By: Joanne Sonenshine, Founder + CEO
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), resilience is all of those things, and likely more. Resilience is about systems change, and multi-sector engagement on the ground, especially in communities where conflict, development deceleration and economic loss is most prevalent.
In a panel discussion today, hosted by the Society for International Development (SID) here in Washington, and populated with leaders from USAID, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Mercy Corps, and Opportunity International, USAID shared an update on its new Bureau creation, whereby the existing Bureau for Food Security (BFS) will merge with the water teams currently housed within the Bureau for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment (EEE), and Center for Nutrition, to become the new Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.
The proposed Bureau aims to improve the way the agency helps communities and countries "enhance their well-being, improve water security and reduce hunger, poverty and malnutrition." But what does that really mean? For the new Center, focusing on resiliency doesn't mean an entirely new approach to distribution of U.S. Government aid. It simply means that USAID can better target countries and communities most in need of humanitarian assistance, while eventually saving on U.S. Government costs, by building systems and capacity that allow for the countries to take on their own development in the future.
The three sources of programmatic activity aim to be:
The U.S. Government is right to focus on how its dollars are utilized in countries like Ethiopia, for example, where more than $5 billion has gone to address challenges around drought, food insecurity, and income inequality over the last decade. While Ethiopia has made great gains in its development trajectory, when new challenges come into play (for example the current devastation brought on by locusts or floods, etc.) the country should ideally be able to help itself bounce back over time. The new Bureau's aim is to help build local infrastructure, market systems, technical capacity and local collaborations to help countries and communities mitigate, and ultimately adapt, to these crises, without the continuous need of the U.S. Government.
During the panel discussion, a panelist raised this simple, yet provocative question: "We are we still focused on resilience after all of these years?" The answer: We have no choice until we get better at it. USAID will be taking lessons from the successful Feed the Future program, and continue promoting the long term benefit of adoption of farming best practices, climate smart agriculture, better use of soil, income diversification and gender equity to propel resilience measures in places where it invests.
There was much talk about collaboration, and how hard it can be, especially when there are so many different systems, terminologies and approaches used in field contexts. I asked how the U.S. Government is considering its role in managing irresponsible governments and crumbling infrastructure, like bridges and roads, given how much it touts its interest in working with the private sector, and the need for these basics to be in place for effective market-based systems to thrive. Thriving market-based systems lend themselves to longer term development, and resilience, all else being equal. The private sector grows impatient with USAID at times when the urgent need is better governance to promote market-based systems. From the response I got, it sounds like USAID recognizes its importance in facilitating strong government dialogue, and helping governments commit to long term market stabilization, thus encouraging private sector engagement. As an aside, this is also the role the Millennium Challenge Corporation is trying to play alongside USAID.
I was encouraged by the repeated mentions of multi-sector approaches, since to address resiliency in many communities (particularly those in agricultural centers), the community must be at the center of investment, and one sector alone, or commodity, or investor type, or government even, can not solve all challenges without effective collaboration, built from the community up.
In summary, it remains to be seen how effective the new Bureau for Resilience and Food Security will be in truly moving the needle on development challenges in places of highest need, conflict and humanitarian crises. Measuring results around resiliency has gotten easier, but is still incredibly difficult AND takes a lot of time.
In the meantime, our role here at Connective Impact will be to bring together actors that have a vested interest in seeing economic improvements over time, and are patient for results, but believe deeply in the power of markets and private sector-led collaboration to make change.
She said that if companies would be willing to stick to sustainability or CSR strategies that go beyond 6 or 12 months, towards maybe 2 or 3 years, co-creating programs, finding leveraged funding and creating mutually beneficial results would be a lot easier. It got me thinking about the need for the private sector to step up their SDG game. How can companies move away from quarterly reporting, to focusing on longer-term impact gains that have societal benefit? I know these are the kinds of questions the Business Roundtable, and B Corporation, are asking themselves as they set out to create a new paradigm for sustainable business. As the shift happens, let's think about how partnerships in the meantime can meet in the middle. Maybe nonprofits need to act in a more nimble and dynamic fashion, and speed up the pace a bit. Companies can consider that to create real change, sometimes it just takes time.
These were among the points raised during our 2020 Partnership Preview webinar held December 17. Did you miss it? Head over to the webinar page and download the recording and slides. Then reach out to us, share your perspective, and let us know what partnership journey you have planned for 2020. Happy planning!
By: Stefanie Kruglik, Sr. Director Impact + Strategy
The "S" represents human rights, and the farmer and other supplier community elements with whom we work to acheive sustainability. It is also the hardest piece of ESG to track. In recent weeks, a number of brands have made large commitments pertaining to the “E” within ESG, including goals for reducing plastic use, reducing or zeroing out deforestation, and sourcing more sustainable materials. While these are important and groundbreaking commitments, people and communities must be included in order to ensure success.
For instance, how can we address deforestation without addressing poverty and the need for living income for farmers?
People and planet cannot be separated when we set ESG goals.
Many tools exist to provide brands insight into their supply chains. But if they are not paired with oversight and holistic solutions aimed at the people in their supply chains, the tools only allow brands to see risks and problems—without the ability to fix them. This often leads to “cut and run” sourcing.
We must realize that transparency is not enough. We must go beyond risk identification and avoidance, and begin to address the human rights of people and communities within supply chains in “risky” areas.
How can we do this?
Reach out if you want to discuss these calls to action, and specific recommendations around how to include the "S" in your ESG goals.
By Joanne Sonenshine, Founder + CEO
I appreciated the urgency articulated by all panelists, realizing that to address our 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), feed a growing population, and ensure international development doesn’t leave agriculture behind, we must figure out how to combine forces and collaborate for greater efficiencies and effectiveness in agricultural communities (particularly with smallholders).
I asked a question about infrastructure, and who bears the brunt of the challenges imposed by crumbling roads, disintegrating bridges, limited connectivity and other challenges that smallholders face when trying to sell more of their products into markets, domestic or foreign. An interesting conversation ensued, which I share below generalized and without attribution.
Keep in mind that to make a mark in a developing country, company investments are not without risk, and the returns, both social and financial, do not always compensate for that risk. Partnering with public entities, be they donors or service providers, is a critical and often forgotten element in international development, and one that has evolved as the definition of an economic ‘externality’ shifts. Goods and services once thought of as externalities, where price can’t easily incorporate the true costs and benefit of usability, were often covered by public investment. Think utilities or telecom. Nowadays we may define an externality in relation to climate change, or other factors that cannot easily be valued positively or negatively. As externalities shift, private sector entities are taking on more risk, and relying upon other actors to serve as conduits or to pass-through that risk. The benefits of these partnerships can exceed the cost, and often lead to positive externalities (increased rates of education, better health, more powerful labor force, empowered women and girls, etc.) Roles between public and private entities in development are not always clear, however.
Generally the messages I heard in today’s conversation were the following:
The answers to all of these questions are of course context specific. As one panelist said, it’s not about finding A partnership….It’s about finding the RIGHT partnership to advance the needs of communities they serve. That’s exactly what we need. We need the RIGHT partners working on the RIGHT projects together to advance the needs of all constituencies (private, public, civil, community) based on information from the communities themselves.
The conversation today, informative, refreshing and invigorating, is the kind we need to keep us thinking strategically and systematically about solving our world’s most pressing problems. I thank the panelists and hosts for the inspiration.
Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, an advisory firm working with mission-driven enterprises to address our greatest social and environmental challenges through effective partnership development.
By Stefanie Kruglik, Senior Director Impact + Strategy
Adding to the complexity, standards are garnering more attention as investigations question whether they actually deliver what they promise (as evidenced by the recent Washington Post report on certification inside cocoa supply chains.)
Properly evaluating sustainability standards before choosing one is crucial, as the relationship between brand and standard is key for both creating sustainable supply chains, and maintaining consumers’ trust. Most brands evaluate standards by looking only at criteria or frameworks, but it’s just as important to study factors such as how the standard is validated before making a determination about its efficacy or reliability for a brand.
To boil it down, here are the 5 things smart brands do when searching for the best sustainability standard partner: