Carolyn Miles: New consensus challenging us to 'embrace previously unimaginable possibilities'

Members of a coffee-growing partner community in Bolivia. Photo by: Save the Children

A consensus is emerging within the global development community about the rapidly shifting landscape: It is no longer about government or institutional donors, international nongovernmental organizations and projects.

Complex global challenges, evolving science and technology, and new resources — including private investments, are challenging us to think in new ways and embrace previously unimaginable possibilities. Poverty, illiteracy and hunger are seen as some of the great economic and business challenges of our time, worthy of the best minds and plans from both the business and philanthropy sectors. We are at a time in history where we can actually imagine solving these thorny problems.

Just as the concentration of talent and investment in Silicon Valley has generated a tide of innovations that have transformed all our lives; bringing together the creative power of the private sector and the experience of the international development community can generate breakthrough solutions with huge impact for the world’s most disadvantaged.

At Save the Children, the evolution of our experience employing technical innovations that address the specific needs of children and their families in the low-resource settings where we work, positions us to make a unique contribution to the future of the development sector. Our Theory of Change requires that we develop or adapt proven solutions in new contexts, that we identify, test and introduce new approaches and technologies, ensure we can scale what works and that we work with others to create lasting impact.

Over the past decade, Save the Children has engaged in strategic partnerships to address persistent development challenges in unconventional ways. We work together with the institutional and donor communities to develop, test and scale up innovations, achieve policy change, and engage global and national stakeholders to secure the roll-out of evidence-based solutions.

Since 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development have been key partners in our Saving Newborn Lives programs, which have put newborn health on the global agenda and enabled us to deliver lifesaving interventions to millions of mothers and children in more than 40 countries. Together, we have collectively made tremendous progress on child mortality: Despite population growth, the number of deaths in children under 5 worldwide declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013, which translates into about 17,000 fewer children dying each day.

Our randomized control trial validated early childhood development work and our evidence-based Literacy Boost program, with proven results in helping disadvantaged children learn to read, has been adapted and implemented in 25 countries through partnerships. It is now globally unacceptable that millions of children are failing in school even though they can be found at their desks whenever school is in session. They deserve better.

With the private sector, shared value is the key to these incredibly sophisticated, long-term, and more scalable initiatives that accelerate both social impact and business return on investment.

Save the Children, along with the international NGO community will increasingly look for opportunities to develop shared value partnerships by leveraging the private sector expertise and the innovative products and services that can help address critical social challenges.

Save the Children has been leading the way with a number of key partnerships exploring various  types of shared value including: playing an advisory role with research and development teams to create relevant products, conducting on-the-ground proof of concept testing for diagnostic tools, and working with commercial teams to structure market-driven systems to scale our innovations.

When we serve an advisory role that increasingly includes sitting on boards for a corporation and providing input into their decision-making. One example is our unique partnership with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline PLC, where we not only serve on their research and development board but also help with product development through on the ground proof-of-concept testing.

We also work with other partners, including Keurig Green Mountain, on strengthening their supply chains in ways that both address their needs but also address those of the communities where they source products. In particular we are looking at climate adaptation, which is an issue where we can align social needs with supply chain needs because it is important not only for growers but for companies as well.

Increasingly we are exploring other partnerships related to technology, data collection and mapping, which we believe have tremendous potential to impact our work on disaster preparedness and creating resilience in the communities where we work.

As we lay the groundwork for Save the Children’s 2030 vision of the world we wish for children, we know our experience, programs and policy work will take us far between now and then. However, we also recognize that our success in tackling complex global challenges and bringing about transformational change and impact for children will depend on our ability to continue forging innovative partnerships with the private sector and other influential stakeholders. We simply will not be successful alone.  

Each day offers new opportunities for INGOs like Save the Children to transform corporations’ commitment to shared value into real-world, sustaining change that can affect entire generations. To be successful, we must create innovative products and programs that address the needs of the most vulnerable populations, and create collaborative partnerships that allow corporates to tap INGOs’ unique experiences, knowledge and ability to provide “proof of concept” in the most challenging contexts and places.

INGOs also serve the role of a convener and can pave the way for access to gatekeepers in government and within communities where piloting and product development take place.  

The possibilities for INGO and private sector partnerships are vast, but as global challenges shift, INGOs must continue to shift their approach as well. Uniting with the private sector, we can create a leadership model for achieving lasting impact for millions of the world’s most vulnerable girls and boys and by transforming children’s lives now, we change the course of their future and ours.

Devex, in partnership with the Shared Value Initiative, FSG and Global Impact, is examining how the world’s largest international nongovernmental organizations are transitioning their partnership strategies from traditional corporate partnerships to more scalable initiatives. We’ll look at how these initiatives accelerate both social impact and a business return on investment, while highlighting engagement in shared value during this special series “The Future of International NGOs.” Join the conversation using #FutureINGO.

About the author

  • Carolyn Miles

    Carolyn Miles is president and CEO of Save the Children and co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. After starting out as an entrepreneur and working in Hong Kong for American Express, Miles joined Save the Children in 1998 and was also COO from 2004-2011.