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Make multi-stakeholder partnerships a force for good

AS THE world's population continues to grow, we observe stark increases in the disparity between the privileged and underprivileged in terms of access to basic needs such as education and hygiene. Serving millions of P&G's consumers across the Asia-Pacific and India, Middle East and Africa (IMEA) as I do, in my view, the inequalities in these two dynamic regions are only widening.

We all have a stake and we all can make a difference: providing access to basic human needs to everyone and safeguarding the environment for future generations is the top priority for governments, industry, NGOs (non-government organisations) and consumers. We know that none of these stakeholders can solve these issues by themselves and that multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) are critical to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).

However, the effectiveness of MSPs is average at best, and even less so in the long term. This is due to two key reasons:

  • Unrealistic expectations, where MSPs are expected to take the place of government programmes instead of supporting them. Countless studies reveal discrepancies between activity outputs and previously stated goals and ambitions.
  • Unclear mapping of roles results in inaccurate matching of industry, government or NGOs to tasks. This is tantamount to a square peg in a round hole, a futile exercise. This results in stakeholders being left to find solutions beyond their areas of proficiency, creating chronic inefficiency.

Despite this, there is a silver lining. I strongly believe that we can all be a force for good if we make MSPs more practical.

Here are my three recommendations:

1. A common vision with unique actions

Our puberty education programme, run in conjunction with government schools and NGOs in Morocco, Jordan and India, and called Always Keeping Girls in School in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, represents a strong example of an effective partnership programme in action.

The vision is to reduce the rates of girls dropping out of secondary school due to menstruation because of a lack of access to sanitary pads, puberty education and affordability of pads. We provide the puberty education and pads; the governments and NGOs provide access via government schools and community networks to reach girls across the region. Every year, we educate over 17.5 million girls across the world on menstrual hygiene management, with 33 partners in over 45 countries. We have been doing so successfully for over 10 years, slowly but surely reducing the dropout rates of adolescent girls from school.

Similarly, in partnership with the Philippines trade department, we launched a programme for the growth and development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with the aim of helping typhoon victims start small convenience stores to improve their livelihood.

We provided access to our portfolio of brands, as well as retail training to set the SMEs up for long-term success. The trade ministry and local government helped in the identification and vetting of beneficiaries, and the day-to-day running of the programme.

2. A monitoring programme

Another example of a successful public-private-partnership is GAVI - a multi-stakeholder alliance among the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, health institutes and an array of civil-society and government organisations.

GAVI exemplifies a well-implemented initiative facilitating vaccine provision and development, country-level immunisation programmes and strengthening health systems, with special focus on low-income countries.

The success of this MSP stems from its robust monitoring, evaluation framework and its strategy that is conducive to active stakeholder participation. Importantly, this monitoring programme creates the conditions for continuous improvement. Between 2000 and 2017, GAVI's successful partner engagements contributed to the routine vaccination of around 690 million children, as well as 760 million people receiving immunisation through vaccination campaigns.

3. Leveraging innovation

A novel example of an MSP that leverages innovation in a unique way is the Singapore government's "National Steps Challenge".

This, in my opinion, has been effectively executed by the Health Promotion Board under Singapore's Ministry of Health. The intent of the "Steps Challenge" is to curb the reported rise in the cases of obesity and diabetes in Singapore by encouraging individuals to be much more active.

How? By providing citizens and permanent residents with wearable fitness monitors. To encourage people, they provided an incentive: Rewards for Steps, partnering with a variety of Singapore retailers and businesses. This programme leverages the innovation in fitness monitoring, with partners Fitbit, Garmin, Google Fit and Strava; it also rides on existing consumer usage of mobile apps.

The results have been very encouraging, with a reported 30,000 of 696,000 participants effectively getting into the habit of clocking over 5 km of daily exercise for six months.

Another example is the recently announced facility in India to recycle absorbent hygiene products, which leverages a breakthrough technology developed in Italy by Fater, a joint venture of P&G with the Angelini Group. This innovation will upcycle sanitary napkins and diaper waste. In partnership with the municipality and NGOs who collect the waste, we will create the model to bring this to life in India.

These three recommendations will ensure that MSPs are forces for good and for growth in the way they were meant to be. With unique responsibility, accountability and action, transformation can be created and sustained to proffer real, positive impact.

In my opinion, this is the proven way to ensure that MSPs are not simply a "philosophy", but a reality with concrete and sustainable outcomes.

  • The writer is president for the Asia-Pacific and India, Middle East and Africa at Procter & Gamble Co