Rule 2 Rationale for Business-Civil Society-Government Collaboration

Posted by Steve Waddell in M&E, Net Dev on December 7, 2010

Collaborations involving business, civil society and government are complicated and often exasperating. Rule 1 is if you can achieve your goals with a traditional organization or a collaboration of just one type of organization, go for it. Rule 2 is if you can’t, be clear about why and what you want from the intersectoral strategy.

Last week’s blog presented a way to think about the distinctions between the sectors. Out of those distinctions arise both the challenges and the rationale for bringing them together. The distinctions are further elaborated in the Table on Resources and Weaknesses, with the thought that collaborations aim to access distinctive resources and offset distinctive weaknesses. (click on table to see larger image)

This Table can easily provoke protests, in particular about the weaknesses. But remember, it is the concept of comparativ resources and weaknesses that is key…you may well have better ways to describe them. For example, describing civil society weakness as "amateurism" can of course be offensive and even inaccurate. However, what I’m trying to get at is that compared with the other sectors civil society organizations tend to value “volunteer” “community-based and historic knowledge” while the other sectors put a comparative emphasize upon “hired gun” “professional/expert” knowledge.

Market sector solutions are often critiqued for creating winners and losers—a phenomenon explained by systems archetypes as the tendency for “success to go to the successful”. As well, disregard for externalities as seen with businesses’ environmental damage has spurred the development of the environmental movement. The state’s role as rule-maker also generates the problem of ‘red tape” and slow decision-making. Governments tend to think they know best and try to control the other two sectors. And although civil society is good at critiquing and community capacity-building, its community-based quality is one reason that it is poor at marshalling large resources on the scale of business or government.

The resources and weaknesses are the basis for distinctive comparative capabilities and competences described in the Table below.

For example, in the early 1990s in the Philippines the government, under civil society arguments about equity and poverty, undertook land reform by breaking up some large plantations and reallocating land to small farmers. Land reform also reflects a free-enterprise perspective that suggests farmers owning their own land will be more productive than large absentee land-owners with plantations. However, such farmers need a particular kind of production system—land reform on its own will not produce the improvements desired. Nor do most small farmers have the skills and expertise needed in today’s complex global markets. I investigated a case with an NGO that has particular expertise around small farm and the trust of the farmers. The NGO organized the farmers to aggregate them into a size that their production is of interest to Dolefil, a large corporation whose core competencies are in its marketing and distribution.

These Tables helps define when two or three sectors should be brought together, and provides a basis for assessing whether the collaboration is reflecting its rationale. Specific multi-stakeholder networks aim to access specific resources, capabilities and competencies, and offset specific weaknesses that can be identified and produce a basis for evaluation.

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