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9 May 2019

3 pieces of wisdom about multi-stakeholder partnerships for your next project

Photo: geralt/ Pixabay

Addressing global challenges like the climate crisis, growing food insecurity or poverty does not come easy. It requires long-term engagements from many actors with different expertise, powers and interests. It’s often a long and tedious upstream struggle, even when all the parties agree on the ultimate goals.

On March 14, 2019 in Stockholm, SIANI and SLU Global organised a ‘How to effectively initiate, facilitate and engage in Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships, MSPs workshop, gathering representatives from the civil society, business, non-profits, international development and academia, to discuss their challenges and how to move forward working with MSPs. Here are the key messages from the day:

  1. Battle stereotypes

It has become apparent that the complex environmental and social challenges of today can’t be solved by a singular actor or even within one sector. However, working with MSPs is not easy, it requires time, energy, curiosity and open-mindedness.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships come with high costs. Herman Brouwer, who moderated the workshop and who has extensive experience with multi stakeholder endeavours, pointed out that it is important to restrain from jumping into the collaboration activities too quickly. He reminded that the first thing to consider before starting a MSP is to overcome any preconceived opinions about the partners you are going to collaborate with: “If we cannot get beyond the stereotypes and persuade others to do so too, the chances of building genuine partnerships are low.”

Therefore, the first activity all partners should do is to create a safe environment and open space to deal with the preconceived ideas about each other. It is useful to look into the mirror and reflect one’s own prejudices.

During the MSP meetings, people tend to hold on to their own agendas and goals and often fail to notice the ideas that emerge from such meetings. It’s common that such joint ideas nudge each stakeholder to think differently. MSP is not a fighting ring, it is the place for all the parties to challenge their standards and labels, rethink and push forward for the overall success of the partnership.

  1. Start with what you already have

Katarina Eriksson, Tetra Laval AB, shared successful stories from a private sector perspective, telling how a large international business works with dairy producers in Bangladesh and Kenya. Business is often considered the “bad guy”, especially among those working with NGOs, but it does not have to be this way. The advantages of involving private sector in a multi-stakeholder partnership, in particular when dealing with poverty reduction, are the readily available connection to market, efficient use of resources, introduction of established technology and knowledge, as well as investments.

Katarina brought up two examples of Dairy Hub projects in Bangladesh and Kenya, where Tetra Laval focuses on productivity and profitability of smallholder farmers. The overall idea is to reduce production costs and increase profit margins. Tetra Laval provides technical assistance, mainly in the form of training of trainers with initial focus on the cattle feed. Their model proves that it is possible to reduce the costs of feed while increasing the milk yields. Through the Dairy Hubs farmers are plugged into the Tetra Laval’s value chain, which provides them with a guaranteed access to market.

Photo: SIANI.

  1. Be patient, partnerships take time

Multi-stakeholder partnerships have different purposes, they can be problem focused, conflict focused, or opportunity focused. Anne Kullman and Cecilia Oppenheim, both Senior Advisors at the Swedish International Development Agency, Sida, shared experience from their work.

Sida, among other things, seeks to engage business leaders and influence systemic change from the core. This way sustainable business models can be connected to markets and work for the sustainable development goals at the same time.

Anne and Cecilia spoke about an example of a MSP in the garment industry in Asia. The common goals are to address the environmental and social issues, such as water pollution, low wages and poor working conditions in garment factories in low-income countries. Sida partnered with the International Labour Organization, ILO to work with governments, supply chains actors and global brands in Asia to step up social and environmental standards of the garment industry. So far, the learnings include:

  • Common ground between actors need to be identified in an early stage
  • The tone from top management bestows the direction
  • Different roles and mandates need respect and recognition
  • Managing relationships is crucial
  • One needs to recognise the power dynamics between public and private partnership

This partnership is still in the works. So, many lessons are yet to come. However, one critical piece of wisdom that has emerged from their experience is that ‘MSP takes time’, and all the partners need to be patient.

Watch video from the event.