As I entered the first day of the INGO Shared Value Practitioner’s Forum last month in Rome, I was ruminating on the prior day’s tour of the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and my pasta meal. How was I going to transition from ancient Rome to the immediate task of translating the next three days of workshop into a practical experience, advancing the Population Council’s efforts to develop shared value partnerships with private companies?
In the next few days, we focused on partnerships that used shared value as a business model to increase profits, reduce costs, and enhance competitiveness by solving social problems. This agenda looked practical enough: Participants from a broad range of international NGOs and US and European corporate partners discussed identifying and building shared value partnerships, creating a compelling value statement for companies, and developing next steps for each organization to activate shared value partnerships. We left with practical tools, guidance, and constructive feedback from the Shared Value Initiative and corporate participants to secure and strengthen these partnerships.
Back home and a few weeks later, I had a chance to put learning into action when some of my Population Council colleagues and I went to Chicago to meet with Nations Solar and Veriown, companies that develop new technologies for off grid electricity, clean water, and micro payments and financing for rural villages. As the principal provider of micro grid services to rural villages, these companies are creating India’s market for off grid energy. In 2017, they plan on becoming the leading service provider in East and West African villages by teaming with frontrunners in new technologies for telecommunication, internet, lighting, and payment processing. They work with in-country partners that know the local social, geographic, political, resource, and economic systems and challenges and can support implementation, risk mitigation, and oversight. They are also teaming up with the Population Council.
The Council has several roles in this partnership. In Sierra Leone, a critical and test market for Nations Solar and Veriown, the Council will help roll out these technologies by providing the operational platform ― 500 safe spaces for adolescent girls in up to 150 communities―safe spaces that Sierra Leonean NGOs have created to build girls’ social, economic, health, and educational assets as a way to prevent child marriage, unwanted pregnancy, and HIV infection as well as to give them new social and economic opportunities. We will collaborate with these companies by building the technical knowledge and resource management skills of over 12,000 adolescents / young women. We will be the research and evaluation partner to answer critical questions about the uptake and use of the technologies and whether a girls’ asset building initiative like this is successful in helping girls develop income generation and financial management skills as alternatives to early marriage and transactional sexual relationships.
There is no doubt that Nations Solar and Veriown are driven by a vast market in Africa and a tremendous opportunity to provide new technologies for renewable and clean energy. There is also no doubt that we share a common vision of alleviating poverty; providing clean water and electricity to schools, homes, and health facilities; reducing disease; increasing commerce; and giving community members, particularly adolescent girls, a chance to benefit from the employment and economic opportunities in the rollout and uptake of these new technologies.
All the themes we heard in the Practitioner’s Forum echo loudly in this partnership. What we both bring to this is far more than each of us could alone. The companies’ goals are driven by profit but they know they can only achieve them without focused attention to the social and economic context of where they are working. The Population Council’s primary goals for this effort are to improve the health and wellbeing of adolescent girls and provide skills and opportunities to enable them to become healthy, productive adults. We both need each other to complete our missions.
Bringing together the partners’ strengths – technical and energy innovations and harnessing the talents and leadership of adolescent girls – will increase local capacity to improve health and educational systems, expand the base of economic participation, and introduce sustainable energy efficient technologies. This example of a shared value partnership enables us to see the uniqueness and the power of our team has in solving social problems while bettering the bottom line for all.