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Why collaboration should be every business’s 2020 priority

Authors: Guus ter Haar and Yoshita Arora

NewForesight has worked across 15 agro-commodities, influencing system change in agriculture and beyond for 10+ years. Our work with multiple front-runner companies, 25 multi-stakeholder industry platforms and NGOs and over a dozen government and multilateral agencies have resulted in identifying the levers that can unlock the true potential of collaboration.

Several of the largest FMCG companies recently published statements that they will not meet their 2020 deforestation targets, which they committed to a decade ago. The same can be seen in the cocoa sector, where several of the world’s largest chocolate brands and manufacturers are unable to guarantee that their supply chains are child labor free, despite their commitments to do so; two decades ago. This is a worrying trend, which businesses cannot afford to ignore. Some of the biggest industry front runners, with public commitments and the resources to back them up, are still contributing to some of the gravest social and environmental issues that our planet faces today. Despite knowing that these issues pose a huge risk to their supply chains and brand image going forward, why are these businesses not able to structurally transform their sectors at the pace society asks of them?

Businesses are committing to drive sustainability practices, but are often failing to meet them alone

With the growing awareness levels amongst businesses and consumers, many companies are making commitments to reduce sustainability issues. However, they often realize that the time and resources required to meet the commitments alone are very high. For instance, a recent study by Global Canopy indicated that there was an increase in the number of companies with commitments to protect forests every year. However, it also highlighted that none of the companies assessed in 2018 would meet their goals of eliminating commodity-driven deforestation from their supply chains and portfolios by 2020”, a target that many of these companies had set.

Given these experiences, there is a higher understanding among the companies to tackle sustainability issues by taking a systemic approach. Systemic approaches are important as the challenges go beyond the influence of a single actor, there is a need for a critical mass to create impact and involving stakeholders such as the governments is essential. Therefore, to take a systemic approach it is imperative for businesses to collaborate and look beyond their own supply chains and circle of influence.

Collaborate for success through shared vision, action, and accountability

Businesses need to leverage an effective mechanism to design and implement collaborations. The design should ensure aligned objectives, transparency, and accountability. NewForesight has worked with various organizations in helping them realize their need to collaborate effectively. Three must-haves for meaningful and effective collaboration, along with examples of how we supported our clients in effective collaboration, are mentioned below.

  1.  Create a shared vision: There is a need for companies to create a shared sustainability vision that takes into account the inputs of businesses, supply chain actors, governments, local stakeholders, and other enablers. This vision needs to go beyond individual sustainable practices and operations and should be based on transitioning to the desired sector dynamics. An interesting example of this is how the World Cocoa Foundation established CocoaAction. CocoaAction focused on aligning previously fragmented interventions of the nine leading cocoa and chocolate companies, origin governments and supply chain organizations to improve livelihoods of 300,000 farmers and 1,200 communities in West Africa.
  2. Develop an action-driven roadmap: The next step is to outline the roadmap, complete with time-bound actions. This plan should provide clear activities, ensure efficient resource utilization and articulate clear roles and responsibilities for different stakeholders. For instance, in September 2019 the world’s largest coffee companies (roasters and traders) came forward to sign the London Declaration to improve the long-term sustainability of the sector. This included committing to concrete shared and individual time-bound actions aligned with the Declaration.
  3. Create a shared framework for progress tracking and reporting: Finally, develop a shared system for measurement and evaluation with clearly defined methods for measuring results and impact, to ensure accountability and shared learning. The Global Coffee Platform (GCP), which unites public and private sector members from 41 countries with a common vision for the sector, developed a global progress framework to enable the sector to continually measure, report on and improve sustainability performance.

While establishing collaborations is difficult, trying to solve sustainability issues at scale alone is next to impossible. In order to ensure driving impact at scale at a faster pace, effective utilization of resources and positive business impact, it is critical for businesses to collaborate going forward. So, what is your plan to drive impact in 2020?

If you want to know more about how we have designed and supported successful collaborations you can visit our website and contact our sector transition expert Guus ter Haar (guus.terhaar@newforesight.com).