• Public-private partnerships are key to achieving the Great Reset and meeting the sustainability targets.
  • Successful collaborations require multiple, sometimes unlikely partners, to come together.
  • Partnerships achieving the most impact share five elements.

If COVID-19 has taught us one thing, it is that the world is entirely interconnected and that change can only happen in concert. History echoes this lesson. The Marshall Plan was an early standout example of a multistakeholder alliance that brought diverse parties together to build markets and infrastructure, and stimulated investment and jobs across Europe as it recovered from an earlier profound shock, World War II.

The Marshall Plan was considered to be highly successful – contributing to a significant rise in GDP for those western European countries involved, and it contributed to the renewal of the western European chemical, engineering and steel industries.

Multistakeholder collaborations like the Marshall Plan often require unlikely partners to come together – which can be challenging – but such partnerships carry more impact. Single-issue based political pathways have their limits, as multiple parts of the economy and society need to be engaged in innovation and investment at the same time. Those who stand to lose out or who may feel neglected by a certain focus on one given issue, such as tackling climate change, may push back on any effort that is perceived to overlook their anxieties about, for example, a lack of jobs or new economic opportunities.

The reverse also holds true. A political push on policy, institutions, technology and finance to create new industrial jobs for some, will be resisted by others if they think these jobs are at the expense of tackling other pressing issues such as climate change. Confronting a lack of cohesion and the sustainability challenge, therefore, go hand-in-hand to achieve true political transformation.

The private sector has a compelling role to play. Forward-minded leaders can often mobilize resources, innovation and action, and influence a wide network, that many in governments and civil society cannot do on their own. There is a growing space for corporate leadership to drive political confidence and the opportunity to act.

As we gather for the Sustainable Development Impact Summit in an increasingly resource-constrained world, grappling with a major global development setback, impactful solutions are critical to making informed decisions about the best use of those limited resources. Collaborations and alliances between public and private sectors and new combinations and applications of policy, technology and finance provide a compelling approach to delivering the Great Reset.

If change-making is a team sport, what then defines the winning teams? Here are five examples of elements shared by some current partnerships which are achieving impact:

1. Trust

Meaningful engagement and trust between stakeholders, who manage to integrate unique perspectives and expertise.

The Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation is working with government and business partners to ensure cross border trade is simple, fast and cost-effective, creating new business opportunities, generating employment, enabling greater economic and social development and reducing poverty. In the first completed project in Colombia, the Alliance worked with the Colombian National Institute for Food and Drug Surveillance (Invima) and business, to introduce a risk management system for food, beverages, medicines and medical devices, allowing inspectors to focus their resources on high-risk shipments without jeopardising safety and security. The collaboration has fostered greater trust between government and business, reduced the number of physical inspections and stripped hundreds of hours of delays out of the border clearance process, saving business $8.8m in just 18 months.

What is the World Economic Forum doing on trade facilitation?

The Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation is a collaboration of international organisations, governments and businesses led by the Center for International Private Enterprise, the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum, in cooperation with Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.

It aims to help governments in developing and least developed countries implement the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement by bringing together governments and businesses to identify opportunities to address delays and unnecessary red-tape at borders.

For example, in Colombia, the Alliance worked with the National Food and Drug Surveillance Institute and business to introduce a risk management system that can facilitate trade while protecting public health, cutting the average rate of physical inspections of food and beverages by 30% and delivering $8.8 million in savings for importers in the first 18 months of operation.

2. Macro vision with micro application

A broad constituent group that combines diversity and breadth, with a common purpose that focuses on specific projects with achievable objectives.

Grow Asia is building Better Business by bringing together government, business, civil society organizations and farmer groups, to help scale up inclusive agriculture value chains across key commodities such as palm oil, rubber, coconut, rice and coffee – significant contributors to exports in South East Asia.

With many successes in the region, the Vietnam Coffee Story stands out, where partnerships were established to improve the sustainability of Robusta coffee in Vietnam, the world’s second largest coffee producer. Despite high levels of productivity, Vietnam is susceptible to climate threats and ageing farms, leading to declining yields. Through a National Committee formed by the by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Coffee Task Force of Grow Asia’s Vietnam chapter and public-private partnerships at the district and province level, an initial successful pilot was scaled up, to train 18% (around 100,000) of coffee farmer households in a national curriculum in sustainable practices.

These farmers have seen increased yields and improvements in the quality of yields. They have made progress in adapting to climate change, lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 40,000 tonnes annually (the equivalent of taking over 8,640 passenger vehicles off the road for one year), reducing water usage by 21 million m3 annually as well as fertilizer use. All this translates into $12.3 million of savings annually for farmers.

3. Empowering other change-makers

If other people or organizations have greater potential to create change, empower them.

Through the Communities partnerships, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is building Shared Prosperity and advancing the world’s leading models of sustainable social innovation. Since its founding 20 years ago, the Foundation has helped its 400 social entrepreneurs and innovators to amplify their impact by raising their visibility and inclusion at global events; through education programmes, peer learning and through strengthened global networks.

The impact of the social entrepreneurs and innovators on their communities has been significant. Around 622 million people have been directly affected by the operations and activities of this group. More than $6.7 billion has been distributed to people in communities through loans, or from the sale of products which have created value and enhanced livelihoods. Through their initiatives, 192 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions have been mitigated – the equivalent of taking more than 40.7 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year.

Two Decades of Impact 2020 Report: Collective Impact of Schwab Foundation Community (numbers are indicative aggregates of diverse activities in many contexts)
Two Decades of Impact 2020 Report: Collective Impact of Schwab Foundation Community (numbers are indicative aggregates of diverse activities in many contexts)
Image: World Economic Forum

The Schwab Foundation has recently set up the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, an unprecedented collaboration between 60 global organizations, representing over 50,000 social entrepreneurs globally, to pool knowledge, experience, and support responses for social entrepreneurs in their work to alleviate suffering and advance new models of change for a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world. The Alliance released its COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda on 16 September, 25 concrete interventions calling on key stakeholders to join Alliance members in increasing their commitments to support social entrepreneurs during COVID-19.

What is the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

The COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship is hosted by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, with the support of Yunus Social Business and GHR Foundation and integrates the perspectives of social entrepreneurs through a strategic partnership with Catalyst 2030.

It identifies five principles that should lie at the heart of any COVID-19 response effort:

  • Make the voices of social entrepreneurs and their communities heard
  • Prepare to respond, recover and reset – taking the opportunity to “shape a new tomorrow”
  • Collaborate across sectors in recognition of the complexity and scale of the crisis
  • Look beyond healthcare, given that COVID-19 touches all areas of people’s lives
  • Support the shovel-ready solutions that grassroots organizations are already able to provide today

The Alliance has released a COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda, outlining 25 concrete recommendations for key stakeholder groups to support social entrepreneurs during COVID-19. These align around the following streams:

1. Intermediaries and networks to surface the needs of the social entrepreneurs they serve on the ground and provide them with fitting support
2. (Impact) investors to adapt their investment priorities and processes, and provide flexible capital and must-have technical assistance
3. Corporations to stand with the social entrepreneurs in their supply chains and ecosystems, and join forces with them to “shape a new tomorrow”
4. Funders and philanthropists to expand and expedite their financial support to social entrepreneurs and intermediaries, taking risks reflective of today’s unprecedented times
5. Government institutions at all levels to recognize social entrepreneurs as a driving force in safeguarding jobs and in building a greener and equitable society, and to back them accordingly


4. Global ambition

If the issue is universal – the objectives can be expansive.

The Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) is supporting a Liveable Planet. Established in 20120 to catalyse collective action towards deforestation-free supply chains for commodities such as soy, palm oil, cocoa, beef, and paper and pulp, its official partners now include more than 160 key companies, government agencies, civil society and multi-lateral organizations, which TFA convenes through ‘Action Platforms’ in key tropical forest countries.

With the support of TFA, the Consumer Goods Forum has officially launched the Forest Positive Coalition of Action, which includes 17 global consumer goods companies with a collective market value of US$1.8 trillion working together to accelerate systemic efforts to remove deforestation, forest degradation and conversion from the key commodity supply chains of palm oil, soy, and paper, pulp and fibre-based packaging, and drive transformative change across the industry.

By promoting an innovative and integrated collective action large-scale approach, TFA is working to ensure that commodity production realizes maximum economic gain to local communities, smallholders and large-scale producers, while minimizing the impacts on tropical forests, on which 1.6 billion people worldwide depend. The result is an exciting new way of doing business sustainably - one that will drive achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

5. Multi-sector buy-in

Big issues affect many different sectors in different ways. Change only happens when all sectors – public and private – see the benefit.

Diverse and dynamic partnerships form the backbone of Friends of Ocean Action, a unique group of over 55 leaders from a wide range of sectors, who are committed to fast-tracking systemic solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. Launched in 2018, the Friends of Ocean Action platform pools knowledge, means and influence to help the international community take the urgent steps needed to conserve and sustainably use the ocean for equitable development.

The Global Tuna Alliance for example, is an independent group of retailers and supply-chain companies for whom tuna is one of the top three seafood product groups, together representing 90% of this market’s total imports from developing countries. Members are improving environmental sustainability and traceability within global tuna fisheries, working to ensure tuna is sourced sustainably and is fully traceable, that human rights are safeguarded, and modern slavery is eliminated. Such partnerships and communities can help to achieve shared prosperity, fairer and greener business, and a more liveable planet.

This article appeared on Forbes.