About the author
Saskia Verbunt is a senior consultant at Philips Innovation Services. She is specialized in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and creating innovative partnerships with e.g. NGOs. More information on our Sustainability consultants team may be found here.
One of our sustainability consultants is Saskia Verbunt, working for the Sustainability team of Philips Innovation Services. She supports companies achieving their sustainability goals. One of the important topics of the moment is how to collaborate with external stakeholders to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this interview she will explain what SDGs are, role of companies and how collaborating with external stakeholders drive your sustainability ambitions.
What are SDGs and why are they important?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The introduction of the SDGs in 2015 has boosted the efforts of governments, businesses and citizens to contribute to a solution for the most stringent global challenges. In order to find an answer to these challenges, seventeen SDGs with sub targets have been set. They include for example prevention of water scarcity, renewable energy, ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. The goal we will explain more about in this article is SDG #17, which concerns partnerships for the SDGs. The rationale of this SDG is that no government, business or citizen can make the impact needed to solve a challenge on his/her own. Corporations have a big role to play in establishing new partnerships and in implementing solutions to our global challenges.
How can companies start working on the SDGs?
Companies can make a first step by analyzing how their core strategy matches with the SDGs. For instance, Philips is a health technology company that aims to provide access to quality healthcare by transforming health systems and reduce the costs of healthcare. This clearly links to SDG #3 “good health and well-being” as it addresses challenges such as mother and child mortality, non-communicable diseases etcetera. We see many companies who have linked their strategy to one or more of the goals. However, companies can also ask themselves the question what effort, big or small, they can potentially make to SDGs that do not match their core strategy.
How can external stakeholders help in achieving success in SDGs?
The complexity and importance of company’s sustainability programs has increased hugely nowadays, while the SDGs also address big challenges with ambitious targets. Hence, sustainable transformation of companies requires a systemic and cultural change. Although 2030 seems far away, companies need to start working together now in order to be able to achieve more impact in solving our global challenges. Companies can start looking for partnering organizations by asking questions such as:
- Who has corresponding ambitions for a specific SDG and sub targets?
- How can we complement each other in capabilities to address these SDGs?
An example is as follows: Philips aims to make a large contribution to SDG #3 ‘good health and well-being’. Universal access to health is an important factor in realizing this goal. Africa for example, has a huge demand for accessible, good quality health care on a community and primary care level, but hardly any offer. Beside medical equipment and solutions from Philips, the health care system is in need of a trained workforce, a health finance system, water and electricity. Philips does not possess all skills to transform health systems. True collaboration through partnerships with external stakeholders are crucial for Philips to make an impact in this area. When bringing complementary skills sets and experiences to the table new solutions can be created. This is the only way to obtain systemic change, which is necessary to deal with the challenges.
What are key challenges in working with external stakeholders?
First, identifying and selecting the right stakeholders who fit your ambition, strategy and bring complementary capabilities. Once you have found this stakeholder, organizations culture starts playing a role. Often differences between organizational cultures are substantial, for instance between a business and non-profit or governmental organization. It is important not to ignore these qualitative aspects of a collaboration as it touches upon the key element of trust. Only then you will be able to create a win-win partnership.
How would you answer these challenges?
If you want to work together, find solutions for these challenges together! In order to do so is important to analyze your ecosystem and select the partners that complement. In order to do so first define what challenge you want to address and what capabilities are needed to solve. Accordingly, map what capabilities your company covers and then define a clear set of capabilities that potential partner should meet. Assess a number of stakeholders in your ecosystem and select the ones that complement you the most. Next, it is important to start engaging with these stakeholders in an early stage. Only by explaining your ambitions and having a conversation about collaboration, you will find out if you have a strategic and cultural fit with this potential partner. It takes some time for both parties to get to know each other and building a strong relationship on trust. Invest time in this with e.g. a co-creation workshop where you define your shared mission, identify concrete opportunities, create an operational plan and define the governance model that will manage the partnership. In the early days of a partnership it is key to define a joint value proposition to ensure your activities contribute to your common goal.
What are the stakeholder engagement services from our team sustainability?
We can support companies in various forms of stakeholder engagement. From a light form of stakeholder engagement such as informing your stakeholders regarding your sustainability ambition and program to a more intensive engagement such as partnership strategy and management. Also facilitation and organization of stakeholder dialogues with a broad range of external stakeholders and co-creation workshop with potential partners is something we regularly support in.
How can team sustainability help me and my organization?
- Inform (compliance) – Inform stakeholders to increase transparency and accountability
- Support with CSR goal setting and reporting
- Consult (accountability) – Consult your ecosystem on specific topics and manage your stakeholders
- Materiality analysis
- Stakeholder dialogues
- Co-creation around specific themes
- Collaborate (transformation) – Collaborate with stakeholders that have a strategical and cultural fit
- Ecosystem mapping
- Partner identification and selection