John Paul

The Collaboration Challenge

Rama Bijapurkar of the Times News Network just wrote an interesting piece on what may be the most difficult aspect of successfully engaging the market at the BOP–the creation and maintenance of cross-sector partnerships. He writes:

“One of the key ideas of the book (Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid) is that the last, but most important ?get to, and get the consumer? mile can only happen if private sector works in partnership with the development sector organisations.

The latter have access, influence, trust and knowledge, about people at the bottom of the pyramid, as well as the cost-right grass-roots organisation infrastructure; and hence are the best market development and channel partners for any company wanting to find the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. That’s where the theory ends. In practice, wherever I have been a part of such initiatives, even sustaining a constructive dialogue has been tough. What we have is parallel monologues, with different mental models and different processes of ’getting the job done’.”

It’s not surprising that two opposing sectors (private & non-profit) would have difficulties getting along given their differences in priorities, skill sets, and methods of conducting business. There’s also a territorial issue: NGOs and development agencies are increasing engaging in financially sustainable endeavors, while the private sector is becoming progressively more aware of their social and environmental obligations. While collaborations may bring difficulties, this blurring of the line between development and enterprise makes such partnerships essential.

The article goes on to detail some of the specific challenges, as well as suggesting ways to overcome them. For those interested in exploring this further, the Resources section of Nextbillion has a lot to offer. I would first recommend reading two reports: Meeting the Collaboration Challenge: Developing Strategic Alliances Between Nonprofit Organizations and Businesses by the Drucker Foundation, and the World Economic Forum’s more recent Partnering for Success: Business Perspectives on Multistakeholder Partnerships. For those looking to go a little more in depth, check out James Austin’s book The Collaboration Challenge: How Nonprofits and Business Succeed through Strategic Alliances.