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Orchestrating Change: The Harmony of Transformational Partnerships

Published: Tuesday, February 07, 2012

This is the third in a four-part series based on The Power of the Dragon: 2012 is the Year for Change in which we ask corporations to deliver on the Dragon's Four Blessings of the East. In this post, Harmony.)

Much like an orchestra, Corporate Social Responsibility produces a more pleasing result when all players are included in its efforts. While the melody played by a single instrument can be beautiful, there is nothing quite like the richness of a full orchestra playing in harmony.

Only when multiple players come together with a holistic and innovative response to issues, such as in Transformational Partnerships (term coined by the UN), can the full potential of CSR be realized. When the brightest minds from the private sector, not-for-profits, governments and agencies like the UN are united, innovative and sustainable solutions can be created far beyond what any one party can accomplish alone.

Bringing the Players Together

Characteristically, a Transformational Partnership:

addresses a systemic issue such as health delivery, water availability, food security or gender equality;
involves the participation of all stakeholders;
recognizes and leverages core competencies of all stakeholders; and
has the ability to scale and sustain performance over the long term.

Each stakeholder brings unique perspectives and capabilities to the partnership. The private sector offers capacity for innovation and the resources to follow through on long-term commitments. Not-for-profits and the UN bring, through in-country presence and ground-level involvement, an understanding of the challenges faced by a country or group. Governments provide the strategic vision for its citizens and create the enabling environment to realize intended outcomes.

Early in my career with UNICEF I had the opportunity to participate in an initiative that went far beyond its humble beginnings and in many respects mimicked the Transformational Partnership as it matured. But at the outset, we resembled a badly tuned orchestra.

From Solo to Harmony

Several years ago, as a junior officer, I was one of six people sitting around a table in New Delhi, India, beginning to tackle the problem of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) in the subcontinent, an eight-country spread which included Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. IDD is a prevalent and wholly preventable cause of brain damage and, in its most severe form, cretinism. It also imposed a huge economic cost to the region in terms of lost productivity due to mental impairment.

The soils in the region had been depleted of iodine due to leeching and erosion making it unavailable through routine dietary consumption. Research had shown (and continues to show) that salt iodization was the safest way to increase its consumption.

Our first meeting addressed only the nutrition perspective of the disease but it quickly became apparent that there were many players beyond those at the table who needed to be involved. From those six UNICEF and Indian Ministry of Health representatives, our initiative grew to include:

  • The Ministry of Railways, which was responsible for rail transport of the iodized salt, and the railway yard workers who needed to be influenced to connect railway cars carrying the salt to the trains' engines;
  • The Ministry of Transportation, which was responsible for road transport and weight restrictions;
  • The Ministry responsible for Security, including Border Patrol Officers who required training to prevent the movement of non-iodized salt for human consumption from contiguous countries and from state to state;
  • The Ministry of Industry to support the regulation of the salt industry and to set performance standards;
  • The Association of Salt Producers which had a traditional way of producing edible salt that did not involve automation (it was harvested and packaged by hand and almost always involved child labourers) and were not only expected to change practices but also required significant capital investment;
  • Packaging suppliers who produced a burlap bag for long distance transportation of salt and, because salt left exposed to the open on flat-bed trucks was vulnerable to iodine evaporation or leaching because of the rain, had to redesign packaging to include a polyethylene liner to protect the contents;
  • The Ministry of Education which was enlisted to ensure school-going children understood the importance of consuming iodized salt, regularly bringing salt samples from home for testing to make sure it had sufficient iodine levels; and
  • The Ministry of Broadcasting and Communications which was helpful in popularizing consumption of iodized salt and changing behaviours, as were a number of community based NGOs.

The Benefits of Being In Tune

As our efforts progressed, Iodine Deficiency Disorders began to decline throughout the region and an export industry emerged, supplying countries in the region and beyond - all the way to East Africa. Twenty years after the surge in exports, revenues from salt have played an important role in India's economy.

Without the efforts of all stakeholders, our impact would have been neither as far-reaching nor as successful. It's just one example of the value of a holistic perspective taken by the Transformational Partnership - legacy-making stuff, where there are many winners!

Image by Flickr user tsevis

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