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Why collaboration is key for a sustainable world

Collaboration is key to finding solutions to global problems.

Collaboration is key to finding ways to produce more healthy, nutritious food with a smaller carbon footprint. Image: Pexels

Dimitri de Vreeze
Chief Executive Officer, dsm-firmenich
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Profit, of course, is important, but we do believe it should go together with creating value for our planet and people.
  • Knowing demand for food will only increase due to a growing world population, we need to collectively find ways to produce more healthy, nutritious food with a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Collaboration is key – not just between the public and the private sectors, but also within the private sector.

“I started my company for the sole purpose of making money,” said no entrepreneur ever. In our world of ever-growing complexity, companies continue to be founded to solve a problem in society. An often-exclusive focus on profit, however, has often distorted companies from their mission, and their purpose.

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Companies are sometimes just like people, asking questions like what it stands for, and what its purpose is. At DSM, the company I have been privileged to co-lead for the past two years, we have been incorporating people, planet and profit as three equal dimensions in how we run our operations and how we report our progress. Profit, of course, is important, but we do believe it should go together with creating value for our planet and people. Those who don’t, might become extinct.

Collaboration, for improving health through nutrition

DSM’s purpose is to improve the health of both people and the planet through nutrition. We know that our food systems are broken and the recent war in Ukraine has shown just how fragile it really is. Collectively, the world has been failing its people: 800 million people are malnourished, 2 billion are overweight, half of the world’s 1 billion farmers live in poverty and about one-fifth of all carbon emissions can be attributed to food and agriculture.

Knowing that the demand for food will only increase thanks to a further growing world population, we need to collectively find ways to produce more healthy, nutritious food with a smaller carbon footprint. Easy? Unfortunately, not.

But in all this complexity it is up to the private sector to find the solutions. If you have the knowledge and competencies, you have a responsibility to help create these solutions. No one is able to do this in isolation. Collaboration is key: not just between the public and the private sectors, but also within the private sector. More and more, entrepreneurs realize that more value can be created when they work together, especially when systems-based solutions are needed like in food and agriculture. For DSM, in this respect, innovation is no longer about finding and creating a new product, but about creating a new solution to an existing problem.

Working together

The good news is that more and more people are realizing this, not just in companies but also in business schools, in civil society and elsewhere. When COVID-19 hit us in early 2020, we collectively showed how one can work together: fast, collaborative and constructive. We demonstrated that it’s not only possible but also needed, not only in a crisis.

Collaborations, however, are never done for the sole purpose of collaboration: it needs to fit into a company’s purpose and long-term vision. As we have been taught as early as kindergarten: working together is never easy.

At DSM, partnerships don’t happen by accident but are an essential part of our strategy, with an institutionalized focus on renewal. For a company that has reinvented itself several times, collaboration remains key. Today, DSM is part of four joint ventures that have been in existence for over 35 years. Our strategic partnership with the World Food Programme is currently in its 16th year and was recently renewed for another three years.

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Especially in innovation, we have seen a notable increase in collaborations in recent years. It highlights that innovation is not about developing a product, but that a market ‘pull’ needs to be created. DSM’s joint venture Veramaris with German chemical company Evonik is a clear example, which is currently offering a sustainable alternative for omega-3 fish oil. Together with Cargill, we are also creating a sustainable production method for the sweetener stevia. Both joint ventures clearly create value, for people and the planet.

As we believe the future of nutrition is more and more personalized, we created a separate company, Hologram Sciences, inviting other partners to invest. We believe the speed of development will greatly increase compared to an in-house development.

Three elements for successful collaboration are key though: a shared vision, ensuring that the values of everyone are aligned, and making sure there is space to develop (and make mistakes). This is how we can tackle the challenges offered by the world today… together!

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May 21, 2024

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