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Understanding and Building Transformative Partnerships

Steve Jennings, the Founding Partner, Chief Innovation Officer and Futurist at Better Ventures opened up Wednesday afternoon's panel discussion entitled Understanding and Developing the Capacity for Transformative Relationships by asking the panellists to share what transformative partnerships mean to them.

“10 years ago, partnerships for sustainability were very transactional,” answered Loa Dalgaard Worm, the Executive Director at FSC Denmark. “NGOs wanted money to run their initiatives, and businesses wanted something to put it their CSR reports.”

“Sustainability, by definition is a multifaceted topic,” followed Patrick Bürgi, a Co-Founder of South Pole Group. “Therefore by definition we need to work across disciplines and stakeholders to have a real impact.”

While there is no right or wrong way to develop successful transformative partnerships, the panelists shared a few characteristics that shouldn’t be overlooked. Matt Stanley, the Sustainability Innovation Manager at IKEA asserted that transformative partnerships do not happen overnight. Just like a friendship, they take time to develop. They are also grounded in mutual trust between all of the partners involved. Kaisa Helena Tikk, the Global Advisor of Sustainability for Maersk Line, highlighted the importance of shared goals and values, and Virginie Helias, the VP of Global Sustainability at Proctor & Gamble (P&G) emphasised the need to agree on roles and responsibilities from the onset, as well as an actionable implementation plan.

“Having a common goal is no use if you disagree on how to go about reaching it,” Helias said, stressing that agreeing on the details is key.

Internal transformation was also identified as an important requisite - partnerships need to be at the heart of a company’s strategy if they are to be successful.

Finding the right partners

One audience member asked the panellists to share their insights on how to find the right partners. Beyond the more obvious answers around the importance of shared vision and goals, the panellists reiterated the importance of looking outside of the box. Partnerships should not just be between NGOs and business – competitors working together on specific shared sustainability challenges can also be very impactful.

We often focus on building new partnerships, but the most successful transformative partnerships are often those formed off the back of existing transactional partnerships where trust has already been developed.

Finally, Helias noted that we continually forget the importance of partnering with consumers. Indeed, when asked what one impact they would like to see transformational partnerships have in the next 10 years, the panelists unanimously agreed on making sustainable living the norm. For this to happen, partnering with customers to make sustainable lifestyles desirable and affordable will be key.


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