Building a shared value network: How Africa's new inititiative is learning

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CANBERRA — Development programming is increasingly focused on building shared value and encouraging the government, private sector, and NGOs to work together toward an environment of sustainable development. The Shared Value Africa Initiative is the newest contender, after being launched on May 25 at the Africa Shared Value Summit.

Thanks to a growing number of global initiatives, including the Business Partnerships Platform from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Palladium, African networks are learning fast about what works and doesn’t. Tiekie Barnard, chief executive officer of Shift Social Development who is leading work on the SVAI, is encouraging other shared value networks to contribute to a global knowledge base where they can learn from each other’s successes and failures.

The goals of SVAI

For SVAI, the main objective is to build a shared value network across the entire continent, “and in doing so, build collaborative partnerships that can work together to scale projects that can bring about change,” Barnard explained to Devex.

Their goal is not unique in sustainable development. But in Africa there are unique challenges in creating shared value across a continent that is diverse in its economic, political, social, and environmental challenges.

“It goes without saying that one must be very aware and sensitive to local conditions,” Barnard said. “Bringing the private and public sectors together has always been an enormous challenge on our continent, as corruption is so rife. It is all about leadership and about our leadership in understanding that we must work together to the benefit of the people.”

A number of private sector organizations are already embracing the shared value concept in Africa, including Safaricom in Kenya, Discovery in South Africa as well as Unilever and Enel, which are working in multiple countries on the continent.

The focus moving forward would be to encourage shared value initiatives to focus on three area — health, agriculture, and renewable energy.

“I am a great believer that if we solve the energy problem in Africa, the 21st century will belong to Africa,” Barnard said.

The strategy for SVAI is to build collaborative networks across the continent and create a network of like-minded organizations together that will influence, motivate, work toward and manage change at scale, for the people of Africa.

“We are busy collaborating and setting up memorandums of agreements with several organizations such as civil society organizations, academic institutions across the continent, philanthropic institutions, [and] research focused institutions while building our membership base,” Barnard said.

“The Africa Shared Value Summit events that we’ve … hosted in 2017 and in 2018 — with Kenya in 2019 — enable us to connect with different organizations that have successfully implemented shared value, and to connect to those that are looking to shift to shared value and who want to reach out and connect with thought leaders and possible partners.”

Still, turning interest in shared value into tangible action will require SVAI to utilize external sources of knowledge for success.

Collaborating and learning from shared value initiatives

“There are many opportunities and initiatives that can cross borders and cross-pollinate if the willingness to collaborate is there,” Barnard said. For SVAI, the willingness is there to both collaborate and learn. “And this does mean working closely with our partners and other shared value initiatives.”

New DFAT funding to focus on shared value in India

From Feb. 26, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will open a new round of funding as part of the Business Partnerships Program, focused solely on ideas supporting economic and social development in India. Devex spoke to BPP team leader Nicholas Woolf on the reasons for an India-focused round, and his advice to applicants on the pitfalls to avoid.

Barnard and SVAI are currently working with Palladium, DFAT, and the BPP initiative following DFAT’s call for shared value proposals. “We are currently working with the BPP for proposals with local organizations to establish shared value ecosystems and collaborative partnerships,” she explained. “We want to take this opportunity to answer the brief and possibly receive much needed funding.”

It is just one networking option they are using to better tailor their approach and incentivize private sector engagement in sustainable development. But SVAI are also continually reaching out to organizations and initiatives for new opportunities to benefit members.

“Networking and sharing information and knowledge can only be accomplished through connecting and collaborating,” she said. “It is only through working together, breaking down silos and barriers that we collectively will be able to influence the business and private sector to shift to a shared value focus that will create long-term sustainability, economic benefit, and benefit to society.”

By learning from other shared value initiatives, Barnard said a key lesson has been to make the business case for shared value.

“Business will create shared value if they understand that through shared value they can firstly create an economic value and then a societal value”, she said.

This knowledge has helped shape the development of their 11 pillars to drive the shared value agenda in Africa, including curating African research, supporting business development, fostering inner-circle leadership collaboration and future leadership engagement, and encouraging collaboration through the annual shared value summit.

Through this process they have identified gaps in shared value that they hope to fill, creating important resources for others.

“Africa generates less than 1 percent of the world’s research, yet our population makes up almost 17 percent of the world,” Barnard said. “One of our deliverables to our members is Africa-focused research. Research done by Africans for Africa. We are currently looking for funding to commission a research project to establish what the real state of shared value is on our continent and if shared value is a business concept that is more suited to the development world.”

There will be more beyond that to learn and share.

“We owe it to each other to be transparent about our failures and our successes,” Barnard said.

“We all learn from our failures and hopefully do not to repeat the same mistakes … No success story was achieved without many challenges along the way. Too often, we only hear the ‘good’ side and entrepreneurs are often misled by these success stories as they don’t hear about the failures along the way.”

About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.