3 Lessons from the Human Cities Coalition on Forming Purposeful Partnerships

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In today’s world, urbanization and the rising costs of developing resilient cities — let alone natural crisis mitigation, reducing poverty, and improving health care — exceed the financial capacity of governments and charities. Thus, partnerships between brands, non-governmental institutions and public sector organizations can scale positive change.

Akzo Nobel’s Human Cities Coalition (HCC) brings governments, NGOs, academic institutions, and corporations together with local communities to transform insufficient infrastructure into sustainable urban landscapes, effectively building a better tomorrow.

While these mutually beneficial partnerships help governments and nonprofits scale funding and tap into private sector expertise, they also benefit companies by offering unique investment opportunities and strengthening brand reputation via benefits of actively contributing to the greater good. What’s more, nonprofits and academia contribute their unique local-level perspectives, while participants share media content to scale organic reach of messaging and impact. Finally, local communities benefit from receiving infrastructure, products, and services vital to development and poverty alleviation.

Ultimately, partnerships founded on a common vision can provide solutions to global crises that would be unachievable without the breadth of expertise from diverse participating members.

Here are three vital lessons from the Human Cities Coalition on forming partnerships

1) Global Frameworks provide foundation & guidance: International protocols like the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are excellent foundations that can be used to attract unlikely partners with common goals. Not only do they provide a shared vision and connect individual projects to larger global movements, but they can also establish best practices and clarity of direction when addressing challenges.

HCC is based on the Sustainable Development Goal #11, which focuses on building “sustainable cities and communities.” The coalition’s unique members each contribute a different perspective on how to address rapid global urbanization and development.

By 2050, experts estimate 3 billion additional urban residents, many of whom will live in Asian megacities. These megacities, like Jakarta, Delhi and Manila, already house millions of urban poor who lack adequate shelter, education, healthcare, basic sanitation, or access to clean water. To reduce poverty, improve health and increase economic output, it is essential to create sustainable, inclusive, and equitable cities. This is something that governments, NGOs, and companies can benefit from.

Essentially, global frameworks lay the common ground for collaboration on solving issues that go beyond any one organization or industry and inspire all participants with a common vision.

2) Local perspectives strengthen strategy: While companies and governments may have the resources needed to implement transformative solutions, top-down approaches often fail to meet local needs. Thus, it is essential to engage community-level stakeholders and incorporate key learning from the bottom-up before investing in plans of action.

An excellent example of a partnership connecting corporate technology and expertise with on-the-ground knowledge is Arcadis’ Shelter Program. The engineering and strategy firm — a member of the HCC — partnered with UN-Habitat to help city dwellers plan for smart and sustainable urbanization. While Arcadis provides expertise, information, and technical assistance, the UN-Habitat connects the global conglomerate with local communities who can truly benefit from the company’s unique offerings.

What’s more, the Shelter Program provides Arcadis with powerful storytelling potential for marketing initiatives and inspires employees to take ownership of their work and the company which they work for, essentially increasing loyalty and a sense of purpose.

The key takeaway here is that local-level knowledge is critical to deploying the most effective solutions on the ground. Corporate/community partnerships not only build more resilient communities, but also offer corporate employee engagement opportunities and content for brand storytelling.

3) Coalitions open doors: The HCC has more than 150 stakeholders and 20 active partners, which provide a valuable ecosystem for collaboration. Congregating and collaborating with an established network around common goals can help facilitate unexpected business opportunities and achievements.

Sheela Patel, Chairperson of Slum Dwellers International, said that the HCC inspired her to collaborate with private sector partners for the first time. The Coalition’s dedication to bottom-up planning made Patel feel confident that the community voices wouldn’t be drowned out by corporate interests.

Similarly, the acclaim of participants like the UN-Habitat and the World Bank’s International Finance Coalition, provide credibility and help attract members like Patel. Reina Bujis, representing the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs role in the HCC, expressed her gratitude and appreciation for the Coalition because of its unique ability to create real change that couldn’t be achieved with individual players or disjoint collaborations.

Ultimately, solving global challenges like urbanization requires diverse insights, expertise, and action from myriad players. Therefore, combining an array of local expertise from nonprofits and community members, utilizing corporate technology, funding, and skills, and tapping into government insight on country policy making, is a powerful way to ignite real change with long-lasting positive impact. Coalitions are excellent platforms to bring together the stakeholders needed to foster dynamic solutions.

While governments and NGOs are doing amazing work to alleviate poverty and address our planet’s biggest challenges, they lack the funding and resources needed to deliver the scale of change the world needs. Therefore, it is essential that the private sector increases efforts and works with charities and governments to own the third pillar of social transformation. The Human Cities Coalition — which shares similarities with Global Brand Initiative — is an excellent expression of the type of catalysts we need to form collaborative projects that build a better world.

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CEO We First Inc, author NYT's bestseller We First, strategic corporate consultant and trainer, father, Australian, optimist.

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