalyzing similar interests into a collaborative activity. Interestingly, the Green Power Market Development Group experience showed that corporate partners were motivated not by economic benefits of green power, but in the environment- and reputation-related incentives for engaging in the partnership. The facilitating partner, the World Resources Institute, framed it as an opportunity for corporations to lower or stabilize operating costs by purchasing green power, but the firms reported that they fully expected to pay a premium for this power, but were nonetheless motivated by environmental benefits (a key regulatory concern) and benefits for their reputations with communities and shareholders. In addition to regulatory requirements, which may lead corporations into partnerships in order to become compliant, corporations are also increasingly subject to supply chain requirements with sustainability components. The Smithfield Foods case highlights this well, where its 20 largest customers, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, have sustainability specifications in their contracts. This benefits the reputation of the corporate customers, but also gives them significant leverage, which may have a positive impact.
In addition to the sustainability challenges partnerships seek to address, the partnerships themselves face several unique challenges, many of which are common to the field across both scales and sectors. Many partnerships cite resource constraints as a major challenge. This does not necessarily imply that partnerships are not mobilizing sufficient resources. Rather, they are challenged to maintain a steady flow of resources, which means identifying the right portfolio of investment targets to attract funding partners, which may change over time; and often, to evaluate their individual participation on short time scales. The ASB partnership pointed out that these sorts of uncertainties make capacity building (training and institutional strengthening) activities difficult to fund because they require longer
time frames and funding partners may consider them tangential (Tomich et al., 2007). Microfinancing small-scale systems is often another huge barrier to overcome. Experience suggests that small to medium-sized loans or grants are actually more useful to local partnerships than are large financial contributions (Steets, 2005). For project-based partnerships, partners often seek to demonstrate that solutions can be scaled up or replicated, but this presents a significant challenge if partners do not consider this at the outset of the activity. It can be useful to immediately identify the entrepreneurial incentives that support scale-up, which also prevents the partnership from fostering a “recipient” culture (SEED, 2007). Without additional sources of financing, or sufficient connectivity to national actors and knowledge networks, it becomes difficult if not impossible for a successful effort in the field to gain traction.
National governments are continually cited as a missing link in many partnership activities. They do not necessarily need to be formal partners, but many partnerships lack even a connection. Issues of global importance may not be high enough on national agendas, meaning that even if a country has the financial resources to support successful activities, it may lack the capacity or even just the vision to mobilize these resources.
For the 4C partnership, initial political acceptance of the sustainable coffee code was not well received, and this led to a rift between industrial partners and producer countries. The solution was for the secretariat to make more trips to producer countries to establish structured dialogues, which ultimately kept the partnership’s progress on track. While secretariats or influential partners can play this role of intermediary, there seems to be untapped potential in national governments (particularly through diplomatic and development agencies) to leverage their existing connections in support of partnership activities. Currently, many national governments provide financial and in-kind support, but their direct participation as a partner can be awkward in cases in which there may be no governmental counterpart. National governments may be able to play a more effective role as tacit partners, staying connected to any on-the-ground activities, but in parallel, working on building the institutional and policy frameworks that support successful scale-up and replication.
Governance, of course, is not only a challenge external to partnerships, as many partners struggle with developing a suitable governance structure for the partnership itself. These issues are not trivial. Partnerships struggle with questions such as: What is the role of NGO sona board when they also receive funding through the partnership?How do organizations of different sizes and resources have an equitable voice with in a partnership? How should this partnership be held accountable to partners, let alone external stakeholders that might be affected? Community relations and local stakeholder engagement can be particularly challenging. For partner-
ships like GPMDG, which originally did not anticipate engaging people at the local level, partners ultimately realized the value of public consultation and environmental impact assessments, which made them more accountable to locally affected communities, but also improved relations within those communities.
Finally, even when a partnership has addressed these challenges, it is still vulnerable to competition, either between partners or increasingly, from other partnerships. Large partnerships that engage multiple governments, NGOs, and/or private corporations must often confront the reality that they are convening a group of actors that are working individually on similar challenges, and therefore, in at least some respects are competitors. However, several partnerships (including GWC and SSV) have shown that, by providing a non-competitive, open forum for discussion, competitors have been thus far willing to cooperate in a non-competitive manner. What is potentially more challenging for partnerships is that they can be crowded out by competitor partnership efforts. The Green Chemistry Institute has faced recent challenges from new partnerships or initiatives with strong and vocal champions. The Multilateral Initiative on Malaria has faced challenges from results-based global partnerships which, fair or not, seem better able to generate support than do research-based efforts. While there is something Darwinian about competition among partnerships, there is also a danger of having effective partnerships crowded out by effective marketers and communicators. This signals the importance to a partnership of clearly articulating its niche, explicitly defining its objectives, and widely disseminating its outcomes.
A partnership’s flexibility makes it unique, and this “blank slate” opportunity can energize partners as they formulate new partnerships. Inevitably, though, most of these efforts move in the direction of becoming institutionalized. This takes various forms, many of which are neatly summarized by Tennyson (2003). Partners themselves need to determine what form, if any, is most desirable. The academic community has focused recent inquiry into the impacts that partnerships may have on global environmental governance, and while there is no consensus, it is apparent that partnerships do offer an opportunity for “results-based governance” based on their flexible structure and diverse expertise, and relying on voluntary problem solving and self-regulation (Backstrand, 2006). Still, there is a dearth of information offering guidance on when and how a partnership can most effectively govern itself.
What has become clear from the various case studies is that effective partnership managers (secretariats, institutions, etc.) are facilitative and
not necessarily asserting ownership. Partners ought to be careful not to rush to this stage, and indeed, some partnerships may be better off dissolving before reaching this point. Many partnerships have formed within an existing organization—often an NGO— that can serve as an incubator until the partners reach what they consider to be a critical mass of partners and resources. But creating a lean and independent coordinating office does offer several advantages to the partnership. First, it can downplay identity dynamics within the partnership effort, if it is otherwise perceived as being dominated by either a host institution or a strong individual partner. Second, it can significantly reduce transaction costs for individual partners, in terms of identifying projects, managing communication among partners, and handling outreach and interface with the broader public. Third, it can be an efficient arbiter of resources. A partner to REEEP summarizes this succinctly by stating that “REEEP money is smart money.” In other words, partners are able to continue supporting the partnership effort, while being able to take a step back from day-to-day decisions, based on a level of accumulated trust in dedicated staff.
A centralized staff can facilitate communications, but partnerships also benefit from open and diverse lines of communication. The East Coast Fever partners communicated through scientific conferences and telephone and email correspondence, in addition to their regular annual meetings. The Common Code partners elected to establish tripartite working groups to engage a wide range of people in the coffee chain. In addition—and this seemed to be a critical innovation—the partners encouraged stakeholder pre-meetings to allow less organized stakeholder groups to form a “voice.” Compounding the conventional communication challenges that partners cite (e.g., partners from different sectors speaking “different languages”) is the fact that some partners are not nearly as organized as others and as a result are either ignored or even worse, become adversarial. However, partnerships that have succeeded in reaching out to these more disparate or underrepresented parties have found the extra effort to be invaluable. It provides not only additional buy-in, but it is also certain to be more representative than relying on the perspective of an external NGO or consultant.
Finally, partnerships focusing on the developing world need to engage local constituencies not only as partners, but also, eventually, in their leadership. The Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) is an instructive example here. Following its first partnership review, evaluators suggested that MIM establish a “small but powerful” advisory board with a strong African voice, and that MIM should plan to transfer the secretariat to an African institution. This has been no small undertaking, but one factor that has aided the transition from being located in Stockholm to Dar es Salaam is that MIM had been actively recruiting young African talent to eventu-
ally be part of the future leadership and championship. Given the hesitance that many global partnerships have shown to transferring leadership and resource control to the developing world, this idea of building this capacity over time may be a useful one.
Legitimacy and Accountability
As mentioned earlier, a growing body of academic literature is focusing on the impact that partnerships may be having on governance, and some of the key concerns revolve around legitimacy and accountability (or lack thereof). However, before rushing to build new institutions, it is worth examining how partnerships can be made more legitimate, transparent, and accountable (Backstrand, 2006). Critics argue that partnerships potentially give rise to corporate power or weaken the existing order, and it is true that many partnerships suffer from a lack of effective monitoring and evaluation, and that they are not held accountable in conventional ways. But increasing accountability may actually be a driver, particularly for private sector partners, and so accountability procedures should be agreed upon early and made a central part of any partnership agreement (Tennyson, 2003). The National Science Board echoed this sentiment with regard to science and engineering partnerships, contending that accountability is integral to assuring that “research integrity is a priority and that funds are used appropriately” (NSB, 2008).
When the question of how partners and the partnership might be held accountable is posed, partners often point to a tacit accountability structure in which partners are responsible to one another. Less direct accountability may leave partnerships vulnerable to criticism, but the internal accountability dynamics may prove to be a viable alternative to the traditional regulatory, watchdog, shareholder methods for holding an actor accountable. However, this does little to hold the partnership writ large accountable to other affected stakeholders. In this case, indirect or horizontal accountability mechanisms may in fact be most appropriate (Steets, 2004), where partnerships (and individual partners) are held accountable to a broad range of stakeholders, mostly through the traditional channels available within each stakeholder group. There may also be existing mechanisms appropriate for a partnership: the Smithfield Foods partnership bolstered its accountability by relying on an external reporting regime (facilitated by Ceres) to satisfy its partners.
There do appear to be some limitations to partnership accountability. Within a partnership, asymmetric accountability can undermine the partnership’s effectiveness. The Sustainable Forest Products Global Alliance shows evidence of this, as private sector partners balked at having to report back to the U.S. government, and the U.S. government in turn was
not providing any sort of report to its partners. As a whole, partnerships are sometimes wrongly held accountable for more than what the partners’ individual drivers or mandates allow. While it is justifiable to criticize a lack of ambition or openness, partnerships should not be held accountable for not achieving goals that the partners themselves have not identified (Caplan et al., 2007).
Another complicated issue for partnerships is assessment, which refers to both internal progress assessments, as well as any sort of external impact assessments. It is worth noting that monitoring and evaluation (M&E) will likely require a longer time frame and larger budget than partners are used to gather a sufficient level of data (IEG/World Bank, 2007). Partners also need to give careful thought to the metrics it wants to use, since not every impact or outcome can be quantified. Tightly defined data measurements can miss broader external issues, as well as internal, institutional issues (Caplan et al., 2007). Evidence related to quality, equity, local ownership, and political and financial feasibility have all been identified as being fundamental to improving outcomes (El Ansari et al., 2001).
A critical aspect of assessing partnerships is measuring their “added value,” which means calculating their incremental contribution versus other activities that are taking place, as well as the most likely alternative that individual partners might have pursued (Mitchell et al., 2001). The scale of measurement should be quantitative wherever possible to avoid describing activities in depth at the expense of measured results (Mitchell et al., 2001). Partnerships such as the Global Water Challenge are starting to invest larger amounts in M&E—sometimes this is all they contribute to ongoing projects—because partners contend that it is critical to develop local monitoring capacity alongside on-the-ground projects, and that the results of this monitoring can help inform their decisions regarding future support. However, partners have noted a tension between a desire to loop learning back into practice and the desire to do more projects, and this tension is certainly common to countless other partnerships.
Other partnerships impose tightly defined assessment requirements. The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, for example, requires a general impact assessment for each project (done ex post), which assesses both climate impact and scale-up potential. While projects are underway, they are required to submit quarterly reports detailing outputs, impacts, time frames, risks, and even media coverage. The Sustainable Silicon Valley partners utilized an environmental management system (EMS), a set of processes with which all partners were already familiar, and which
may have been a key to their early success. The EMS provided a common tool, which was supplemented by monitoring and performance reviews.
Identifying and communicating some of these “softer” metrics is still an important challenge. Institutional reform within a government agency, for example, is an important but generally overlooked achievement (Tennyson, 2003). Even attitudinal changes (e.g., NGO perception of business and vice versa) can be significant outcomes, but are rarely captured (Warner, 2002). For the East Coast Fever partners, their collaboration resulted in several organizational innovations, notably within the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to help foster public–private collaborative research. The partnership’s market-oriented, results-based outlook encouraged ILRI and partners to focus on producing real outcomes.
Partners, of course, also generally evaluate their own participation within a partnership, and this can sometimes be on short time frames, which leave fledgling partnerships vulnerable. It may be necessary for partners to strategically assess exit strategies, phase-out, or organizational and financial transitions (IEG/World Bank, 2007) to avoid having the rug pulled out by one partner’s withdrawal, or to relieve a perpetually anxious secretariat staff. The East Coast Fever team again provides a valuable lesson, in terms of knowing when to end a partnership that was not achieving its desired results. This decision freed up resources and protected goodwill among the partners. In fact, documenting and disseminating these sorts of “failures” could be one of the most valuable contributions that existing partnerships might make to future efforts. Conventional wisdom has been that partnerships are too vulnerable to losing their support if they are open about shortcomings or failures, but this might be more fiction than fact.
OBSERVATIONS ON PARTNERSHIP CLASSES
Given the diversity of forms a partnership can take, and the fact that many partnerships “feel their way” rather than follow a template, it is not easy to classify them as a particular type. While there are a handful of typologies developed specifically to categorize partnerships, the typology put forward here6 is an attempt to identify the key outcomes a partnership might deliver. Even if partnerships do not neatly fit into one category, or are pursuing multiple, diverse objectives, this typology can still be a useful lens to cross-analyze each distinct aspect of a partnership. It could help partnerships strategically assess where their relative strengths are. The Green Chemistry Institute provides a good example of a partnership that has resisted the foray into research, recognizing its niche (and the perceived need): to focus on bridging gaps between stakeholders within the research,
development, and demonstration (RD&D) continuum. Cut another way, the typology could help particular actors determine which type of partnership plays to their core competencies. National governments, for example, seem best suited to engage in joint research or disseminate science-based information; their financial and political support for on-the-ground activities are also crucial, but their role as an equal partner in these efforts tends to be hampered by power imbalances and institutional inflexibility. The following sections detail some insights into the unique characteristics of these different classes of partnerships for sustainability.
Action-Oriented Partnerships Providing a Good or Service
Part of the appeal of entering into multi-stakeholder partnerships is that they are billed as a new way of doing business. Not surprisingly, then, much of the cumulative experience with partnering comes out of this type of public–private alliance. The public sector (including NGOs) identifies a needed good or service and then facilitates private sector involvement in providing it. The challenge is generally in finding a way to make these projects profitable and therefore attractive to private investors; if they assume some entrepreneurial risk, it demonstrates that they are dedicated to finding creative ways to profit from their involvement. Public sector partners provide a number of supporting roles, both tangible (market development) and intangible (legitimacy). Looking at the current wave of partnerships for sustainability, it seems that almost everyone wants to be doing these sorts of projects, for a number of reasons. First, they tend to have demonstrable and direct benefits to human populations; it is difficult to argue against a project that could deliver water and sanitation services or more efficiently provide health care. Second, and somewhat related, these sorts of partnerships may have the easiest (or at least most recognizable) metrics. They can measure number of units installed, or number of people affected, which is generally important to all parties when it comes time to review the effectiveness of the partnership. Finally, at the global level, this emphasis on projects follows from WSSD’s emphasis on implementation. If broad international agreements are not being fulfilled, it is necessary for everyone to roll up their sleeves and get involved on the ground.
However, practitioners in the field will point out that there is not a shortage of projects. Instead, the challenge is in developing and implementing sustainable projects, and if appropriate, to scale these up or replicate them elsewhere; in other words, not doing more, but doing better. Successful projects will be locally determined, and ultimately locally owned, unless the implementing partners are willing to continually provide monitoring and technical support. Local governments seem to be a crucial missing link in many partnership efforts, often acting more as passive aid recipients. But
as the Agua para Todos partnership demonstrates, they can play a major role in financing and institutionalizing a project. Capacity building is critical here, and it is important that partners recognize all of the supporting systems and skills that will be needed to sustain an intervention. Connecting these projects to knowledge networks is one step. National governments also play an important role in developing suitable policy climates to support scale-up of projects and programs (SEED, 2007). Progress on this front may be the most valuable contribution a national government partner can offer to a partnership of this type.
Action-Oriented Project Conserving or Restoring a Resource
These partnerships share much in common with the first class of partnerships discussed above, in that they are typically project-based and therefore tend to have easily quantifiable outcomes; e.g., hectares of forest preserved. However, a key difference is that these projects are prone to being labeled “environmental,” and are therefore less compelling to some parties. They also tend to suffer from a lack of investment, which is the classic struggle for global public goods. Instead of being viewed as an opportunity, these sorts of partnerships are either viewed as philanthropy, or as something the government ought to be doing on its own. Borrowing from U.S. experience, although there has been a great deal of enthusiasm from state and local governments, NGOs, and the private sector on greenhouse gas mitigation, much of the action seems dependent on some sort of regulation rather than concerted voluntary action. A scan of the landscape of sustainability partnerships might reveal that there are comparatively few conservation projects carried out as partnerships (particularly engaging the private sector), and that in fact, many conservation-oriented partnerships are in a different class, such as the campaign-style information dissemination type.
Agriculture is a useful example, because sustainable agriculture is as much about conserving resources as it is providing food and supporting livelihoods. Certification schemes can also have a direct impact, because sustainably harvested materials also serve to support ongoing conservation and restoration efforts. Finally, a better understanding of ecosystem services will be critical if these types of partnerships are to proliferate. Ecosystem services include the consumable goods with which we are familiar (e.g., seafood or timber), as well as air and water purification, climate regulation, and several other life-support services. Specifically, our understanding of how various ecosystems relate to human needs affects what value we place on those ecosystems. This may be an area ripe for increased partnerships and an opportunity to engage the private sector more fully. There are
likely to be lessons in the area of eco-tourism which could be more broadly applicable to conservation-oriented partnerships.
Research and Open Innovation
Given the pressing needs of billions in the developing world, and the urgency of environmental challenges, engaging in research may be considered a luxury, particularly if it is viewed as drawing on resources that could be put toward implementing projects. The experience of the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria is telling, as it has needed to continually justify its focus on research in the face of competing initiatives that focus on existing treatments and practices. However, advances in our understanding of science, technology, and human–natural systems will be critical to a sustainability transition and to addressing emerging challenges such as climate adaptation and food security. Partnerships can play several important roles here, and there is ample experience in the U.S. and elsewhere in government–university–industry collaboration in R&D. Industry’s role in these partnerships is important, because industry funds the majority of R&D globally, although governments maintain primary responsibility for funding basic research and other, otherwise underfunded areas. R&D is also much more global than ever before, which presents opportunities for more global partnerships and collaboration. Partnerships are not new in this field, but the nature of sustainability challenges suggests that they will be even more crucial in the future.
Since these partnerships add a layer of complexity (working across sectors) to already complex problems, it is essential that the partners continually reassess their goals and timing to ensure appropriate allocation of funds as new knowledge is generated (NRC, 2008). Research partnerships must manage intellectual property strategically to avoid or overcome roadblocks. If intellectual property cannot be shared, then it might be useful to negotiate a continued use or supply even, if the partner with ownership leaves the partnership (Brooke et al., 2007). As the East Coast Fever Vaccine case points out well, it is also imperative that partners identify an endpoint and exit strategy if the project is not producing desired results. Globally, some of these partnerships have come under scrutiny for their imbalance in leadership and funding allocation, both of which tend to remain in the north (Tucker and Makgoba, 2008). This is an area that requires improvement, but as the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria has shown, it is not only possible but desirable to transfer responsibility to southern countries, though this requires a strong emphasis on building capacity and support systems and cannot be done quickly.
Advances in information technology have made it possible for nearly every partnership to disseminate information globally, share its own best practices, or connect readers to a veritable sea of information on a topic. Still, there persists a dearth of credible, authoritative information, especially with the contextual background that is so crucial to our understanding of these sustainability challenges. As the REEEP case points out, most energy partnerships are heavy on knowledge dissemination, the “widest and weakest tool in achieving sustainable development goals.” Ideally, all partnership efforts could make a contribution to disseminating information, but the reality is that thousands of disparate guidebooks and web sites proclaiming best practices will only serve to clutter the landscape. Thus, a primary challenge is harnessing all of this knowledge being generated in labs and in the field, and making it widely available in formats that aid decision makers.
The premise is that actors will make sustainable decisions and choices if they are armed with suitable information, but as several partnerships focusing on behavioral change have learned, it is important to be creative in how this information reaches target audiences. These partnerships, like any other activity, should be user driven, but this entails extra work in identifying the users (e.g., program managers, heads of households, and governments), and then determining what sort of information they would find useful, and in what format. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one among many government agencies with experience in this area; its partnership efforts require a great deal of time identifying target audiences, evaluating their “leveraging potential,” and then making use of creative social marketing to influence behavior.7 These sorts of partnerships are also valuable in that they often promote low-cost (or money-saving) practices. However, a key challenge is measuring the impact of such partnerships, as it entails measuring changed behavior at individual levels. Hand washing is a classic example; its costs are minimal and its benefits to human health are well known, but measuring the impacts of a campaign to promote hand washing often entails household surveys and extensive follow-up. The Global Water Challenge has been able to do this for one of the on-the-ground efforts it supports, demonstrating that a safe water and sanitation education program in schools in Kenya’s Nyanza Province reduced student absenteeism (up to 35 percent) and improved sanitation practices in the home (O’Reilly et al., 2007). However, without dedicating the time and resources to measure these sorts of impacts, partnerships focusing on
behavioral change may find themselves at a disadvantage vis-à-vis action-oriented partnerships with technological or infrastructural “fixes.”
This final class of partnerships is the most amorphous and includes knowledge networks and communities of practice, as well as more formally defined activities. The Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) is a prime example. In truth, nearly every partnership that engages multiple sectors or diverse regional stakeholders is devoting some of its efforts to community building. Therefore, it is useful to examine the unique features of this aspect of partnerships, and also to define the strengths of this approach. Many of these community building efforts are labeled as “partnerships for partnership.” The SEED Initiative, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), and Global Water Challenge (GWC) are three examples of large global partnerships that essentially give support to smaller, “on-the-ground” partnerships. However, these overarching partnerships seem to provide a critical link that can drive action in the other four classes of partnerships.
At a global or regional level, these partnerships have the potential to “map out the landscape” for a particular sector or issue in a way that no individual agency or actor is able to do. By involving the right mix of partners, such a partnership can carry this out rather quickly by pooling knowledge and perspectives. Naturally, these sorts of partnerships can become a clearinghouse for information, and some, such as REEEP with its “reegle” information gateway, have moved in that direction. Regardless, their ability to map out the landscape in this manner helps them to better identify on-the-ground successes that might be replicated. For example, 4C partners determined that effective project-scale results in certified coffee were ultimately being undermined by market forces, so partners sought to convene the coffee community and develop an industry-wide standard.
Another value of these types of partnerships is that they often catalyze additional funding and resources. Some, like the GWC, are set up explicitly to do so. Private sector partners use their meetings with NGO and foundation partners, under the auspices of GWC, to learn about ongoing water and sanitation projects. Some of them subsequently decide to offer additional support independent of GWC funds in this manner. Other organizations—notably the Gates Foundation—which are not formal partners have also used the GWC as an informational and educational resource. This allows the Foundation to become knowledgeable about issues of importance in the water and sanitation sector and help it to identify areas in need of funding. Private sector and foundation representatives have noted that the use of NGO intermediaries can drastically reduce their own transaction
costs related to donations and investments. REEEP has effectively become a channel for European development aid and climate-related investment. However, the partnership is also quick to point out that, although it has a global scope and is driven primarily by developed-country funding, it places a strong emphasis on local, bottom-up management; local and regional offices identify needs and scope out projects, which are then communicated to the International Secretariat. Finally, the SEED Initiative, which does provide modest monetary prizes to five local entrepreneurial partnerships biannually, has also demonstrated success in attracting additional support for the award winners simply by recognizing them and introducing them to a global audience. Agua para Todos, which had been a successful partnership in its own right, further benefitted from its 2005 SEED award when it gained two important new partners, UNDP and the Cochabamba municipal government. The latter has since become a primary funder of the partnership’s local efforts.
These partnerships are also uniquely suited to addressing complex regional challenges. Airsheds, watersheds, transportation networks, and urban development are all best coordinated at a regional level, which rarely reflects local political jurisdictions. Regional partnerships also provide a forum to engage the non-governmental partners in management issues. In the case of the Sustainable Silicon Valley (SSV) partnership, it represented the first opportunity for regional cross-sector networking, which led to open and candid communications. Partners identified a trust-building exercise early on as being critical to their eventual success, and these dialogues helped the participating agencies, organizations, and industries to begin realigning their individual incentives as they identified shared goals.
Finally, although community-building and capacity-building efforts share common traits, practitioners from all types of partnerships remark that capacity building needs to be an integral part of almost any partnership activity. Effective partnerships tend to recognize this immediately. Agua para Todos, for example, included training for local water managers right from the start. Arguably, every partnership activity involving knowledge or goods transfer should have capacity building at its core if the impacts are to be sustainable, and if partnering really represents something unique, in contrast to traditional donor-recipient or contractual relationships.
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