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Collaboration: How Businesses Must Lead to Achieve Sustainable Development

Peder Michael Pruzan-Jorgensen — Senior Vice President, BSR
Ryan Whalen — Former Managing Director, Global Partnerships

When we think of leadership, we often think of a single, iconic leader. We celebrate leading companies for their bold actions on sustainability risks and opportunities, yet one of the most important ways business leads is through collaboration.

In the past year, it has become increasingly clear that the world is changing fast—and profoundly. We are faced with challenges like catastrophic climate change, increasing inequality, and the rapid emergence of new technologies that are disrupting societies and raising new, fundamental ethical questions. These are not new phenomena, but the pace and scope of change are picking up. These challenges also come at a time when established governance models are being questioned—or outright failing—which makes new leadership constellations all the more necessary.

In partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, today BSR is launching a new report, Private-Sector Collaboration for Sustainable Development. This report is based on the premise that business must take a leadership role through collaboration, both to ensure the future of sustainable business and for the benefit of society as a whole. As we look to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change, it is clear that we must transcend the status quo of individual action to foster collaboration for impact at scale. We must mobilize, leverage, and direct the transformative power of business’s collective resources and capabilities toward these ends.

We need more business collaboration, but what we need most are well-designed, well-governed, accountable, and impactful collaborations.

This report is a contribution in that direction. It sets out to identify the key success factors for collaboration and provide concrete guidance to business leaders on impactful collaborations. It has been informed by the rich experiences and thoughtful perspectives of practitioners from many parts of the private sector as well as insights from civil society organizations that have worked closely in partnership with companies.

Collaborative leadership has been a fundamental tenet of BSR’s 25 years of work to create a just and sustainable world. Our strategy emphasizes the need to ideate, design, and explore—and subsequently accelerate and scale—powerful collaborations that yield transformational change. We believe that the time is right to pursue such opportunities vigorously, aggressively, and with focus. We have written this report to provide guidance that we hope will encourage more businesses to engage in collaborations—and help them do so more successfully.

For The Rockefeller Foundation, building strategic partnerships is a core component of our strategic approach. We believe that creating coalitions that engage the full range of actors across a given system—from the private sector to government to civil society—can accelerate breakthroughs that deliver impact at scale. We hope that this guide to engaging the private sector in designing and implementing high-impact collaborations for sustainable development will serve as a catalyst for the next generation of transformative results.

We will only succeed in achieving the SDGs if we truly work together, combining our capabilities, resources, and assets. We invite you to join us to create shared solutions to global challenges—to lead through collaboration.

This piece first appeared on BSR’s blog in February 2018.

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