Civil society & business: pulling in the same direction? - Editorial
Civil society organisations are regularly seen to name and shame companies for what they consider to be socially and environmentally unsustainable business practices within the companies’ own operations or in their supply chain.
While there is a clear role for civil society to play in this regard, it also increasingly teams up with business to establish more sustainable value chains. Indeed, multi-stakeholder partnerships are central in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. However, civil society and business have different interests and ways of working. Successfully collaborating is far from a simple exercise.
Therefore, this issue of Great Insights zooms in on civil society – business collaboration. We are delighted to present you articles from a diverse set of authors from civil society, business, development practitioners, academics and other experts. They come from Europe, Africa and beyond. Most importantly, they bring different perspectives on civil society – business collaboration for more socially and environmentally sustainable value chains. What does it take for civil society and business to pull in the same direction? And how can governments engage more effectively to facilitate such collaboration? The articles shed light on these questions.
Rather than theories, many of the articles draw lessons from practical examples of civil society – business collaborations. The examples relate to different levels (local, national, regional, global), in different sectors (e.g. agriculture and extractives) and for different purposes. A diverse collection that provides a wealth of insights.
The articles shed light on issues such as dealing with power imbalances, trust building and conflict. There is a fine balance to be achieved among these factors and successful collaboration is still possible as shown by Lies Craeynest of Oxfam, and one can find common ground as it is clear from the article of Julian Lageard of Intel. Some articles address the role of the European Union. For instance, Lorena Sorrentino of CSR Europe shares her experiences participating in the EU multi-stakeholder platform on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its practical recommendations for the European Commission to do more to support responsible business practices. Piscitelli and Gerbrandy, on the other hand, explain why EU competition law matters for sustainability-oriented collaboration between competitors and civil society. Others have an African focus. We interviewed two dairy company owners in Mauritania and Kenya, whose stories showed interesting contrasts. We also invited Nicholas Jengre from the civil society organisation Solidaridad to speak on lessons from their collaboration with business on land rights and livelihoods in Sierra Leone. Professor Amaeshi, professor Idemudia and social entrepreneur Nnoli-Edozien explain the fascinating concept of Africapitalism and how collaboration between business, civil society and government comes in.
It is clear that civil society – business collaboration is neither a quick fix nor a silver bullet. There is no ‘ultimate recipe’ for such partnerships either. But they can hold great potential to contribute to transformational change.
It is emphasised in various articles, including forcefully by Lisa Stott, that a stronger evidence base for partnership effectiveness is necessary. The results of partnership activities are widely assessed, but the usefulness of partnership as an approach far less. When doing so, we can and should learn from successes and failures, argue Herman Brouwer, Minu Hemmati and Jim Woodhill. Open and continuous dialogue and learning among partners should be at the heart of it.
This issue of Great Insights can be seen as an effort in this regard, to contribute to enhancing the evidence base and dialogue on civil society – business partnership approaches. We very much hope you will enjoy reading it and find it useful. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome and will assist us in future work.
Jeske van Seters, Head of Programme Private Sector Engagement
Poorva Karkare, Policy Officer Economic and Agricultural Transformation