Before you ask me, I will explain that the partner I speak of here consists of prospects and clients courted and very gracefully served by BIF country management in the pilot countries of Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, Malawi and Zambia.
Just under a year and a half ago, September 2010 to be precise, the country managers at a meeting in London towards the end of the BIF inception phase quizzed each other to ensure they had a common understanding of terms such as Business Innovation and Inclusive Business (amongst other buzz words and procedures that came with the project); what did it all mean – what does it all boil down to in concrete terms? What is it all for and what will make it successful?
Having had the privilege of working with Oando Marketing Plc., AACE Foods, the Furniture Village, StanbicIBTC and now starting new conversations with Guinness Nigeria Plc, Onward Paper Mills Plc, The Coca-Cola Bottler in Nigeria, Nestle Foods, Best Foods, Olam to name a few, their true needs, wants, values and aspirations are getting clearer everyday. Like many-a-relationship built to last, they often start out tentatively with the parties a little unsure of what they can expect of each other and even what they want from each other, however they instinctively know they need each other and hang on to some mutually sensed but intangible inner glow, which makes the interaction and engagement something to look forward to and all the more worthwhile.
At the BIF Nigeria country team, we are learning. We have learnt that many clients start out thinking Corporate Social Responsibility and it is the rare one that begins with the need to establish sustainable, inclusive business models that deliver on important aspects of the core business whilst delivering social impacts on a scale commensurate with the market position of the company involved however, many for whatever reason, would just like to do some good.
Along the continuum linking CSR (as a place holder for Corporate Social Investment, Corporate Citizenship, Corporate Philanthropy etc.) with inclusive business is where our clients and prospects are usually found. They tend not to have great budgets for CSR but are willing to invest heavily on projects that strengthen their competitive position and result in improved profits and/or revenues. We have learnt to trace with them from CSR towards inclusive business to identify where they are on that road and then project with them a vision of possibilities were they to continue towards these possible futures. This is where the skill is: correctly diagnosing the current situation and working with them to discover and articulate new futures that could be made possible through inclusive business interventions. If they happen to hit their sweet spot in the process, and with your assistance they work out what they need to do in concrete terms to own that future, then you have a potential partner - a driven potentially committed partner.
From that point, they chase you a bit like the amorous cartoon character, Pepe le Pew, and response times for contracting and resourcing whatever is agreed become crucial to keeping the momentum going. We have also found that what partners want includes a mix of certain types of generic activities such as: support for partnership brokering; finding a third party to act the Honest Broker in a multi-stakeholder environment; value chain analysis and inclusive business model development/testing; testing sustainability of financial/financing models; identifying sources of affordable finance; identifying local sources of supply/improving the supply chain; strategy and business case development as well as other basic business development services.
What we have consistently longed for in our partners is the ability to lift the head above the balance sheet and profit/loss accounts to see new horizons and possibilities which include the poor as consumers, suppliers, distributors on such a grand scale that boards get excited about the potential returns on scale-up investments following proof of concept in a pilot project. That alignment between profits and social impact is our Sweet Spot, and we are glad that between our partners, and us we are learning to join the spots!
Do you know what your partner wants?
Thanks Soji - great thoughts!