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.