The Power of Partnership

Creating partnerships for sustainability-587

Kelvin Cheung, Chief Operating Office of the social innovation consultancy, at the Good Lab and Duke Malan, Vice President at FleishmanHillard Hong Kong tell PublicAffairsAsia that partnership is critical to addressing global challenges. The interview follows a recent workshop facilitated by Cheung and Malan at The SharingValueAsia Summit


What is the biggest barrier to scaling shared value initiatives in Asia?

Duke Malan (DM): Today there is universal recognition that no single Government, private organization or NGO can solve any of the major issues facing the world and that partnership is the answer. Coca Cola calls it the Golden Triangle of business, government and civil society, we call it “uncommon alliances”.  The impact and frequency of these partnerships are increasing but more work needs to be done to build bridges and establish deeper levels of trust between these stakeholders.

We need more low risk, low cost “safe spaces” where these potential agents of change can interact, collaborate and enhance mutual understanding and lay a stronger foundation for effective cross sector collaboration.

Kelvin Cheung (KC):  I definitely agree. The future is in collaboration. But each one of the sectors mentioned by Duke speak a different language and operate with very different approaches.  We must be respectful, understanding and first find a common denominator where we can see on the same level to be able to move forward on collaborations.  Civil society still has a deep distrust of business.  Business thinks civil society is an afterthought.  Governments are here to regulate businesses.  These views need to change.  Business has the potential to solve social issues.  Social problems are business opportunities. The big issues governments across Asia face can be solved through collaboration with businesses.

What is missing?

KC:  The missing and most important part of this is finding a neutral space where everyone can come together to develop trust, understanding and collaboration.  At the Good Lab, we’ve been doing this for four years now through our Tri-sector Collaboration Program, bringing together civil society, government and business to understand social innovation.  We need a lot more programs which bring people together.  Unfortunately, a lot of courses and initiatives are created only for government, civil society or business. They lack the cross-sectoral influence and buy-in to take the ideas generated further.  We need a neutral space where ideas are nurtured. Trying to make these ideas flourish is essentially what we do at the Good Lab every day.

DM: We also need to make a stronger business case for Creating Shared Value. More CEOs and senior executives need to be driving this agenda and championing it internally and externally.

Corporate and Public Affairs leaders who are spearheading many of the world’s most successful ‘uncommon alliances’ also have a significant role to play. Strategic CSR has its place too.

At the recent SharingValueAsia Summit you ran an interactive workshop. What did you set out to achieve and what were the results?

KC:  I think we had the graveyard shift.  After lunch, right when the US Presidential Election result was about to become clear. We only had 45 minutes to offer a taster of what we usually do over a full day session.  However it worked out really well.

We gave delegates a sample of the Design Thinking process we use at the Good Lab to develop new approaches to tackle social issues.  We started the session by asking participants to adopt the position of being the user of a service, to create empathy. We then explored what their need was, what their problem was. And then we tried to design and develop solution which met their needs. We had a lot of wild ideas come out, and there were actually a couple ideas that we could have piloted afterwards.

DM:  For this process, we used a real world case study focusing on one of our clients Medix, a global leader in Personal Medical Case Management. Soaring healthcare costs and an increasing burden of disease is a major concern for governments, insurers and at an individual family level throughout Asia. The challenge for the breakout session was to use the design thinking to help Medix expand its shared value model of lowering healthcare costs, increasing access to quality healthcare and improving health outcomes in China.

There were a number of exceptionally smart, practical ideas that emerged from the session and more importantly it reinforced the power of getting people from diverse sectors to problem solve in a collaborative way.

What are your predictions for 2017?

DM: This year has taught us a thing or two about echo chambers and groupthink. Brexit and a Trump victory are probably the most poignant examples but there are many others. I am slightly reluctant to make or trust predictions. One I will make, however, is that I do think we are going to see more visible and impactful social innovation emerging from Asian conglomerates.

KC: All my predictions were wrong.  So probably my predictions aren’t any good.  But I’ll tell you what I’ll be doing, is to continue doing what I believe in, which is social innovation through collaboration.  Despite all the evidence of greater social and economic polarization, I believe a better future can only be achieved by working together.  Finding that common interest of human progress which we can agree is the launchpad for building a future together.  We’ve past the tipping point for a lot of things, and the only way we’ll solve the challenges we face is by acting together, not apart.