Why Collaboration Is Key to Change: BSR’s Insights

July 29 marked this year’s Earth Overshoot day—an astoundingly early reminder that we are using up our planet’s resources at an unsustainable rate. And while the world is changing for the better and advancing the 2030 Agenda, with many positive examples in the Nordics in particular, it is not changing anywhere near fast enough.




BSR’s global mission is to work with business to create a just and sustainable world. Our theory of change outlines how, to achieve this goal, we must align and leverage the unique skills and resources of all sectors. The world needs new partnerships of unprecedented scale and ambition between the private sector, governments, and civil society to create a future in which both societies and companies thrive.

That is why one of our core activities is Collaboration and why we have been designing, implementing, and scaling business-led collaborations to achieve win-win solutions for over 25 years. All our over twenty collaborative initiatives, engaging over 400 companies and stakeholders, are based on these four principles for engagement:

  • Value to Business and Society: Prioritize issues that deliver business value as well as significant societal impact, particularly on a systemic level.
  • Solutions that Motivate: Advance solutions that engage participants’ core business strategies and tap into their full range of assets—capabilities, ingenuity, knowledge, reputation, networks, and financial resources.
  • Stakeholder Inclusion: Ensure collaborative solutions take into account stakeholder and rights-holder perspectives, as well as optimize impacts and mitigate risks for beneficiaries.
  • Action Orientation: Select efforts that are actionable to deliver change and impact, and provide tools and practical strategies to our members.

Cecilia Müller Torbrand, Head of BSR Nordics and Executive Director for the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN), says: “Collaboration is a more effective way to tackle global challenges. One company alone would not have the same leverage in addressing government failures in fighting corruption, whereas a collaborative industry-driven initiative has the power to bring critical stakeholders to the table and accelerate change”.

To illustrate how we do this in practice, below are three of our largest and most impactful collaborations: why they were set up, how they work, and what has allowed them to generate scale and impact. We hope these examples can inspire others to collaborate and to apply BSR’s theory of change to make collaboration the catalyst that is required for global change.


Approximately 190 million women are employed in global supply chain-related jobs, and women make up 60-90 percent of the labor-intensive jobs. HERproject™ was established in 2007 to leverage the ability of global brands and their suppliers to reach large numbers of low-income working women in global supply chains—women working in factories and on farms, in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, and Kenya.

The focus of the program is to implement workplace-based training programs on health, financial inclusion, and gender equality, to strengthen management systems on these topics and increase access to products and services such as health clinics and digital wages. Through the training programs, a small group of women workers become experts on the relevant topic and subsequently share their knowledge and skills with colleagues, families, and communities. Since its inception, HERproject™ has worked in more than 750 workplaces across 14 countries and has increased the well-being, confidence, and economic potential of more than 850,000 women and 450,000 men.

Both global brands and their suppliers see significant benefits from participation in HERproject™. Factories and farms with women’s empowerment programs have demonstrated a consistent increase in performance, as women who feel healthy, safe, and empowered are less likely to leave and more likely to be able to focus on their work. Brands participating in HERproject™ thus help to raise the performance and stability of their suppliers while reducing procurement-related risks.

“When women can improve their health and financial resources, and when they benefit from a safer and more equal working environment, businesses see major positive impacts. HERproject™ is privileged to be delivering on both”, says Christine Svarer, HERproject Director.

Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN)

The maritime value chain plays a crucial role in the global economy: around 90 percent of goods are transported by sea and via ports. The Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) is a global business network working towards the vision of a maritime industry free of corruption. Established in 2011 by a small group of committed maritime companies, MACN has grown to include over 100 members globally, and has become one of the pre-eminent examples of collective action.

MACN works with its members on strengthening anti-corruption compliance programs, and on equipping companies to reject corrupt demands. However, addressing only the approach of companies is not sufficient to stop corruption. The network therefore catalyzes and implements collective action projects by engaging stakeholders in countries where corruption is severe and frequent.

It is fundamental to MACN’s approach that sustainable solutions to tackle corruption are enabled and supported by, as well as beneficial to, local stakeholders. Stakeholder dialogue and local ownership of the process are therefore critical parts of MACN’s approach. For example, Customs and Immigration Authorities are key stakeholders to engage in MACN’s projects, as they play a central role in the clearance of goods through maritime ports worldwide. To further build local ownership, MACN´s collective action projects are implemented in partnership with a local organization—for example, an NGO—as the implementing partner, and actively engage MACN members with operations in the country.

Cecilia Müller Torbrand, Executive Director for MACN, says; “MACN has successfully acted as a catalyst for change in countries like Nigeria, Argentina, Egypt and Indonesia. MACN’s collective action approach, where companies, government and other key stakeholders work together, is an excellent example of public-private collective action. MACN members can be proud of the results we have achieved in a relatively short time frame”.

Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC)

The Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC) is a global network of businesses creating jobs for those most in need through Impact Sourcing—a business practice where a company prioritizes suppliers that intentionally hire and provide career development opportunities to people who otherwise have limited prospects for formal employment.

Impact Sourcing has been shown to provide many business and social benefits. Service providers access new sources of talent, achieve higher levels of employee engagement and lower attrition rates. Supplier employees take their first step onto a career ladder that leads to economic self-sufficiency through income growth, skills development, and professional advancement.

To help businesses leverage Impact Sourcing, GISC created the Impact Sourcing Standard: the first globally recognized standard for the business practice of Impact Sourcing. The standard defines the minimum requirements and voluntary best practices for providers of business products and services to demonstrate their commitment to inclusive employment.

With the standard in place, GISC members have been able to get to work. In 2018, GISC launched the Impact Sourcing Challenge, calling on its members to hire 100,000 impact workers by the end of 2020. One year on, GISC member companies have already pledged to hire over 25,000 new impact workers by the end of 2020.

Doing Collaboration Right

As we outlined in our 2017 report, Private-Sector Collaboration for Sustainable Development, a successful collaboration has:

  • A compelling, common purpose that brings participants together and enables each to accrue value from the collaboration
  • The right partners in the right roles that bring the required authority and resources to drive the collaboration forward
  • Good governance that enables efficient, transparent, and fair decision-making
  • An organizational design that is fit for purpose–with sufficient resources and staffing to operate
  • Accountability to the objectives the collaboration participants have committed to

Our goal is to equip businesses and stakeholders with everything they need to run the kind of system-changing collaborations required to create a truly just and sustainable world. To further advance this, last year we launched CoLab: BSR's incubator and accelerator of private-sector collaboration.

“CoLab is mobilizing the collective power of business to solve some of the world’s biggest sustainability challenges”, says Nicolas Ronderos, CoLab Manager. “Pre-competitive collaboration allows companies to invest their resources in the sustainable development of their organization, market, and greater ecosystem. Our collaborations are also supported by a range of partners that drive further impact," he added.

You can share your collaboration ideas and learn more about our existing collaborations and our incubation process of new initiatives on our website: https://www.bsr.org/en/collaboration

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