The answer is complicated, but it was time, and I knew I had to make a drastic change in my life. I expound on the rationale and steps leading up to this sudden move in my book, ChangeSeekers.
Bottom line? I wasn’t happy. I was impatient to do more. And I wanted to test a theory that had marinated in my mind for years, having worked inside government, as a lobbyist, and as a program director at an international nonprofit always liaising with private sector leaders.
The theory was that for the private sector in particular, but also reaching into the nonprofit and public sectors as well, partnership and collaboration were critical to solving some of our biggest planetary challenges, and yet many organizations were without guidance on how to partner effectively while maintaining allegiance to their internal goal setting processes. Addressing long-standing issues like climate change, access to clean water, poverty and gender equity would not be feasible by one organization alone, regardless of the size of their pocketbook. Concerted, mutual engagement around the notion of comparative advantage was paramount.
On January 15, 2014 I launched Connective Impact to test this premise. Having never been an entrepreneur, and still questioning whether I was doing the right thing, many around me thought I was being rash. Many of my best decisions are, though, to be honest. The move felt right in my gut, though. What was also right? My intuition that partnerships needed more attention.
A process I developed during that tumultuous time between quitting my job and launching Connective Impact, a 6-step simplified method for engaging in effective collaboration, is still formidable and one we use with our clients to this day. In using this process I’ve learned so much, and am grateful that my crazy idea has thus far stuck.
Over the last five years I have experienced too many epiphanies to count about the way organizations work in silos, and how much more effective they can be when they partner. I have learned that what makes the difference for the solutions we so need to improve our global society is winning hearts, then minds – empathy -- not sympathy. I have learned that with all the sadness and negativity there’s as much, if not more, goodness and positivity. It is a blessing to be able to focus on the good, and promote the better. I never for one day take it for granted. These last five years have changed my life in ways I can not even begin to measure, and I hope the next five and five after that, and five after that give back at levels that far exceed what I’ve been able to take in.
As I mark the 5th anniversary of Connective Impact’s launch, I’m sharing what I’ve learned and what I foresee as we begin a new year and double down on doing what’s right for our planet and its people.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED:
AS FOR THE FUTURE:
Below: Some of our 5-year accomplishments
Wondering what we see in store for 2019? Join our Purposeful Profits Through Partnerships webinar on January 22nd and find out!
Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, an advisory firm helping organizations address social, environmental and economic development opportunities through partnership. She is author of Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact, and ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact.
I caught the USAID Administrator, Ambassador Mark Green, announcing USAID's new Private Sector Engagement strategy this morning. In full fairness, this is a project I have had the fortuitous pleasure of dabbling in via a few consulting assignments, so the material was not 100% new. That said, I am super pleased with the results, and believe the end game is only positive for economic development as a whole.
What does the new strategy mean for USAID recipients? What does it mean for the private sector looking to engage in places of importance to USAID? What does it mean for co-funders or financiers? Finally, what does it mean for the nonprofit community implementing the technical assistance programs that the private sector relies upon to scale their development investments? I break it all down below:
1. USAID is continuing with its theme of self-reliance by recognizing that true long-term self-reliance depends almost entirely on a bustling and successful market system in place. Green surmised that USAID country programs will need to focus efforts primarily on helping to build out infrastructure and government mechanisms to ensure a true market system can function properly. Don't be surprised to see 2019 and 2020 funding geared towards government transparency, innovative traceability systems for transport, trade and financial dealings, and programs that improve technology, physical infrastructure like buildings and roads, and access to energy.
Self-reliance will be measured by the eventual lack of USAID funding (i.e. when USAID isn't needed any more to support local governments in country), though the agency does have a number of KPIs it will be using to officially measure its success. Green even said it's his job to put all of USAID out of a job. Not dissimilar to the development rationale of folks like Bill Gates (see my musings on that consideration here). In the meantime, USAID will look for private sector engagement in various forms in each of its projects going forward, working to build self-reliance program by program.
As a market idealist (a term I just made up) and someone who believes completely in business' ability to improve economic development (obviously as evidenced by my new book, Purposeful Profits) I think this move is a good one for USAID recipients. I've heard from multiple categories of aid recipients (government agencies in E. Africa, farmers in Indonesia, apparel workers in India just for example) that self-reliance is important. There is a dependence on governments for certain measures, but I see a much greater emphasis on the private sector as the beacon on the hill for those keen to work themselves out of poverty. It's a tricky dance, and a greater focus on local private sector growth will help those recipients likely more than the conglomerates may, but we should pay attention and see how this plays out. More on the role of social enterprise below.
2. Ok so what does this new strategy mean for the private sector? It means (1) they better get their wishlist together and figure out what their priorities are in places where USAID works. There will be greater opportunities to partner with governments supported by USAID, as well as more ways to leverage funding, so getting consensus on what social and environmental goals are in place is a critical first step. (2) Get clear on which partners bring the most mutual benefit to the table. USAID will likely want to see full on collaborations in place in order to disseminate funding going forward. This means companies should be very strategic about which nonprofits, academic institutions, think tanks and pre-competitive partners they want to be working with, and also do the right due diligence to ensure those partners make sense given comparative advantage (full disclosure: this is what we do every day at Connective Impact. Let us know if we can help!)
As for the evolving world of social enterprises, as I explore in depth in Purposeful Profits, social enterprises are no longer for the millennial entrepreneur. Big companies are seeing great potential partnering with more nimble and innovative solution providers, particularly those coming from the developing world. Don't be surprised if USAID wants to see more of the locally based, innovative and thought provoking social enterprises at the table. If you are a bigger company, consider how to work with companies of different sizes, different service offerings and in different geographies, and approach USAID with some creative ideas. USAID will be gunning for some "newness" in their approach to working with the private sector, so the more innovative and interesting, the better.
Don't be shy though! This new strategy means it's good to start talking to USAID sooner than later about your plans for 2019 and even more, 2020 and beyond. Co-creation is the new buzz word. We can help you get in the door so reach out if you want to discuss.
3. If you are a funder or financier, this new strategy is GREAT news for your investments. Why? Because USAID will be much more focused on return on investment (ROI), both for their self-reliance strategies, and the importance of the same returns for the private sector. See, the private sector will only want to partner with USAID if it means the relationship yields social, environmental AND (not or, but AND) economic gains for their business. You can't deny that a business exists to make money, and yet there is a reality that doing "good", means doing well (or at least it will need to mean this for private sector to act.) Therefore, for co-funders and other financiers, engaging with USAID and its private sector partners will mean a more formidable return. Private sector partners not ready or interested in working with USAID will come your way, too, so be ready. Leverage is the name of the game. This means that USAID will want the private sector to provide match funding almost every time they engage, so for those entities that don't have the full funding to match will be knocking on your door. Time to prioritize your 2019 and 2020 social impact goals if you haven't already!
4. Finally, the nonprofit community is listening intently to the feedback on this new strategy. Why? Because over the last five years, nonprofits have been tweaking their engagement strategies to focus more on shared value, and how partnering with the private sector can both bring in funding, but also help to ensure longer term sustainability for their stakeholders given the mutual benefit for companies operating with those same stakeholders. It's a win-win and for nonprofits that have already figured out how to engage the private sector in their work, going to USAID with private sector colleagues in hand will make the funding flow even faster. Haven't figured out your private sector strategy yet? Time to do so. We can help so reach out any time!
What's the bottom line? You may be in two camps: (1) If you are following the buzzy musings of Anand Giridharadas and his book, Winners Take All, you may not be so into today's announcement. You may see this news as another way for the private sector to influence the outcome of development only to benefit their bottom lines, make more money, and become richer, effectively widening the income gap. (2) If you are more in my camp (the Purposeful Profits camp, let's say) then you will find today's announcement encouraging, recognizing that market systems led by private sector engagement in countries where development assistance is buoying greater transparency and infrastructure development for the benefit of long term economic growth is the answer to development challenges that have plagued us for decades.
For now, USAID has committed to the following next steps:
Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, an advisory firm aiding organizations in partnership strategy and fundraising diversification to address social, environmental and economic development challenges through collaboration. Joanne is a trained development economist and has been living and working in the Washington, D.C. area since 2004. Author of Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Impact, and, ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact, Joanne documents how some of our most promising leaders take risks to truly make a difference and improve our planet.
As someone who works with brands and social entrepreneurs, with nonprofit leaders and governments, I’ve come to realize that to solve some of our biggest societal problems, we need to focus on lasting change. Investments in poverty alleviation, or climate change, or health improvements or gender equity don’t always consider how systems will operate once those investments dry up. Short term-ism is a detriment to all of our work in development. Yet many investments in community development or infrastructure are capped at five to ten years.
What we need instead is long term-ism. We need entities that are prepared to invest for the duration, and build out systems that benefit not only the communities in need, but themselves. The need for this dual benefit cannot be ignored.
See, for decades, companies were seen as conglomerates simply out to make money and provide products for consumption. While some of those aims have not changed, the role of business leaders within companies is evolving, and an interest in improving our planet is shifting the mission of many companies. This is particularly true as more leaders learn how to guide their teams with empathy.
How has this evolution taken shape, and what does it mean for the future of global companies? How can companies build on this progress and make significant change in the world, while still being profitable and successful? How has the definition of success changed for companies? How have they imbedded the humanistic view that comes with seeing how the rest of the world lives?
These are some of the questions I attempt to answer in my new book, Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact, out for pre-sale December 1.
Purposeful Profits was born from several necessities. First, I had to develop a more positive relationship with publishing (exactly two weeks before the release of my first book, ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact, I learned that my publisher, who I had been working with for more than a year, had shuts its doors with no notice, leaving me and many other authors on our own with no clue how to launch a book.) Second I felt compelled to share the stories of some of the incredible people and companies I have encountered over the years, and what's more, help propel the notion that companies can both make money, and do a lot of good for our planet. Both are important. Both are necessary. And both are possible.
Purposeful Profits provides first-hand accounts from those working inside successful companies, large and small, local and global, as to how this evolution has taken shape, what it means for the future of business profitability, and why being a business that is purpose-driven is as important as any other measure of success.
Some of the inspiring leaders I profile include Shannon Keith, Founder of Sudara, a company dedicated to improving the lives of women in India. Shannon’s story is about a life-altering trip that helped define her personal and professional mission. You’ll meet Shayne Tyler, a steadfast advocate for fair labor practices in the United Kingdom, who effectively transformed the issue from being ignored, to being prioritized by some of the biggest companies in the world. Erin O’Hara with Numi Tea shares the powerful emotions that come from being amongst the tea growers, and recognizing the critical role they play in the final product. I tell the story of Pierrette Djemain, a business owner and mentor to many women in Benin, transforming the moringa supply chain in the West African country. Marcy Twete shares her journey from small town girl to big city change maker, and how she re-shaped corporate priorities towards social impact and environmental responsibility. You will read about the history of Milton Hershey, and how The Hershey Company rests its laurels on the values of philanthropy and social equity, told through the lens of Tawiah Agyarko-Kwarteng, who ensures a strong and viable relationship between Hershey and cocoa communities in Ghana. Tawiah’s history helps us see the difference between giving back for its own sake, versus acting upon a mission to change the world. Finally, you will meet Arthur Karuletwa, who as a former child refugee was thrust into the social and political complexities of the Rwandan genocide, grew up to reinvigorate the Rwandan economy through the coffee trade, and bring new life and hope to his people.
I am grateful to share these, and other stories, to showcase how decision making with empathy and purpose can transform a corporation from one solely seeking to make money, into one that is successful both for its profits, but also for its impact.
Read more about Purposeful Profits and pre-order the book at PurposefulProfits.com
Joanne Sonenshine is Founder of Connective Impact, and Author ofPurposefulProfits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact, and ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact.
RELEASED TODAY: The Social Progress Index Tells Us Way More About Ourselves Than Just Social Progress
As Posted On LinkedIn:
Any of you that track economic development, and the trajectory of advancement around issues like human health, poverty and food security, should be familiar with the Social Progress Index. The Index, formulated in 2014 by the Social Progress Imperative, a brain child of famed Harvard mind Michael Porter, is used too measure and evaluate social progress in our global society on an annual basis. Considering to augment (or perhaps replace if some of us had our way) the current method for measuring social and economic advancement, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Social Progress Index defines social progress as "the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential."
With its 2018 release today, one can see quite clearly that our path to 100% social progress and full, global potential, is somewhat far off. In fact our own country, one we consider quite advanced in terms of our ability to provide for its people, is ranked 25th. Looking at the results overall, of the 146 countries measured, only 15 have scores above 88. More than 100 are below 79. What this tells us is that we have a lot of work to do to move the needle on issues of importance to our global prosperity. Despite recent reports that poverty, for example, has improved, clearly issues like access to high quality education, technology, or even basic needs like shelter are not completely resolved. Prosperity must innovate along with the rest of development.
The Social Progress Index measures much more than economic prowess or opportunity for growth, however. Looking at issues like personal safety and nutrition along the same axis as access to information and communications, and personal freedom and choice, allows us to see bigger pictures of need. Take the United States for example. Our highest component scores? water, sanitation, nutrition, basic medical care and shelter. Our lowest? Access to advanced education, environmental quality, personal safety and inclusiveness. Our Foundations of Wellbeing Score? Only 84. Looking at the Netherlands, for comparison's sake, is interesting. Ranking in 7th place, the Netherlands had scores above 95 for Basic Human Needs and Foundation of Wellbeing, but only 79 for Opportunity.
Embarking on a path to address each country's needs is critical. The Social Progress Index allows us to unpack each country's most pressing challenges, and work collaboratively to solve them. We stand by to join forces with global companies, governments, entrepreneurs and civil society to collectively improve our planet, one social progress score at a time.
I have the distinct honor of facilitating a panel discussion this Wednesday at the Climate Action Summit, sponsored by the Climate Collaborative and New Hope Network in conjunction with the always anticipated Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore. We’ll discuss innovations around climate impact, translating nascent ideas into action, and how bottom up and top down leadership inspires new and creative ways to think about climate commitments.
When asked to lead this session, it was a no brainer for me. Not just because I love what panelists from Mom’s Organic Market, Organic Valley and Badger Balm are doing, but because I also love the concept of the Climate Collaborative, and view the Natural Products industry as one of the most forward thinking and actionable in the space of partnerships for social and environmental impact.
What better way to encourage the types of partnerships we like to build at Connective Impact, than support collaborations that truly make a difference?
The Climate Collaborative, for example, nary 18 months old, is a coalition of more than 100 manufacturers, retailers, suppliers and other businesses within the natural foods industry “working collaboratively to take bold action to reverse climate change. “ Over time the Collaborative intends to create “big and bold change” from within the natural food products space, which is growing fast, but still makes up only 5% of consumption. Natural and organic food is an 80 billion dollar business, with a bright future and opportunities to make transformational change. What makes the natural foods industry even more attractive, at least in our eyes, is their willingness to partner and collaborate as they have under the Climate Collaborative.
Another example of pre-competitive collaboration can be found in the work of the One Step Closer to an Organic Sustainable Community (OSC2), a group of emerging leaders in the mission-driven natural food products space, including Numi Tea, REBBL, Guyaki, Happy Family and Alter Eco. The group came together in 2012 to create a coalition force for good, building regenerative business models in their farming and agricultural practices. Their focus on regenerative agriculture was the first of its kind, and has made the topic a mainstay within the natural products discussions. It will certainly be a popular session at Expo East this week. The OSC2 has also begun a concerted effort to focus on compostable packaging among its members and others, as well as discussions on the future of food and Drawdown.
Many natural foods brands have engaged in innovative and creative bilateral partnerships to move the needle on social and environmental issues. Chobani, for example, has partnered with some of the biggest brands like Clif Bar (to fund grain research), Save the Children (to focus on underserved youth populations in the U.S. in need of nutrition), and started the Tent Partnership for Refugees to address refugee challenges worldwide. Being proactive in partnership building seems to be a given within the natural products sector. I am so encouraged by this, and when speaking with natural food company leaders, I’m thrilled with how willing and open they are to consider partnerships and collaboration, particularly around some of the more challenging issues these growing companies face. They recognize that by prioritizing sustainability in their operations, they must consider the role of their brands impacting our planet and communities, and that issues like climate change, waste, sustainable energy and other issues many are collaborating around like living wage and gender equity require all of us working together in concert.
Are you a natural product company looking to engage with more partners? Let us know and we’ll swing by your booth to chat. You may find the tools on our website helpful as well.