Karaki, K., Medinilla, A. 2016. A territorial approach to multi-stakeholder partnerships. GREAT Insights Magazine - Volume 5, Issue 5. October/November 2016.
If multi-stakeholder partnerships and especially CSO-business partnerships are such an appealing way to engage the private sector in development, donor agencies need to rethink the way they promote and support them to realise their full (developmental and sustainable) potential.
In a context where the Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries is in decline, while the development community’s ambitions (2030 Agenda) are on the rise, the need for governments, private sector, and civil society organisations to come together and act collectively has never been more pressing. And so today, donor agencies and development partners are supporting and promoting multi-stakeholder partnerships as a key tool for “mobiliz[ing] and shar[ing] knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries” (UN SDG 17.16).
This commitment has been translated into a number of policies, strategies and programmes that integrate or are dedicated to, partnerships and in particular private sector engagement for development policies. The quest for green and inclusive growth also sparked much developmental optimism over the potentially transformative role of the private sector in developing countries. Partnerships and coalitions between civil society and businesses also tick all of the boxes of what is fashionable and promising. Who doesn’t want to find the next collaborative start-up that will bring business and social development at the same time?
The reality for the development community, however, as is often the case, is more sobering – many of such multi-stakeholder partnerships have resulted in disappointing development impacts, in part because of the challenges linked to their complex nature.
ECDPM research on the process and governance of these partnerships in the mining and dairy sectors reveals that investing in cooperation between civil society organisations (CSOs) and business is not a neutral game, and that donor agencies that seek to do so face major challenges if their aim is to make multi-stakeholder partnerships a transformational tool for the 2030 Agenda.
Partnerships. It’s one of those intrinsically positive words. It implies people working together, building bridges, breaking down barriers, so everything we tend to really like in development. In reality, there are endless variations of what a multi-actor partnership can look like. They vary in terms of mission; activities; interests and governance. This affects the type of partnership we are talking about, whether they are Base of the Pyramid (BoP)/commercially-oriented, social investment partnerships, or philanthropic investment partnerships. None of this is set in stone, as some initially socially driven partnerships aim to become commercial, while others begin from a commercial standpoint but try to be more inclusive. A one-size-fits-all approach to partnerships that ignores the differences between types and levels of partnership is therefore unlikely to generate the expected developmental outcomes.
As in any collaboration between two or more entities, the way power relationships play out affects the effectiveness and capacity of such a collaboration to deliver on its developmental objectives. CSO-business partnerships are certainly no exception. A closer look reveals that businesses tend to be the dominant partner in the relationship, which can make it very difficult to build a critical level of trust, or a balanced participation of CSOs and communities in the design, decision-making process, management and evaluation of the partnership. This complex reality of multi-stakeholder partnerships often contrasts with the common understanding in the development community of partnerships as simply another developmental tool or approach.
The key to supporting and brokering more effective multi-stakeholder cooperation therefore may lie in a change in mentality on the why, what and how of these partnerships. This goes beyond the need to take into account the diverse typology of partnership constructions or the need to counteract problematic power imbalances. It involves trying to establish a stronger link between a partnership operation and the inclusive development process at local level.
ECDPM looks at partnerships for development; partnerships that from various angles (commercial, BoP, social, etc.) seek to transform communities and catalyse development. These partnerships do not exist in a vacuum. In fact, our analysis of CSO-business cooperation in the mining and dairy sectors suggests that the transformational potential and inclusive development outcomes often depend on the level of embeddedness of a partnership approach, in a sector, in the local and national economy and in society.
Engaging with a CSO-business partnership, be it by providing funding, or actively brokering the setting up of a partnership initiative, can fundamentally alter power relations in a given area, even more so when the partnership involves a sector with a large economic social or environmental footprint such as mining or large-scale agriculture. It makes little sense therefore to look at a partnership initiative as a simple business-case or worse, an isolated funding proposal.
Multi-stakeholder cooperation and particularly CSO-business coalitions also have most potential when they feature in a larger – territorial – vision of local development, one that takes into account the socio-economic foundations of an area, and most of all the political economy of business and politics; who holds power over what, and how settlements are made. An integrated territorial approach to (local) development is therefore crucial not only to judge the feasibility of a certain partnership or approach, but also to break free from the traditional sectorial silo-approach of international cooperation and look at all angles of inclusive development.
Any form of scaling up for example will require engaging both the private and public sector; and any profound change in the socio-economic buildup of an area – such as the adoption or expansion of a new economic activity – requires the consent and support of a wide range of players. As an approach, CSO-business partnerships can offer major opportunities for economic transformation at the local level. As a modality however, seen through the eyes of the development community, support to CSO-business partnerships is often too isolated from societal and political realities in which they operate. A purely sectoral or project approach is in most cases unfit to deal with the complexity and risks that come with financing and supporting these partnerships.
Development partners and donors are well placed to broker and support these initiatives, however, doing so requires taking a different approach: taking off the ‘development investor’ glasses and thinking more as a development strategist. In practice this means widening the perspective and actively and creatively building the conditions that would make a partnership really work. In some cases this means working around a certain partnership, with (local) authorities, or even brokering new alliances and coalitions (in and with civil society) to enable a more balanced cooperation with existing private sector.
Looking beyond the business-case also requires adapting the donor architecture for working with private sector and civil society. Historically, the private sector and civil society have spoken different languages, and bringing the two together can be challenging. CSO-business cooperation, when moving towards an integrated territorial approach, can however provide an operational opportunity to bridge the disciplines of governance support, private sector development, sectoral support (e.g. rural development) and the political engagement of donors in a country around a common and integrated strategy.
Making this shift puts strategy firmly before funding, and may be difficult to digest for some task managers who are often under significant pressure to show a coherent sectoral or thematic portfolio. Over-reliance on competitive procedures such as calls for proposals can also make it difficult for development partners to take up the more proactive role that is asked of them and use their means in more strategic ways. A first important step, however, remains taking these multi-stakeholder partnerships out of their isolation as a funding priority or simply a sustainability check for private sector development and viewing them as a potential operational component of an integrated local development approach.
While multi-stakeholder partnerships and especially CSO-business partnerships are such an appealing way to engage the private sector in development, donor agencies need to rethink the way they promote and support them to realise their full (developmental and sustainable) potential. To make CSO-business partnerships more than a buzzword will need more of a focus on the role of donors in partnerships, analysing their drivers and opportunities, and drawing insights that will come to nourish future recommendations for policy-makers and link better policy to practice.
ECDPM. 2016. Thematic focus: Partnerships with business for development. GREAT Insights Magazine – Volume 5, Issue 2. March/April 2016.
Karaki, K., Byiers, B. 2016. Sustainable rural employment or corporate social responsibility? An analysis of dairy partnerships between business and civil society organisations in Tanzania and Kenya. ECDPM Discussion Paper 190. http://ecdpm.org/dp190
Medinilla, A. 2016. Partnerships or patronage for development? Business-Civil Society Organisations (CSO) partnerships in the mining sector in Madagascar. ECDPM Discussion Paper 18. http://ecdpm.org/dp189
Medinilla, A. 2016. Mining and community-based agribusiness for development: Multi-stakeholder partnerships in the gold sector in Ghana. ECDPM Discussion Paper 191. http://ecdpm.org/dp191
Other relevant ECDPM publications available at http://ecdpm.org/topics/business-development/
About the authors
Karim Karaki (left) and Alfonso Medinilla (right) are Policy Officers at the European Centre for Development Management (ECDPM).
Photo: Palm oil plantation, Ghana, by Alfonso Medinilla, 2016.
This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 5 (October/November 2016).