A boy in Uganda (Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Magesvaran Suranjan, President, P&G APAC and P&G IMEA

As the world’s population continues to grow, we observe stark increases in the disparity between the privileged and underprivileged in terms of access to basic needs, like education and hygiene. Serving millions of P&G’s consumers across Asia Pacific (APAC) and India, Middle East and Africa (IMEA) as I do, in my opinion the inequalities in these two dynamic regions are only widening.

We all have a stake and we all can make a difference: providing access to basic human needs to everyone and safeguarding the environment for future generations is the top priority for governments, industry, NGOs and consumers. We know that none of these stakeholders can solve these issues by themselves and that multistakeholder partnerships (MSPs) are critical to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).

However, the effectiveness of multistakeholder partnerships is average at best, and even less so in the long term.

In my opinion, this is because of two key reasons:

1. Unrealistic expectations where multistakeholder partnerships are expected to take the place of government programs instead of supporting them. Countless studies reveal discrepancies existing between activity outputs and previously stated goals and ambitions.

2. Unclear mapping of roles result in the inaccurate matching of industry, government or NGOs to tasks. This is tantamount to a square peg in a round hole; a futile exercise. This results in stakeholders being left to find solutions beyond their areas of proficiency, creating chronic inefficiency.

Despite this, there is a silver lining. I strongly believe that we can all be a force for good if we make MSPs more practical. Here are my three recommendations:

1. A common vision with unique actions

Our puberty education program, run in conjunction with government schools and NGOs in Morocco, Jordan and India and called Always Keeping Girls in School in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya represents a strong example of an effective partnership program in action. The common vision is to reduce the rates of girls dropping out of secondary school due to menstruation. This is because of lack of access to sanitary pads, puberty education, and affordability of pads. We provide the puberty education and pads; the governments and NGOs provide access via government schools and community networks to reach girls across the region. Every year, we educate over 17.5 million girls across the world on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) with 33 partners in over 45 countries. We have been doing so successfully for over 10 years, slowly but surely reducing the drop-out rates of adolescent girls from school.

Similarly, in partnership with the Philippines trade department, we launched a program for the growth and development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with the common vision to help typhoon victims start small “convenience stores” to improve their livelihood. We provided access to our portfolio of brands, as well as retail training to set the SMEs up for long-term success. The trade ministry and local government helped in the identification and vetting of beneficiaries, and the day-to-day running of the program.

2. Monitor to assess and improve

Another example of a successful public-private-partnership is GAVI – a multistakeholder alliance between the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, health institutes and an array of civil-society and government organizations. GAVI exemplifies a well-implemented initiative facilitating vaccine provision and development, country level immunization programs, and strengthening health systems, with special focus on low-income countries. The success of this MSP stems from its robust monitoring, evaluation framework, and strategy that is conducive to active stakeholder participation. Importantly, this monitoring program helps create the conditions for continuous improvement. Between 2000 and 2017, GAVI’s successful partner engagements have contributed to the routine vaccination of around 690 million children, as well as 760 million people receiving immunization through vaccination campaigns.

3. Leverage industry’s greatest strength – innovation

A novel example of a multistakeholder partnership that leverages innovation in a unique way is the Singapore government’s “National Steps Challenge”. This in my opinion has been effectively executed by the Health Promotion Board under Singapore’s ministry of health. The intent of the “Steps Challenge” is to curb the reported rise in the cases of obesity and diabetes in Singapore by encouraging the populace to be much more active. How? Through a simple solution: providing all citizens and permanent residents with wearable fitness monitors. To encourage people, they provided an incentive: Rewards for Steps, partnering with a variety of Singapore retailers and businesses. This program leverages the innovation in fitness monitoring partnering with Fitbit, Garmin, Google Fit and Strava, and existing consumer usage of mobile apps. The results have been very encouraging with a reported 30,000 of 696,000 participants effectively getting into the habit of clocking over five kilometers of exercise every day for six months.

Another example is the recently announced Absorbent Hygiene Products Recycling facility in India leveraging a breakthrough technology developed in Italy by Fater, a joint venture of P&G with the Angelini Group. This innovation will upcycle sanitary napkins and diaper waste. In partnership with the municipality and NGOs, who collect the waste that consumers will segregate, we will create the model to bring this to life in India.

These three recommendations will ensure that MSPs are the Force for Good and Force for Growth they are meant to be. With unique responsibility, accountability and action, transformation can be created and sustained to proffer real, positive impact.

In my opinion, this is the proven way to ensure that MSPs are not simply a “philosophy”, but a reality with concrete and sustainable outcomes.