Leveraging Business Through Intersectoral Partnerships


As companies grow, they navigate social, environmental and supply chain challenges that are increasingly complex and difficult to solve alone. Meanwhile, governments and non-governmental organizations increasingly rely on market forces, private sector innovation and the economic opportunities created by business to improve people’s lives. The success of each sector is inevitably intertwined.

Climate change, poverty and social inequality are among the most critical issues of our time. Cross-sector collaboration – where two or more organizations work together across industry sectors, alongside nonprofits and governments, to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes – can leverage their strengths to accelerate progress on complex issues, in a way that serves everyone’s interests.

A successful collaboration can lead to the formation of a cross-sectoral partnership, in which partners formally agree to leverage their resources to work towards shared and measurable goals. These partnerships promise to be more effective because they integrate complementary resources and competences that the partners can add. Intersectoral partnership is seen as an “essential paradigm” in tackling global challenges, such as those addressed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The central objective of many cross-sectoral partnerships is to solve economic, social and environmental problems through mutual collaboration, often addressing institutional and regulatory gaps, providing social goods such as clean water, health or education. Thus, cross-sectoral partnerships typically emphasize an imperative to realize benefits for the wider community rather than for special interests.

They generally address the social responsibilities of participating organizations, either in response to external pressures (reactively), in anticipation of potential social issues that may arise in the future (proactively), or as part of the interaction process, adapting to emerging issues ( adaptively).

Since the early 2000s, international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank have embraced public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a way to deliver global public goods, such as environmental protection or poverty alleviation. While governments have traditionally used PPPs to build “hard” infrastructure such as roads and water works, they are now increasingly experimenting with using PPPs for “soft” issues with different constituencies and objectives. However, large companies have come to appreciate the potential of cross-industry partnerships to leverage their long-term competitive advantage.

A well-designed and effective cross-sectoral partnership benefits partners through:

  • Scale-up – Successful partnerships take advantage of combined resources to reach more people and amplify impacts and results, even with the development of companies, relationships in new markets.
  • Replicability and Sustainability – From a public sector perspective, committed private partners can turn an investment into a scalable, long-term, market-driven initiative. For companies, the success of the partnership can encourage sustainable investments that can be replicated in other regions and/or other matters.
  • Improved effectiveness – Shared experience and knowledge can spur innovation and leverage new opportunities.
  • Systemic Change – Greater visibility, greater spheres of influence and coordinated collective action and co-investment help advance the UN Sustainable Goals and address the complex global challenges that threaten both supply chains and communities.

As the world becomes more complex, it becomes increasingly urgent for organizations to work across industries to achieve shared goals. These complex challenges are especially common in markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the former Soviet bloc.

Here are some emblematic and high-impact intersectoral partnerships between companies, governments, NGOs and other organizations:

1. Google Earth and Global Forest Watch

(Partners: Google, University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch).

Historically, documenting and understanding the scope of deforestation has been challenging due to lack of data. Google Earth Engine was originally created to help scientists and researchers detect changes and map trends in the Earth’s surface through satellite imagery and geospatial datasets, providing a high-resolution global forest map that can visually and quickly demonstrate deforestation.

Then, in partnership with Global Forest Watch (GFW), Google Earth Engine provides free forest monitoring support for tropical nations. GFW uses this monitoring to provide timely tree loss updates through alerts. Deforestation that can take years to uncover now happens in days. Such vigilance helps forest managers and law enforcement protect threatened forests.

2. Green Climate Fund

(Partners: Global public sector, finance, civil society and private sector partners under the Green Climate Fund.)

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) emerged from the Paris Agreement as the largest climate fund in the world. It builds on public and private finance and collaboration to help emerging markets reduce carbon emissions and adopt climate resilient practices.

The GCF partners with international and national commercial banks, multilaterals, regional and national development finance institutions, equity fund institutions, UN agencies and civil society.

3. Healing Forests: Collaboration to identify interactions between human health and deforestation

(Partners: Johnson & Johnson and the World Wildlife Fund).

To better understand the connection between human health, disease outbreaks and deforestation, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has partnered with Johnson & Johnson on Healing Forests.

It is a project that identifies how deforestation can harm human health and economies and what efforts can be used to contain future disease outbreaks.

Focusing on Sabah, Malaysia, where palm oil plantations have devastated forests, Healing Forests hopes to show how forest conservation can serve as preventative medicine for all — promoting proactive remedies for some of the world’s most pressing environmental and health concerns.

4. Power Africa: Renewable energy expansion across sub-Saharan Africa

(Partners: USAID and 150+ companies)

In Africa, two out of three people cannot access electricity. This has social, economic and environmental consequences. Through USAID’s Power Africa initiative, the US Government has a bold goal to bring 30,000 megawatts of renewable energy and connect 60 million new homes and businesses in Africa.

To that end, USAID is partnering with more than 150 of the world’s leading companies, political leaders, and financial institutions to help overcome a variety of regulatory, legal, financial, and other barriers that stop or prevent energy projects from moving toward completion across the globe. sub-Saharan Africa.

5. Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility (TLFF)

(Partners: UN Environment Programme, World Agroforestry Centre, BNP Paribas and ADM Capital).

To promote green growth and sustainable rural livelihoods across Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, key stakeholders have come together to form the Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility (TLFF) to mobilize finance for long-term sustainability initiatives. TLFF will leverage public funding to help unlock private capital for sustainable land use, including in agriculture and ecosystem restoration, and for investments in renewable energy.

TLFF’s inaugural transaction is a $95 million Sustainability Bond organized by BNP Paribas and issued by TLFF to help finance a sustainable natural rubber plantation on heavily degraded land. The project embodies broad social and environmental goals that will also help protect a national park threatened by encroachment.

The examples above are just a small sampling of the innovative partnerships that exist today. These cross-sectoral partnerships demonstrate the power and progress that can be achieved when organizations meaningfully engage with diverse actors to pursue environmental and sustainable goals.

Reversing environmental threats will not happen overnight, and opportunities need to be created to facilitate strategic dialogues and streamline synergies between sectors. Progress can exist through innovation, determination and collaboration at scale.

Beatriz Canamary

Beatriz Canamary is a consultant in Sustainable and Resilient Business, Doctor and Professor in Business, Civil Engineer, specialized in Mergers and Acquisitions from the Harvard Business School, and mom of triplets. Today she is dedicated to the effective application of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Multinationals.

She is an ESG enthusiast and makes it possible to carry out sustainable projects, such as energy transition and net-zero carbon emissions. She has +15 years of expertise in large infrastructure projects.

Member of the World Economic Forum, Academy of International Business and Academy of Economics and Finance.