Smarter together: New forms of collaboration between business and society

The more we understand the complex challenges the world now faces, the more we see the overlapping interests of economic and societal actors. New forms of cross-sector collaboration are emerging to deliver smarter, more long-term solutions.
“Initially, corporate responsibility was just about awareness. Now it has changed the way we actually do business. Business is realising that they cannot work alone. You need to work together with your stakeholders to find the best practices and standards. This is becoming part of daily business.”
MÓNICA DE GREIFF PRESIDENT, BOGOTA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

At the turn of the millennium, few companies engaged actively with their stakeholders. Different sectors were kept apart by a deep sense of mistrust and in some cases outright antagonism, as well as the view that governments alone were responsible for managing societal issues.

Since then, a deeper sense of the complexity of global challenges has emerged. So too has the understanding that by pooling the resources, competence and insights from different stakeholders together, new approaches and opportunities can be brought to light and efforts to transform existing structures and practices scaled.


PARTNERSHIPS ARE PROLIFERATING

Today, collaboration is thriving across sectors and geographies, from policy dialogues, stakeholder consultations and collective actions to concrete, on-theground local partnerships. Efforts include developing joint standards, levelling the playing field and developing new models and solutions. A recent survey shows that the number of sustainability related collaborations has increased dramatically since 2000.


MORE STRATEGIC AND TRANSFORMATIVE

In 2000, ‘collaboration’ was often interpreted as charity for a good cause or an ad hoc partnership driven by the main office. Today, collaboration is becoming more targeted, long-term and focused on transformative and scalable models. However, research shows that realising synergies and multiplier effects are often difficult in practice, and more effective models are needed to leverage the unique competence and expertise of different partners.


CONSULTATION IS MORE FORMALISED

Stakeholder engagement is also becoming more formalised, and there is a growing tendency for consultations to be more integrated in regular business processes.

It is interesting to note that there has been only a marginal increase in stakeholder engagement levels among Global Compact participants over the years (this does not seem to reflect trends in the broader business community). Interestingly, there is a considerable difference between labour issues, where more than 60 per cent of respondents conduct regular engagement and activities, than in the other principle areas (in particular anti-corruption). This could be due to more frequent dialogue between companies and labour unions.


MORE SECTOR AND ISSUE-SPECIFIC

There has been a clear positive trend of higher participation in industry or issue-specific initiatives over the last few years. But again, there is a considerable difference between the principle areas, with companies engaging to a much lesser degree in collective and joint action on anti-corruption (see Figure 31). Less participation in anti-corruption and human rights initiatives may reflect the sensitivity of these issues. This also varies significantly across regions. Around 40% of respondents in Africa take part in industry or issue-specific initiatives on anti-corruption.

THE ROLE OF THE UN GLOBAL COMPACT:

A PLATFORM FOR COLLABORATION

As companies increasingly collaborate on sustainability issues, what has been the Global Compact’s role in catalysing change?

The Global Compact was formed as a multi-stakeholder initiative and was one of the first global platforms where business could engage in dialogue with its stakeholders.

Today, multi-stakeholder collaboration is thoroughly embedded throughout the Global Compact network. The Board itself, chaired by the UN Secretary-General, comprises representatives from business, international labour and civil society. Many work areas of the Global Compact are governed by multi-stakeholder working groups, and the vast majority of resources produced in the past 15 years have involved widespread consultation and collaboration with government, civil society and academic partners. Also, most of the Global Compact’s 88 Local Networks are multi-stakeholder in nature.


CONVENING MULTI-STAKEHOLDER DIALOGUES

From its inception, the Global Compact’s model of engagement has been to bring stakeholders together in the form of ‘policy dialogues’ to discuss challenging issues, such as business operating in zones of conflict. A large number of events have been held at the global, regional and local level since then. As such, the Global Compact has played a critical role in facilitating structured engagement between governments, civil society and the business community at large. It has brought unique sets of skills, experiences and knowledge of different actors together to bring about new solutions.


IMPROVING PARTNERSHIP VALUE

The Global Compact and its partners have also provided operational guidance for business, the UN system and civil society to improve the effectiveness, value and impact of collaboration. A large number of practical tools have been produced to improve the performance and impact of partnerships. In fact, 60 per cent of companies surveyed agree or strongly agree that the Global Compact has played an important role in motivating the company to take action to advance broader UN goals.


FACILITATING PARTNERSHIPS AND COLLECTIVE ACTION

In 2013, the Global Compact launched the UN Global Compact Business Partnership Hub, an interactive platform to connect businesses with partners in support of UN goals and issues. Action hub areas include water, anti-corruption, climate & energy, social enterprise and UN-business partnerships.

To date, as many as 2,391 organisations have registered 268 projects across all of the Global Compact Partnership Hubs. Although the number of registered organisations grew by 194 per cent in the last year, the amount of projects grew by only 37. This could indicate that an emerging interest has not yet been translated into significant action on the ground. However, there are promising developments underway especially in the area of water.

At the local level, a total of 775 Local Network partnership activities have been recorded since 2007.


GLOBAL COMPACT CITIES PROGRAMME

The Global Compact Cities Programme is dedicated to the promotion and adoption of the Global Compact’s ten principles by cities, and provides a framework for translating the principles into dayto-day urban governance and management. In the spirit of the UN Global Compact, the Cities Programme focuses on collaboration between all levels of government, business and civil society in order to enhance sustainability, resilience, diversity and adaptation within cities and in the face of complex urban challenges. Administered by an International Secretariat based at the Global Cities Institute at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, the Global Compact Cities Programme provides unique expertise and guidance to participating cities.

“The very first signatories got together and looked at mutual problems, and how business, civil society and labour unions could learn from each other. This model has run through the development of the Global Compact. We identify problems and sit down together with civil society – who may have a completely different view, but share the common objective to find practical solutions. These solutions are in turn more widely accepted because ofthis range of input.”
SIR MARK MOODY-STUART CHAIR OF THE FOUNDATION FOR THE GLOBAL COMPACT FORMER CHAIRMAN OF ROYAL DUTCH SHELL