How Multistakeholder Partnerships Can Accelerate the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Chapter 3

Partnership Stakeholders: Contributions and Cautions

While establishing clear roles and responsibilities is critical in a well-functioning partnership, stakeholders – governments, businesses and CSOs – don’t always fully understand the offerings others can bring to the partnership. This chapter explores stakeholders’ contributions to partnerships with transformation ambitions, such that they can leverage each other’s core capacities to support a successful partnership.

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Stakeholder Contributions to Transformative Partnerships

Forming a partnership is not easy. It involves finding the right partners, making commitments, signing legal documents, and allocating time and resources to ensure a fruitful collaboration. Bringing together stakeholders from governments, businesses, and CSOs with ambitious goals for SDG transformation raises the stakes even higher.

This chapter provides a look at the key contributions of each stakeholder to help partnerships identify how best to leverage each other’s skill sets and define partnership roles and responsibilities. Stakeholders must agree on how to reach their partnership goals and who has oversight on the different elements required to get there. (We will discuss again, too, this importance of partnership roles and responsibilities in the success factors presented in Chapter 4 and Appendix B.) Knowing why one stakeholder wants to work with another can help to facilitate a smooth relationship between partners, and also ensure that partners are properly sourced (Dalberg 2020; Stibbe and Prescott 2020). Our hope is that with a clear understanding of what each stakeholder brings to the table, partnership practitioners will be able to better align on a united vision, which is a critical success factor for transformative partnerships.

Research Methods

Our research on the contributions of governments, businesses, and CSOs is informed by a combination of literature reviews, insight from government policy and climate experts at GGGI, and interviews with 30 sustainability and partnership leaders in businesses and CSOs, drawn from WRI’s extensive international network. Each contribution is further illustrated with an example (found in the chapter’s boxes). More details on the methodology and the organizations interviewed are available in Appendix A.

Chapter Flow

In this chapter, we present the three main partnership stakeholders—governments, business and CSOs—and discuss their contributions to partnerships (Figure 7).The discussion here is not intended to be all-inclusive, as it reflects the findings from our research and interviews. We also look at how the stakeholder contributions tie back to the three aforementioned transformation characteristics noted in Chapter 2—systemic, long-term and sustained, and disruptive of the status quo—and provide a few words of caution to consider before entering into a multistakeholder partnership.

Figure 7 | Stakeholder Contributions in Transformative Partnerships

Sources: Albani and Henderson 2014; Brouwer et al. 2016; Collison et al. 2014; Enright et al. 2018; G20 2015; GCPSE and UNDP n.d.; GGGI 2019; Gomme and Perks 2018; Hofstetter 2019; Horan 2019; Jenkins et al. 2017; Kamphof and Melissen 2017; KPMG International 2016; Melo 2018; Ménascé 2016; Menden et al. 2019; Pattberg and Widerberg 2016; Podder and Singh 2018; PWC 2017; Poret 2014; Seitanidi 2015; Stibbe and Prescott 2017; Stibbe et al. 2018; UN DESA 2019; UNGC 2013; UNGC, WMB and WRI 2018; Urmetzer et al. 2017; USCIB 2015; Van der Vleuten 2019; WBCSD 2016; WBCSD 2020.

Government Contributions to Transformative Partnerships

Governments are faced with increasingly complex and interlinked development challenges, many of which can only be overcome by delivering transformative solutions (GRI et al. 2015). Government participation is key to creating an enabling environment for partnerships, coordinating resources, unlocking new funding sources, driving market demand and reducing investment risks through the provision of incentives. In turn, partnerships also benefit governments by helping them break out of bureaucratic stagnation and develop new systems and services to deliver solutions to citizens. Also, as a note, the discussion here has relevance to all governments, regardless of level (local, municipal, federal).

  • Strong Enabling Environment: Governments can facilitate a strong enabling environment by creating the right policy or regulatory environment for change, thereby setting the conditions for other stakeholders to act (Collison et al. 2014). This can have positive run-on effects for society and simultaneously support government priorities and economic growth. Businesses, for example, can align their business models and future strategies according to the signals that governments send (PWC, 2017; World Bank 2020). Governments can also maximize positive ambition loops within their own administrations or foreign governments. Ambition loops are positive feedback loops that enable stakeholders to fast-track action on the SDGs and create impacts that surpass what any party could do alone (UNGC, WMB and WRI 2018; PWC 2017). National governments may establish a regulatory and institutional environment that influences positive action among its local, state, and regional counterparts, or vice versa. Given that governments can be very politically motivated, knowing that other sectors and governments desire a sustainable development pathway can give governments more political leverage to act. Governments may also inspire and motivate other governments to work in partnerships for sustainable development. Equally, when creating partnerships, governments might legitimize the participation of other actors, allowing them to participate in topics where they have little expertise but can contribute to create value.

    Box 4 | City Support Programme

    In 2011, South Africa established its City Support Programme (CSP), a long-term policy framework to help cities overcome apartheid planning and the spatial inequality hindering urban development and to strengthen collaboration across sectors and spheres of government for inclusive economic growth (National Treasury 2015a). As one of CSP’s beneficiaries and partners, Johannesburg reinforced this national-level plan with its Strategic Development Framework, prioritizing affordable housing and public transportation services and implementing the Corridors of Freedom project, which helped the city overcome apartheid planning schemes (Pieterse and Owens 2018). By aligning goals and working together across different levels of the government, projects like the Corridors of Freedom can lead to transformational changes to a city’s social and economic landscape. In 2015, CSP strengthened its Built Environment Performance Plan, (BEPP) a grant framework to encourage implementation of urban development projects in integration zones with a focus on informal settlements and marginalized areas (National Treasury 2015b). The updated BEPP incentivizes other cities to follow the integrated approach demonstrated by the Corridors of Freedom project.

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Platform Initiation: Governments can initiate platforms to build relationships among industry stakeholders, helping them find productive partnering opportunities that are aligned with the government’s priorities for sustainable development (Stibbe et al. 2018). Such platforms create a podium for collaborating in areas where multistakeholder participation is considered most crucial and is a way in which governments can set ambitions on sustainability. These platforms also allow governments to pool resources that can help scale the most effective cross-sector partnerships (Dahiya and Okitasari 2018).

    Box 5 | Alianza por la Sostenibilidad

    The Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation platform, Alianza por la Sostenibilidad (AxS), creates a space where companies can discuss, promote, and collaborate on projects that support the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (OECD 2018b; GOB 2020). This exchange can accelerate the speed at which companies pursue sustainability actions with transformation potential. Walmart, for instance, is leading a pilot project as a part of the AxS to cut electricity and refrigeration energy use in three stores in Mexico. The retail giant is sharing its strategy and results with other actors in its supply chain so that it can help to replicate the intervention in other parts of the country (GOB 2018).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Signals That Spur Innovation and Scale Up Action: Governments can deploy capital investments to trigger significant and sustained change (Hofstetter 2019), which, of course, is one of the aforementioned characteristics of transformation. Such strategic investments can accelerate the adoption of sustainable technological solutions that create positive social impact while nudging the behavior of other investors. Investments can take many forms, such as risk mitigation and insurance products, subsidy and rebate schemes, and funds that pool both government and business resources to enhance access to finance for sustainable businesses models (G20 2015; Hofstetter 2019). Moreover, once innovation is present, the government plays a key role in scaling-up its implementation.

    Box 6 | EIT Climate-KIC

    Convened by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union, EIT Climate-KIC is a knowledge and innovation community that identifies and scales transformative products and services that will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. The partnership does this by investing in capacity building and providing seed funding to the most promising climate-positive business. Supported by public and private funding, including an annual grant from the European Union, the program incentivizes entrepreneurs to channel innovation toward four focus areas: urban transitions, sustainable land use, sustainable production systems, and financial mechanisms to mobilize capital toward climate action. EIT Climate-KIC programs have supported over 1,000 start-ups and attracted over $500 million in investment (Climate-KIC 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Support for Innovation: Governments are sometimes the masterminds behind the development of new technologies, products, or business models, and even if not, they can help drive innovation in other sectors to meet societal needs. Innovative ideas can help disrupt the status quo and drive transformation. Governments have a bird’s-eye view of different groups' interests, norms, and expectations. Using this information, they can create innovation incentives such as grants, awards, or other recognition, to help the private sector and CSOs set innovation priorities where they are most needed (Urmetzer et al. 2017). Governments may want to advance new ideas or technologies, especially to address the SDGs, to drive innovation (GCPSE and UNDP n.d.; UN DESA 2019).

    Box 7 | Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum

    Comprising 25 country governments, the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) aims to catalyze the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology by fostering innovation efforts within government, industry, and academia (CSLF 2020). Member governments, including those of Australia, China, India, Korea, Russia, United Arab Emirates, and South Africa, work to support CCS directly through program development and indirectly by working to create an enabling legal, financial, and regulatory environment for CCS innovation. To date, CSLF has supported over 30 CCS projects (Hultman et al. 2016).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Just Transition: The process of transformative change often results in winners and losers. To make transitions just and reduce opposition, governments can use policy instruments to either compensate losers or help them better participate in the transition and come out on the winning end (Horan 2019). Having a government as part of a partnership provides greater leverage for mitigating the losses that may come as a result of the transformative change the partnership seeks (IRENA 2020). When facilitating a just transition, governments are simultaneously changing policies, practices, and resource flows (explicit conditions), shifting relationships and connections (semi-explicit conditions), and encouraging a different mental model and way of doing things—touching on all the characteristics necessary to drive systemic change.

    Box 8 | Powering Past Coal Alliance

    Launched by the UK and Canadian governments in 2017, the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) convenes national governments, the private sector, and civil society actors that include academia and labor organizations to identify challenges and outline practical strategies for a clean and just energy transition. Recognizing that social resistance can be a significant barrier to governments transitioning from coal, PPCA established a just transition task force. The task force, co-chaired by the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Welsh Government, aims to share lessons learned, develop best practices, and establish a public policy road map for governments to implement just transition strategies (PPCA 2020). The task force aims to release its first report in December 2020.

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Unlocked Access to Finance: Governments can unlock financial sources or add additional resources specifically for achieving the SDGs that require global cooperation. The global agenda for development supports governments, particularly those of developing nations, in accessing different financing mechanisms, such as concessional loans for development assistance, non-concessional international finance from multilateral development banks, and grants from international funds through bilateral commitments between governments. Seeking initial funding from governments can help partnerships build and validate their value propositions as they build support from donors or investors (Enright et al. 2018). Operationally speaking, funding helps to extend the life of a partnership and its activities, aiding the long-term and sustained nature of transformation. Additionally, governments can spark or redirect private-sector investment in non-mainstream sectors like energy efficiency by providing the adequate incentives.

    Box 9 | Green Climate Fund

    Developing countries can access funds from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) via its accredited entities. The GCF depends on funding from wealthier governments—top contributors over the years include the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, France, and Germany, with pledges totaling $10.3 billion in 2014, and $ 9.87 billion in its 2019 replenishment, GCF-1. This commitment of public investment is meant to attract and stimulate financiers who may otherwise be wary of sustainable development projects in less stable economies. The GCF relies on its partnership network of national governments, development banks, national banks, CSOs, and other financial institutions to oversee and implement GCF-funded projects (GCF 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

Look Out for Considerations of Government Contributions

Governments are often hierarchical, bureaucratic, and risk-averse, making them notoriously challenging stakeholders to work with (Kamphof and Melissen 2017; Melo 2018). This structural lack of flexibility can be at odds with the dynamic structural changes required to meet the SDGs (Allas et al. 2018). The layered structure of governments—vertically and horizontally—can prevent collaboration across government ministries (OECD 2017), obstruct the alignment of common objectives under a specific time frame as some government agencies might have competing goals, and ultimately prevent systemic change. In addition to government structure, partnerships can encounter a culture of corruption or private interests within governments that disincentivize SDG action (USCIB 2015; Brouwer et al. 2016). For instance, a state-owned fossil fuel industry may make it impossible for a partnership focused on implementing a clean-energy transition to gain government support. Unsupportive policies or misalignment between local and national regulations can also impede partnership action. Additionally, changes in political leadership or political priorities can negatively affect partnerships. They may be operating under a particular timeline or with certain assumptions, only to have those thoughts derailed with unexpected shifts (GGGI 2019). Even governments that offer support through proper regulations and policies may lack the resources needed to build the infrastructure required for partnership success (GGGI 2018b; Beisheim and Simon 2016).

Box 10 | When to Partner with Government

Other stakeholders should partner with governments when they

  • are pursuing exciting but unfamiliar ideas and want to march in step with other bodies of influence;
  • need new policies to be implemented or old ones to be changed in order to pursue particular ideas;
  • seek support to implement new ideas, especially those that deviate from the norm;
  • are stuck with the status quo and need a boost to spur change;
  • want to help and need the extra confidence to move forward;
  • aim to learn from and collaborate with like-minded actors;
  • would have stronger impact by aligning with the higher authorities;
  • need connections to funding;
  • are stuck without additional investment in an area critical to a partnership;
  • want to unlock a new market to support a new and potentially transformative idea;
  • can reach more communities with better infrastructure or governmental support;
  • are working on an idea with far-reaching consequence and need high-level support; or
  • need to accelerate innovation with proper pacing.

Source: WRI Authors

Business Contributions to Transformative Partnerships

The contributions of business in partnership can help set up partnerships for true transformation. Many business interviewees noted that transformation is key to finding a competitive edge and staying relevant. As global urgency around sustainability grows, more and more companies are incorporating goals aligned with the SDGs and Paris Agreement into their long-term strategies (Gupta et al. 2019; Gomme and Perks 2018; Business and Sustainable Development Commission 2017). When it comes to aligning their activities with sustainable development, some companies interviewed noted that they would be more willing to be patient and take a longer-term approach reflective of one of the key characteristics of transformation, long-term and sustained. Businesses can offer partnerships resources (e.g., avenues for implementation) and efficiency (e.g., operational speed and focus) that are necessary to make a partnership’s mission reality. For businesses, partnerships provide avenues to new markets to more effectively contribute to social and environmental change.

  • Technology and Innovation: The businesses and CSOs that we interviewed both noted that businesses have the technical expertise to develop new solutions to tackle sustainability challenges and the capacity to make it happen. This sense of discovery and technical know-how may give partnerships a spark of momentum in times of inertia (WBCSD 2020). Similar to governments’ role promoting innovation, businesses driving innovation can also help to disrupt the status quo and drive transformation.

    Box 11 | The Global Fund, Google Cloud, and the Indian Government

    In 2019, Google Cloud partnered with The Global Fund and India’s Central TB Division to design a system to rapidly identify missing cases of tuberculosis. The partnership leverages Google Cloud’s expertise in artificial intelligence, data analysis, and visualization to help track previously unidentified cases of TB and search for outbreak clusters throughout India. By developing a system that continuously searches for areas with a high-disease burden, Google Cloud provides information needed to deploy timely treatment, an essential step in reducing TB transmission (The Global Fund 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Business acumen and expertise: Interviewees also mentioned that businesses can move faster than other stakeholders. They possess an efficiency and sense of urgency that helps them with problem solving and getting unstuck. Businesses often have operationalized processes and capabilities with systems in place that support these characteristics, and with this sophistication comes the ability to effectively manage projects and stay focused. Businesses also can quickly adapt their approaches when needed (UNGC 2013). Such business assets can even help governments accelerate implementation of sustainability-influenced policies by helping governments avoid bureaucratic processes that might typically hold them down.

Some interviewees also noted that companies are smart about taking a message and spreading a story, amplifying its reach to broad audiences. This can help a partnership rapidly gain attention, whether it be to expand its project mandate, attract new stakeholders, source new funding, or offer a replicable model to others looking to tackle similar problems. Partnerships can grow their influence with the benefit of sophisticated communications (KPMG International 2016).

Box 12 | Last Mile Project

Through the Last Mile Project, Coca-Cola shares its extensive supply chain, logistics knowledge, and marketing capabilities to help rural communities in Africa gain better access to medicines. African governments lean on Coca-Cola’s business expertise to streamline medicine deliveries, improve stock management, and measure performance on the availability of life-saving medicines. The project, in conjunction with partners that include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Global Fund, and The Yale Global Health Leadership Initiative, has developed a unique approach built on the foundation of Coca-Cola’s business success in Africa, donor leadership and collaboration, and the insight and experience of strong local talent and public health experience. (Project Last Mile 2020).

Source: WRI Authors.

  • Vision and Scaling: Businesses that value transformation are set up to be forward-looking, hyperaware of industry trends and shifts. Their ambition—and perhaps even impatience, as noted by some interviewees—drives them to dream big, and if they fall short, pivot quickly. As it pertains to sustainability, businesses interviewed mentioned a desire to nurture a better world, whether motivated by an inherent value system that prioritizes the environment, the shifting value system of others in the ecosystem, benefits to business profits, or a combination of all. Even companies primarily incentivized by business interests—such as those with business models that are built on decarbonization, or motivated to secure a license to operate—can’t ignore the growing movement around them that demands greater environmental accountability (Podder and Singh 2018). And a focus on the future of the earth is tied to thinking ahead on business strategy and setting a vision that steers a company. Businesses also have built-in scale. They can see the potential of transforming ideas into commercially viable solutions and can quickly take action to expand their activities – both in a geographic and conceptual sense (KPMG International 2016). This overall sense of vision and scale can help partnerships drive systemic changes, one of the aforementioned characteristics of transformation.

    Box 13 | Latin American Water Funds Partnership

    FEMSA, the largest Coca-Cola bottler in the world, joined The Nature Conservancy and others in the Latin American Water Funds Partnership in 2011. Initially a payment-for-ecosystem-services conservation tool, FEMSA helped to expand the strategic lens and mandate for the partnership, shifting its focus to water security and developing a systemized process that helped to improve the long-term water prospects of the region through the development of water funds. As of September 2019, the partnership has developed 24 water funds in Latin America (with 15 more in the pipeline), conserved almost 252,000 hectares, and involved almost 37,500 families (FEMSA 2019).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Investment in Local Communities: Some companies interviewed reported that one benefit of partnering is that they can enter new markets by piloting their operations in new geographies. With the globalization of today’s markets, it is rare for businesses with transformative interests to operate in a geographic silo since they often have operations, investments, and end users in other countries. The positive side of this involvement is that communities can receive more resources and investment than they might otherwise (UNGC 2013; Menden et al. 2019). Working at different levels across different geographies, businesses also encourage the systemic nature of transformation, altering the interrelationships and interdependencies among parties to influence new paradigms.

    Box 14 | Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

    Local agribusinesses and farmer organizations in Africa partner with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to create agricultural solutions that improve income and food security for smallholder farmers. These local partners enable AGRA to coordinate with other initiatives in the region and engage directly with farmers and small businesses to create localized solutions for more efficient and profitable farming techniques (AGRA 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Ability to Move Markets: Businesses have the ability to transform systems for a multitude of reasons: Perhaps they have the technological prowess to unlock solutions that can overcome sustainability challenges, they are more willing to absorb the risk associated with testing a new approach, or they have the organizational capabilities to overcome challenges that governments and CSOs get tangled in. Or, more often than not, businesses’ sheer power and size are enough to influence a change, especially if industry moves together—something that the businesses we interviewed noted as an attractive reason for partnering. If businesses can help to shift entire sectors toward a sustainable mind-set, their business and financial returns will be even greater (Gomme and Perks 2018). Once businesses have galvanized an industry, they have started to shift mental models—the hardest systems condition to change and one that sets them on a path for the long-term, sustained change found in transformation.

    Box 15 | Sustainable Apparel Coalition

    The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) includes companies at all levels of the value chain that collectively have the power to shift $500 billion of the apparel industry to sustainable practices. The coalition originated from an unlikely collaboration between Walmart and Patagonia in 2009, both of whom called for the development of an index to measure the environmental effects of their products. The Higg Index was developed shortly thereafter, and the partnership has grown to include companies at every level of the supply chain—from manufacturers to retailers—that use the Higg Index to track the sustainability performance of their products and share best practices. Governments and CSOs like WRI have also joined the coalition to provide crucial research, recommendations for best practices, and an external perspective on SAC’s activities. SAC now includes 10,000 retailers and manufacturers that are actively using the Higg Index worldwide (SAC 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Brand Credibility: Businesses that have cultivated a positive reputation—either through strong sustainability practices or a record of community stewardship and high-quality products or respected leadership—can lend a partnership legitimacy and gravitas that it might not otherwise have (Stibbe and Prescott 2017). Some business interviewees with well-recognized global brands in particular noted the benefits of being associated with a large, reputable company, known for its dedication to sustainability. This affiliation can help the long-term and sustained nature of transformation.

    Box 16 | NextGen Consortium

    The NextGen Consortium grew from the “unprecedented pre-competitive collaboration” between two of the largest food and beverage retailers, Starbucks and McDonald’s (NextGen Consortium 2020). This partnership brings together private companies, trade organizations, CSOs, and municipalities to work to reduce single-use plastics and develop fully recoverable to-go cups. As a founding member, Starbucks brought its reputation as an influential, well-respected company to the partnership. (In 2019, Fortune ranked Starbucks as the fifth most admired company in the world [Fortune 2019]). Following Starbucks, McDonalds became the second founding partner, accelerating the momentum and draw of the partnership (Sustainable Brands 2018). Months after launching the NextGen Cup Challenge, which solicited innovative ideas in reusable cup design and technology, the partnership had received more than 1,000 inquiries from individuals and companies (Global Coffee Report 2018).

    Source: WRI Authors.

Look Out for Considerations of Business Characteristics

To stay competitive, businesses need to strike the right balance between pursuing innovative approaches and minimizing risk. In practice, this can mean that even though businesses are well positioned to drive new solutions to the SDGs, social and environmental issues are often overshadowed by more lucrative lines of business. Depending on a business’s capacity and desire to push the envelope, this focus on minimizing risk and maximizing return can make businesses cautious or demanding partnership stakeholders, only pursuing partnerships that are profitable or have clear, measurable results. Although the companies we spoke with noted that adopting sustainable practices is the right thing to do both morally and strategically for long-term success, other businesses may be driven to engage in SDG partnerships by their desire to improve their public reputation or increase their social license to operate (UNGC 2013; WBCD 2016). SDG initiatives are often not considered part of companies’ core business, and partnerships may be siloed as part of a corporate social responsibility or sustainability team, limiting the resources that these initiatives can access (PWC 2015; OECD 2018a). Finally, although the right company can help elevate a partnership’s profile and increase its legitimacy (and was noted as such by some businesses we spoke with), association with a business that has a poor track record on environmental and social issues can in some cases be detrimental to partnership credibility.

Box 17 | When to Partner with Business

Other stakeholders should partner with business when they

  • seek a modern solution to an (old) problem or tackle sustainability in a new way;
  • know they could benefit from a technological solution but lack the technical skills;
  • want to be bold and creative;
  • are tangled up in coordination challenges and bogged down by bureaucracy;
  • struggle with responsiveness and accountability;
  • need greater rigor and/or internal capacity around resource management, maximizing investments, and problem solving;
  • have a desire to scale beyond their borders;
  • need to reach a constituent but don’t know how;
  • are apprehensive about taking risks;
  • know they need to dream big but don’t fully understand the system;
  • see the potential but don’t know how to get there;
  • have success in one geographical area and need to take it farther while properly adapting to other geographical contexts;
  • have connections to people on the ground but lack resources to help them fully;
  • have a message to promote among local communities and seek a creative way to reach them;
  • are apprehensive about risk associated with testing a new approach;
  • need help getting more parties on board with an issue; or
  • have identified a system failure that needs a market solution.

Source: WRI Authors

Civil Society Contributions to Transformative Partnerships

There has been a growing desire to better recognize the expertise of communities and civil society (Dalberg 2020). In our conversations with CSOs and also desk research on CSOs, we see that CSOs can provide credibility and link partnerships to support networks and subject-matter expertise. They also can serve a crucial coordination role within partnerships, helping manage stakeholder communication and partnership governance. CSO interviewees noted that they appreciate the opportunity to build mission alignment with other stakeholders in partnership, helping to drive forth sustainable development solutions.

  • Credibility: Similar to how CSOs can benefit from the positive reputation of companies, the CSOs that we interviewed mentioned that they also offer the same credibility in return. Companies in particular may need permission from different stakeholder groups, such as governments, communities, and consumers, in order to do business in different geographies (Poret 2019).

    Box 18 | Marine Stewardship Council

    World Wildlife Fund (WWF) together with business partner Unilever set up the Marine Stewardship Council to enable consumers to choose seafood products from well-managed fisheries. WWF’s involvement gave Unilever the credibility that it truly cared about providing its consumers with more sustainable seafood, while the backing of a large consumer goods company helped WWF expand its reach with both consumers and suppliers (MSC 2017).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Knowledge and Expertise: CSOs interviewed for this report said that they tend to be well aware of the interconnectedness of sustainability issues and are often well equipped to engage in activities like policy advocacy, which may help to shape and influence the broader business environment. Thanks to their intimate knowledge of a topic and their proximity to important stakeholder groups, CSOs can also flag issues that businesses otherwise might have failed to identify (Ménascé 2016). Building a solid foundation based on CSO expertise can help a partnership be long-term and sustained, one of the characteristics of transformation noted in Chapter 2. CSOs can also be a bridge between stakeholders, facilitating the flow of information and other offerings among different entities and providing a vehicle for effectively accessing and engaging with those groups (Poret 2019). This can prove extremely valuable to companies looking for a channel to make their voice heard with local governments and to parties who want to directly contribute to a valuable cause, such as disaster relief, or to identify and train marginalized groups, such as entrepreneurial women’s networks (Albani and Henderson 2014).

    Box 19 | Clean Energy Investment Accelerator

    Jointly led by WRI, Allotrope Partners, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Clean Energy Investment Accelerator (CEIA) mobilizes clean energy investment across commercial and industrial sectors to help companies meet their clean energy targets. Through its work with the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) and other networks, WRI helps CEIA bring corporate buyers together to aggregate clean energy demand and lower the price of renewables. In Vietnam, for instance, CEIA leveraged WRI’s REBA network to form a working group of corporate buyers, developers, and government officials to identify market barriers, recommend solutions, and test innovative clean-energy procurement models (CEIA 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Community and Business Access: Through the trust that a CSO inspires, it can gain deep access to and develop close ties with certain communities of citizens, consumers, or entrepreneurs (Menden et al. 2019). CSOs can play an integral role in representing the interests of vulnerable groups without decision-making power (Jenkins et al. 2017). CSOs can also serve as an entry point to access new markets for companies exploring inclusive business opportunities, whether through the CSOs' networks, local knowledge, and on-the-ground infrastructure such as regional offices or by acting as a trusted mediator between business needs and potential supplier offerings or customer needs (Menden et al. 2019; ODI and FDC 2003). In this way, CSOs can help others gain a commercial understanding of the local marketplace which is a risk mitigator when considering new market entry, which can ultimately help support the long-term and sustained nature of transformation.

    Box 20 | Sustainable Food Partnership

    Arla Foods, a leading Danish dairy producer, entered into a partnership with DanChurchAid, Novozymes, and others to establish the Sustainable Food Partnership, which targets populations in and near refugee camps. The partnership helps Arla to expand its operations in Africa, which has a large and untapped dairy market. As a result of this, it is now introducing a food product targeted at malnourished families in Ethiopia (P4G 2020b).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Externally Vetted Tools: Affiliating with a trusted partnership can relieve partner stakeholders from the need to build their own partnership tools. Many CSOs translate their deep knowledge into company guidance, as well as methodologies, frameworks, and tools for companies to adopt (Seitanidi 2015; Poret 2019). This guidance can often involve new approaches that disrupt the status quo. By using CSO-endorsed methodologies and playbooks, as well as engaging with CSO-managed networks that have third-party credibility, both businesses and local governments believe that they can more readily put their confidence in these products and services (Ménascé 2016).

    Box 21 | We Mean Business

    The CSO We Mean Business (WMB) convenes leading companies to commit to bold climate action through various WMB initiatives. One of its primary activities is to strategically engage with businesses that have joined the partnership, and provide them with WMB-endorsed guidance, tools, and clear playbooks to follow in their journeys to zero-carbon transition (WMB 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Trust and Confidence: CSOs that we interviewed also noted that they bring together like-minded organizations in collaborative networks aimed at learning The ability to take evaluation results and integrate them into a partnership’s approach to improve its effectiveness at meeting its objectives, to plan ahead, and to take risks , exchanging best practices, or accelerating business models. As a result of the implicit or explicit screening process that the CSO applies before it starts engaging with a specific community or granting prospective participants membership status in a network, network members benefit from the CSO’s due diligence, saving them valuable time and effort and ensuring that they interact with like-minded peers. Trust and confidence go a long way in driving the longevity of transformation when CSOs can nurture strong relationships among partners.

    Box 22 | Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance

    The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance is a knowledge-sharing and collaboration network that brings together highly ambitious cities from North America and Europe, plus Rio de Janeiro, each with a goal to reduce their city’s carbon emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050. Prospective member cities were subject to rigorous selection criteria: they had to formally adopt a community-wide carbon neutrality goal across all main sectors (electricity, thermal, transportation, waste) as well as implement a plan, set a dedicated budget and staff to manage it, and commit to active participation in the alliance. The high entry bar ensures prospective members that their time spent engaging with the network will see them exchange and collaborate with the most ambitious of their peers (CNCA 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

  • Coordination and Streamlining: Some businesses mentioned that they see CSOs as an independent partner, unburdened by corporate competitiveness or political ideologies. Many business or investor-oriented networks and platforms are organized through CSOs, which provide a pre-competitive environment to exchange and collaborate and can also help untangle the complexities associated with the many layers and actors within a system. A multistakeholder, multi-CSO platform is easier to engage with instead of disparate CSO parties, each with its own messaging and offerings (C&E Advisory 2018). Networks or platforms can promote information sharing (such as knowledge products, plans, and strategies) and support a shared understanding among target audiences of strategic priorities for the topic at hand. CSOs can help to disseminate scientific analyses from academia to better reach their intended audience, thereby ensuring greater percolation of relevant and trusted data (Seitanidi 2015) and can also use data to encourage transparency.

    Box 23 | Clean Cargo Working Group

    The Clean Cargo Working Group (CCWG), convened by BSR, aims to reduce the environmental impact of shipping by bringing together cargo carriers, freight forwarders, and companies, including Amazon, Nike, BMW, and Volvo. The partnership helps level the playing field among brands that may otherwise be competitors as members work together to agree on an industry standard. Now accounting for over 80 percent of global container cargo, CCWG members follow a proprietary benchmarking methodology to track the carbon performance of their ocean freight carriers (Clean Cargo 2020).

    Source: WRI Authors.

Look Out for Considerations of CSO Characteristics

Many CSOs are chronically underfunded and under-resourced, making it challenging for them to devote the necessary time and operational resources to the partnerships in which they participate (Podder and Singh 2018; Pattberg and Widerberg 2016). This is particularly tricky when CSOs are often looked to as conveners and connectors, a weakness magnified when CSOs participate in multiple partnerships without a framework for decision-making and prioritization. Stakeholders enter into partnerships with varying levels of power, depending on their size, wealth, and political capital (Brouwer et al. 2016). These power imbalances most often disadvantages CSOs, whose interests can be easily overshadowed by business and government agendas (Pattberg and Widerberg 2016). In market-driven partnerships in particular, CSOs may feel overshadowed by business and may find it difficult to shift to a business-oriented approach while keeping their own interests relevant (Van der Vleuten 2019). Power asymmetry can also lead to the exclusion of smaller CSOs with valuable local knowledge (Hazelwood 2015), in favor of larger organizations that bring greater name recognition and reputational benefits. Prior to partnering with a CSO, it may be useful to consider its fund-raising capabilities and track record with other partnerships (Menden et al. 2019). CSOs may also be driven by donor mandates, weighed down with their own reporting burdens that incentivize quantitative metrics and partnership participation over actual impact (Peterson et al. n.d.).

Box 24 | When to Partner with CSOs

Other stakeholders should partner with CSOs when they

  • have a shared ambition but need a unifier;
  • are entering unfamiliar or risky territory and want to manage their reputation;
  • are passionate about the issue but don’t have the proper background or knowledge;
  • want to start off on the right foot with local communities and include them in the process;
  • are experiencing communication barriers with other partners;
  • need to get in touch with the government but don’t have the right contacts;
  • want to contribute directly in crises;
  • want to work on issues of equity;
  • need a mediator to achieve transformation goals;
  • want to reach a population that is unfamiliar;
  • don’t have the time or resources to develop new products;
  • need consistency to manage or measure the work of a partnership;
  • want to use a product that others will have confidence in;
  • want quick access to other stakeholders but don’t already hold the relationships;
  • lack time and resources to investigate the best partners; or
  • want to exchange best practices with other like-minded stakeholders.

Source: WRI Authors

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