Multi-Sector Partnerships: An End And A Means For Sustainability

The covid-19 global pandemic has exposed our vulnerability towards global challenges due to irreversible globalization, social connections and economic interdependence. However, this large-scale problem has also shown that a joint mobilization of forces and the combination of inter-sectorial resources and political efforts can deliver a vaccine in less than 10 months, instead of decades.

New challenges provide new opportunities and provide a foundation to sustainable, innovative, and high impact approaches. In the modern world, boundaries between social, economic, and environmental challenges are blurred as societies realize the existing uninterrupted connections between these spheres and the impact they can have on each other. To create the sustainable future that the 2015 UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals promise, the unprecedented mobilization of human capital, financial, technical, and technological resources is required. Accordingly, Goal 17–Partnerships for Goals–serves to promote cooperation among public, non- governmental, business, educational and other sectors. Therefore, multi- sector cooperation is both an end and a means for sustainability. UN Global Compact Network Georgia (GCNG) is a unique opportunity for Georgian businesses to contribute to achieving global goals by local actions. For businesses, and very importantly, for sustainable businesses, “business as usual” is no longer a zero-sum game, and one’s “win” does not constitute another’s “loss”. Inter-sectoral, multi- stakeholder partnerships are leading the corporate goal-setting agenda more and more.

GCNG has been promoting multi-sectoral partnerships between businesses and non- governmental organizations (NGOs) in Georgia for several years. In 2019-2020, as a partnerships consultant, I had the opportunity to work with various NGOs and businesses to develop multi-sector partnership projects. Generally speaking, and in Georgia as well, multi-sector cooperation may have the following positive aspects: Partnership projects may help satisfy corporate interests and priorities in addition to bringing social benefits. For example, a project may promote finding new talents by a business and employ a certain vulnerable group (people with disabilities, socially vulnerable youth, ethnic minorities, etc.) at the same time.

Partnership projects enable NGOs to think creatively, “out of the box” and in addition to donor organizations, consider businesses as well as a source of funding and non-material support. Through partnerships, NGOs and businesses may exchange expert knowledge and collaborate for common goals. For example, an environmental NGO may collaborate with a business that prioritizes environmental protection due to its environmental impact on an environmental partnership project). NGOs may provide businesses with important knowledge, feedback, and experience-based expert opinions regarding anti- corruption, labor rights protection, human rights-based, gender sensitive and other approaches and principles. Collaborating with NGOs and implementing social initiatives, including in non-material forms, such as volunteering or mentoring, improves staff attitude and loyalty towards a brand and develops an internal organizational culture in businesses. Partnership projects contribute to a significant improvement of the reputation of a business in a target community. They increase brand recognition and promote trust and positive attitudes towards the business.

Several findings and recommendations from my own experience:

There is a need to raise awareness about corporate sustainability and multi-sectoral cooperation–the essence of corporate sustainability must be explained to many more businesses. Along with the low awareness, there are many cases when business activities are completely contrary to the principles of corporate sustainability.

Corporate sustainability is often perceived as a direction of PR or marketing communications. It is also considered that this ‘direction’ needs its own budget. In fact, corporate sustainability is a way of doing business, it is a principle, and it needs not its own budget, rather it is incorporated into all dimensions of business.

There is a low degree of business connections and trust between businesses and NGOs –a lot of work needs to be done to raise awareness of working principles and approaches of both sectors. It is also necessary to properly promote all partnership projects so that the public can learn more about successful cross-sectoral practices.

Decisions on partnership projects should not be made based on the available budget or wishes of any department but should instead consider corporate goals. To achieve corporate sustainability, it is necessary to involve all levels of governance in the process, and primarily the executive management.

In addition to presenting and promoting partnership projects, it is important to foster cooperation and collaboration among non-governmental, public sector, or business leaders who have relevant knowledge and experience in sustainability. This will further develop innovative ideas and approaches and incentivize other professionals working in the same fields.

Finally, one important thing that every business should consider is that corporate sustainability is a day-to-day journey and not an end goal, while partnering with other sectors to maintain sustainability is a tested and effective way: as one wonderful Georgian proverb goes, power is truly in unity.