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Global Compact Policy Dialogue: Supply Chain Management and Partnerships

12 – 13 June, 2003, UN Headquarters, New York

Summary Report of Partnerships Sessions

Fanny Calder, Associate Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs, UK

1. Introduction

This paper summarizes the wide-ranging discussions on partnerships that took place during the Global Compact Policy Dialogue on the 12th and 13th June 2003. It draws on many of the excellent presentations made during the Policy Dialogue, on the interactive discussions that took place in both plenary and parallel sessions and on the outcomes of the Partnership Practitioner Meeting that was held as a side meeting to the Policy Dialogue. The paper does not attempt to be a comprehensive report of the proceedings, but rather seeks to provide a synthesis of key points that emerged during meeting. Copies of individual presentations can be obtained from the Global Compact website at - click on “Dialogue”, “Supply Chain Management; Partnerships”.

2. Drivers for partnership building in the UN context

The need to scale up efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals

Ensuring that globalization benefits developing countries has been the main issue of Kofi Annan’s Secretary Generalship.

At present, the model of economic growth in many developing countries is job and enterprise ‘lite’. If the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are to be achieved, it is clear that the poverty reduction strategies used by developing countries will need to go beyond their current focus on public services to focus on job creation. This will require economic diversification and the promotion of entrepreneurship. Partnerships between the UN, businesses, developing country governments and other actors have the potential to play a key role in supporting this process.

The scale of the challenge presented by the MDGs cannot be addressed by a project-based approach to development, or by any one actor. Through bringing together different actors with complimentary skills and resources, partnerships have the potential to scale up the work done by individual projects, and by different actors such as the UN, governments, the private sector and civil society groups. This process should generate a sustainable process of change at a systemic level.

The need to engage private sector skills and resources

If the MDGs are to be delivered, it will be essential to engage private sector resources, know-how and networks (e.g. supply-chains). Partnerships have the potential to create the necessary framework conditions to enable the private sector to contribute to


sustainable development through its core business activities. Changing core business activities is likely to have a far greater impact on sustainable development than traditional private sector philanthropy. Key factors here are the role that partnerships can play in helping to create, make safe and/or reinforce markets for public goods and the role partnerships can play in building capacity for entrepreneurship, particularly in SMEs.

The commercial benefits of working in partnerships

Through working in partnerships, businesses can develop an understanding of potential markets in developing countries, and can help create the conditions for those markets to develop. The potential here is vast, as approximately 4 billion people are currently excluded from the mainstream global marketplace.

Partnerships also have the potential to reduce business costs, e.g. by supporting the development of SMEs in developing countries and thereby enabling companies to source components and services locally.

3. Characteristics of effective partnerships

The development of effective partnerships is an art, not a science. Creativity and innovation should be encouraged.

Pluralism rules OK. Different partnership modalities will suit different objectives and contexts. However, some characteristics of effective partnerships were highlighted by Policy Dialogue participants, who suggested that there should be:

?Shared vision of partnership objectives;

?Sufficient common interest in meeting these objectives;

?Involvement of all partners in all decision-making processes;

?Strong commitment of all partners to the partnership (even when it is criticized);

?Complimentarity of competencies of different partners;

?Agreements which set out the roles and responsibilities of all partners and include clear targets;

?Honest, open and regular communication both within the partnership, and with external stakeholders;

?Recognition that different stakeholders have different types of power and/or resources to bring to the table (e.g. economic power, political power, moral credibility, development know-how etc.) and that all of these have an important role to play in delivering the partnership’s objectives;

?Willingness to take innovate and take risks plus a willingness to share risks;

?Flexibility and openness to changing strategies when problems occur;

?Learning and evaluation mechanisms;

?A process of evolving towards institutionalization;

?The objective of creating systemic, sustainable change (e.g. changing the way companies carry out their core businesses, the way governments implement policy etc.);


?Willingness by all partners to invest time and effort in the partnership building process.

4. Key challenges for partnerships

The Policy Dialogue highlighted the following challenges for partnership building:

Differences between partners

Building trust between different actors (who may be more used to having an attack/defend relationship with one another) takes time. Partners may have to address differences in the following:

?‘Language’ (e.g. different partners will use different types of jargon);

?Speed of decision making (e.g. the private sector is accustomed to making decisions faster than most other stakeholder groups);

?Views on the role of the private sector in developing countries;

?Views on what will constitute success in meeting partnership objectives.

Scaling up

While there have been many partnerships developed to tackle specific projects with a relatively limited remit (e.g. providing water to a specific peri-urban area), partnerships that aim to scale up the private sectors’ contribution to sustainable development (e.g. by changing core business practices of Multinational Enterprises (MNEs)) are relatively new, and the skills and approaches needed to deliver such partnerships are still at an early stage of development. In this context it was acknowledged that developing partnerships capable of making a significant contribution to tackling the MDGs presents a significant challenge to all actors.

Criticisms of the partnership approach

Some stakeholders have negative attitudes towards partnerships for the following reasons:

?They view the involvement of the private sector in the provision of certain public goods as unacceptable;

?They consider partnerships between the UN and the private sector represents an unacceptable ‘privatization’ of the UN;

?They believe that business involvement in partnerships is a form of ‘greenwash’ or ‘bluewash’;

?They do not believe that partnerships will deliver real (or sufficient) benefits ‘on the ground’;

?They see partnerships as a weaker alternative to government action.

Some dialogue participants expressed concern about the challenge of engaging sceptical stakeholders in partnership activities. Others suggested that partnerships should only be


formed between willing partners, and that unwilling stakeholders should therefore not be persuaded to join, but should rather be kept informed of partnership progress.

It was suggested that developing strong, effective partnerships with measurable outcomes will be the best way to counter criticisms of the partnership approach.

5. Partnership tools

The Policy Dialogue discussed the need for a range of partnership ‘tools’, including the following:

Systematic approaches to developing partnerships

Brad Gentry of the Yale/UNDP Collaborative Program based at Yale School of Forestry & Envt’l Studies suggested that all partnerships should use the following questions to help develop their work:

?What goals can we achieve only by acting together?

?Where are our assets/weaknesses complimentary?

?What structure optimizes their application (remembering that one size does not fit all)?

?What processes should we use to make the partnership effective, give it legitimacy and, if necessary kill it if it fails/once it achieves its goals?

Michael Werner of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) presented a ‘Partnership Road-Map’ tool that expanded on these issues (see presentation for more details).


Skilled, neutral partnership brokers can play a key role in designing effective partnership processes and enabling partners from different stakeholder groups to work together. At present there are only a limited number of experienced partnership brokers. The International Business Leaders Forum has recently developed an accredited training programme for partnership brokers (contact

Learning how to be a partner

Working in partnerships presents new challenges to all stakeholders, and may create resistance in some organizations. Businesses may need to work with staff to explain the rationale for partnership (it was suggested that using real-world examples is a good way of helping staff to understand the potential benefits of the partnership approach).

Training in negotiation skills for public and voluntary sector organizations may also be necessary to balance private sector negotiating power.


Partnership assessment and reporting tools

During the Policy Dialogue it was suggested that partnerships need to assess the following:

?At the beginning of the partnership process, whether the partnership approach is the best approach for tackling the issue in question;

?Whether more has been achieved by working in partnership than the partner organizations could have achieved working separately own;

?Measurable impacts ‘on the ground’.

Reporting should be routine, consistent and complete within the scope of the partnership’s objectives. Partnerships should report honestly about any failures or difficulties in delivering on their objectives.

Sources of information on partnerships

Darian Stibbe from the Centre for the Advancement of Sustainable Development Partnerships presented the ‘Partnerships Central’ website, which aims to provide an online platform which will promote, facilitate and build the capacity of partnerships at all levels. The website will provide how-to guides to creating, running and governing partnerships; a databank of funding sources; networking and knowledge-exchange tools; a global directory of partnership experts and facilitators; partner matching services, and a library of useful resources, relevant articles, news and events (

6. The role of partnerships in supply-chain management

The Policy Dialogue highlighted the roles that partnerships can play in maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of sustainable development orientated supply-chain management strategies. Examples discussed at the dialogue included:

?Partnerships between groups of companies working with the same suppliers, enabling partners to develop common standards and share the costs of monitoring and verification (e.g. the work done by the Hudson Bay Company with other department store chains internationally).

?Partnerships which build private sector capacity in developing countries, enabling companies to start sourcing products and services from local suppliers, thereby increasing their economic contribution to host countries and reducing operating costs (e.g. the work done by Chevron Texaco and UNDP in Kazakhstan and Angola).

7. The role of the UN

The UN, and in particular the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and its country offices can bring the following assets to partnership processes:


?Development expertise;

?Global leadership;

?In-country knowledge;

?A strong track record as a trusted advisor to governments, businesses and voluntary sector bodies;

?The analysis of development trends that is being carried out as a part of the MDG project;

?Political neutrality;

?Brokerage skills;

?Implementation resources.

If the MDGs are to be met, there is a need to ‘scale-up’ partnership activities beyond the level of individual projects. New approaches to developing ambitious, strategic partnerships need to be developed and tested. If the work the potential that partnerships have to contribute to meeting the MDGs is to be met, the UN will need to meet the following challenges:

Engaging more companies and providing clear entry points for potential partners

At present only a limited number of companies are involved in partnerships with the UN. In order to fully exploit the potential contribution that partnerships can make to meeting the MDGs it will be necessary to engage more companies from more regions. This will require outreach activities (there is possibly a role for the Global Compact here). Companies represented at the Policy Dialogue said that it would also be useful to have a single initial point of contact for businesses interested in partnering with the UN.

Developing partnership brokering and facilitation skills

While the UN already has some experience of brokering and facilitating partnerships, there is a need to develop these skills more systematically throughout the organization. Partnership training should draw on the lessons learnt by successful UN partnerships, and should seek to professionalize partnership building skills.

Incentivising staff to build partnerships and innovate

Management processes within the UN should provide clear incentives for staff to propose and develop partnerships. Innovation and risk taking should be encouraged.

Providing funding and other resources for partnership processes

Partnership development is a resource intensive process. Partnership processes are also more risky than conventional projects, as their outcomes are less predictable. If the potential of partnerships is to be fully exploited, the UN will need to take the risk of committing time and money to partnership development processes. Funding should also be sought for partnership implementation, as public sector funding can often play a key role in catalysing private sector investment.

Sharing lessons learnt and identifying best practice

A body of knowledge about successful partnership processes is already developing within many parts of the UN, however at present this knowledge is not being systematically

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shared across the UN system. Active (e.g. meetings based) and passive (e.g. web-based) strategies for actively sharing this knowledge should be developed.

The role of UNDP

UNDP has the potential to play a central role in the wider process of partnership building within the UN. The 136 UNDP country offices provide an excellent platform for partnership building at the country level. The Programme currently has between twenty and thirty partnerships with the private sector. However, UNDP has only been developing partnerships with the private sector for the last three years, and believes that its work on partnerships is still in an experimental phase. While some UNDP country offices have started to take a strong lead in developing partnerships with the private sectors, others are less engaged. UNDP needs to develop partnership-brokering capacity in all country offices. Incentives for offices to initiate partnerships should also be created.


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