By Wade Warren, Chief Strategy Officer for International Development, Deloitte Consulting
In April 2019 at the What Works Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel focused on the challenges inherent in partnerships and on a tool to help partners set priorities. During my time at USAID, one of the biggest difficulties was getting all actors – host governments, donors, local NGOs, and businesses – to agree on priorities.
The private sector is no different. Panelist Alexandra van der Ploeg, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP, said that she loves partnerships but that they are very hard. To set priorities, partners need a common language. The international development community and business alike know this, and yet we sometimes flounder, from the very start, in aligning stakeholders.
Development agencies and businesses can only do so much on their own; large problems require multi-stakeholder partnerships. Panelist Amit Kapoor, from the Institute for Competitiveness in India, suggested that partners need a tool to help them align around priorities. His institute invested in a Social Progress Index for the states and districts in India.
Developed in 2013 with technical guidance from Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, the Social Progress Index measures outcomes, independent of any economic indicators. For example, it does not measure how much a country or state spends on education, but instead measures primary school enrollment, literacy rates, and gender parity in secondary school enrollment. This data can be plotted against economic data to suggest whether countries, states, or communities are making social progress compared to their economic peers. At the sub-national, regional, state and city levels, the Index can show where programs, policies, and investments can make the most impact.
Panelist Jaime Garcia, from the Instituto Centroamericano de Administración de Empresas, used the Index extensively with communities in Central and South America. He explained how multinational corporations Natura and Coca-Cola used the Index to identify and respond to the needs of communities that supplied key agricultural products. The Index pinpointed the community’s most urgent priorities, which were then addressed by partnering with local foundations, the Brazilian government, and USAID. The local Index allowed Natura and Coca-Cola to make smarter investments in the community and strengthen local collaboration, which improved life for people in the region and safeguarded their supply chains.
More than a rigorous measure of social and environmental outcomes, the Social Progress Index can unite diverse actors around a shared set of priorities. Development practitioners and businesses alike can use the Index’s rich open-source data set and robust framework to engage with other stakeholders and build enduring relationships that greatly strengthen project implementation. Organizations across sectors understand how important partnerships are and know how elusive they can be. The Social Progress Index’s ability to serve as a catalyst for collaboration makes it an important tool for development initiatives, widening their buy-in, and their impact.