How collaboration creates value and accelerates change

Corporations, non-governmental organizations and other major institutions increasingly conclude that they will be more successful in attaining their individual objectives by collaborating with other partners with aligned interests. This realization has accelerated because of the emergence of a growing number of global-scale problems — water resource scarcities, challenges to producers in providing sufficient quantities of food products, limits for key raw materials in manufacturing operations — as well as a heightened understanding that no single institution has the capacity to provide solutions to these and other challenges.

The practice of collaboration is familiar to most organizations as it is a normal feature of customer-supplier relationships, specific government-business partnerships or through individual initiatives developed with non-governmental organizations, universities and other partners. What is changing the collaboration conversation is both the need and the scale for new kinds of thinking about partnerships that goes beyond the traditional focus on individual topics such as plant performance, mitigation of discrete environmental risks or management of research projects.

Succeeding this traditional focus is an agenda of challenges focused on newer sources of disruption and risks to businesses and natural systems, the need for new business models that can sustain profitability while providing solutions for societal needs, strategies for optimizing natural resource management, product and service innovation, and differentiation of brand value, to name a few.

As the dialogue on global collaboration needs and opportunities is transacted across business, government, multi-lateral, NGO and academic institutions, several themes are emerging. They include:

  • Successful collaboration ultimately can change the core strategy and social purpose of the business enterprise. Based on analysis by Michael Porter, Mark Kramer, Marc Pfitzer and their colleagues at the FSG Group, integrating the solution of social and environmental problems into the core business strategy is changing product portfolios and competitive boundaries across a growing number of business sectors by: 1) innovating new products and services; 2) redefining productivity across value chains; and 3) building clusters of relationships, capacities and competencies to create growth opportunities. Companies that build successful collaboration across these areas are not only adding to their internal competencies; they are simultaneously redefining their business purpose by using civil society as another kind of research and development laboratory for innovation.

Next page: A system-level understanding