Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Getting Ambitious About Partnerships

Posted by jembendell on September 1, 2010

Cross-sector partnering for sustainable development has been around a while now.. its 13 years since the first book on this came out, that I co-wrote with David Murphy, and 10 years since the first edited collection on the topic, which I rather artistically but confusingly titled “Terms for Endearment”.

To mark the 10 years, but also to kick start some reflection, I asked some of the contributors to Terms to provide reflections 10 years on. They all talk about how partnering became a key part of the landscape of civil society, of corporate responsibility and of sustainable development policy, but how its not achieving enough, and not as much as what we felt it could when we got excited enough to focus our time on it, as either practitioners or analysts.

That’s not to knock cross-sector partnering and the work we have done in the past or what partnerships are achieving today.. for instance, helping create the Marine Stewardship Council remains one of my career achievements, even though it was still my first year after Uni (not sure what that says about the subsequent years!) The MSC, a sustainable fishery accreditation council, is doing well, but it wont save the world’s fisheries, and so we have to reflect on what these partnerships can achieve in future to meet the scale and urgency of the challenges we face. We will be hampered in those reflections if we fall into a trap of what I call “partnerism” in a special issue of “Business Strategy and the Environment”. By “partnerism” I mean a belief, a mood even, that partnering with others is good in and of itself, so people favour being convivial and forever hopeful to keep the partnership going, rather than critically reflecting on whether it is delivering sufficient change on the ground (or in the water).

To help with that, and call for more ambitious partnering, later this year my 3rd book on the cross-sector partnering topic comes out. It seemed about time, 10 years after the last, as teaming up on the world’s problems still seems to make sense to me, and many other people, but now we really have to team up to change the rules of the game, and level the playing field…. excuse the metaphors… I borrow them from one chapter in Terms for Endearment, by Uwe Schneidewind. Back then he was writing about the need for partnerships to create coalitions for re-structuring economy and society, rather than seeing these are entirely voluntary initiatives that wouldnt impact on regulations.

Uwe is now President of the Wuppertal Institute. Indeed, the contents of Terms for Endeaarment reads like a Who’s Who of innovative thinkers in the sustainable business space, with Georg Kell now Head of the UN Global Compact, Kumi Naidoo now head of Greenpeace International, and Professors Crane, Newell and Ali all leading analysts in their field. These 3 academics, along with the world’s leading advisor on social change networks, Steve Waddell, have all provided reflections on partnering to mark the anniversary. You can read them on my consulting site:
Critical thinking on partnership: Free chapters mark ten years and
Reflections on 10 years of cross sector partnership/

You can also get a copy of the book for half price until the end of the year, as well as accessing a number of the chapters for free.

Unfortunately the first book on the topic is now something of a collectors item, if the prices on Amazon are anything to go by… Ill see if I can put in online by the end of the year.

My new book wont go over old ground, so read up on this older stuff first! Sean Ansett, who was CSR boss at Gap at the time and now has gone upmarket, with a British Luxury brand, thinks that Terms is still very relevant today…

“Ten years after Terms for Endearment was published it continues to be groundbreaking, as it provides a more nuanced analysis of cross-sectoral partnering than many studies on the subject, and maps out an agenda for corporate citizenship that continues to inspire us today. A decade ago Terms for Endearment was critical in helping me to realize the power of partnerships and that in order for sustainable development to be effective collaboration by stakeholders from distinct sectors sharing their respective experience, expertise and resources was the only way forward and that we could no longer go it alone. The partnership examples where invaluable to formulating our approach.”
– Sean Ansett

3 Responses to “Getting Ambitious About Partnerships”

  1. You have a prophetic gift. Not only at identifying all those winners so early on, but identifying the issues years ahead of everyone else.

  2. jembendell said

    which is why Im now working with you

  3. FP said

    Dear Professor Bendell,

    Last October I attended Singapore Green Drinks: your speech on consumption and the implications for change struck a chord with me.

    I am passionate about the environment and in particular I care about the deep, intricate, essential reality of the rainforest habitats, which I would like to help preserve, but recently I have been feeling tired and alone in my attempts to work for a healthier planet.

    You explained that personal choices and resulting behaviors do not have any relevant impact on the environment unless citizens act together as a movement in order to develop an economic system that promotes socially and environmentally responsible business.

    Since I do believe that right now we need strong and dependable environmental groups more than ever, I have tried to find a job where I can use my skills and experience in Finance and Environmental Science to work towards responsible enterprises.

    I had no success in this research until now, but I feel like I am out of a job while there is still plenty of work to do to address the enormous environmental problems facing us. Given my particular concern for tropical rainforests, I offered my collaboration to several environmental organizations and companies involved in the development of carbon markets and the REDD+ initiative in Asia.

    Unfortunately, volunteer work lead me only to marginal activities where my professional experience in capital markets has been considered of no value to promote meaningful progress in the business community. Furthermore, at this point unpaid work is not any more an affordable option for me.

    Your speech conveyed integrity of purpose together with an imaginative vision, which is why I am writing to you. I have also already visited the Lifeworth website and applied for job opportunities in responsible enterprises. I would be extremely grateful if you can give me some suggestions, because I still feel very strongly that I want to work to improve our environment.

    Thank you for your time.

    P.S. Apologies for posting on your journal: I have not been able to find your email address. Otherwise, I would also have been more specific regarding my background.

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