Making policies work

GREAT insights Magazine

Partnerships with business for development: Editorial

March 2016

Bilal, S. 2016. CSO-business partnerships: Editorial. GREAT Insights Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 2. March/April 2016.

The major conferences in 2015 resulted in a set of ambitious agreements on sustainable development, emphasising the need for the development community – including the private sector – to pull together a set of complementary and mutually reinforcing resources, capabilities and knowledge to address sustainability challenges. Turning to 2016 and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships are therefore perceived and promoted as a key instrument for the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals: partnership platforms are arising; new instruments are being set-up. But if we want to get a better picture of not just what is desirable but what is feasible, the link between policy and practice needs to be brought front and centre.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships differ in terms of approach – should the focus be on value chains as in the case of SEED’s collaboration with Almodo, on specific locations as more territorial projects do, or on specific sectoral objectives as in the Diamond Development Initiative. Dimensions of partnerships vary accordingly: the geographical scope and objectives; and the range of actors – they might include CSOs (NGOs, trade unions, business associations), private sector and central governments/local authorities, not to mention cooperatives, religious groups and others. This also raises the level of complexity.

Take the example of CSO-business partnerships, they are attracting particular attention for their potential to develop inclusive business models, new business opportunities by reaching the bottom of pyramid (BoP), better sustainability practices along value chains and new standards. Partnering is therefore about innovating, creating and exploiting new opportunities!

But to realise such potential, actors supporting and involved in partnerships need to define and understand each other’s interests, roles, added-value and set up an agreed frame for collaboration. This in turn contributes to making partnerships a long-term and strategic tool, driven by engaged and committed partners – not like philanthropic partnerships, which still account for the majority of partnerships today.

Strategic partnerships are complex tools where actors need to go beyond partnership design – though it matters – to understand better politics, partners’ and incentives (and power balance) and external contextual factors (market and institutional frameworks), which tend to define a partnership’s objective and progress. Evolving in such an ever-changing environment comes with challenges where trust is a key basis for effective governance, as highlighted by Petra Kuenkel in this edition.

It is therefore a critical moment to understand how partnerships work, where their drivers and constraints are, and realistically adjust expectations to what partnerships can offer. This in turn can provide the development community with insights on how to better support such venture and boost their developmental impacts.

This issue of GREAT Insights builds on some of the current initiatives and discussions to present a range of key reflections on this issue, bringing together perspectives on multi-stakeholder partnerships, from a range of high-level personalities, stakeholders and experts. The focus is placed on illustrating the merits of multi-stakeholder partnerships as an instrument for sustainable and inclusive development, sharing key lessons learnt; and understanding better the partnership’s establishing and operating processes. It also highlights some key considerations on the importance of the location of partnerships, on the role of CSO, private sector and policymaker/donors and on their governance structures.

We hope you will appreciate these insights and welcome your comments and contributions.


This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 2 (March/April 2016).

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Economic Transformation and TradeBusiness and DevelopmentExtractive SectorsCivil society