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Towards a new model of partnerships

By March 5, 2020

By: Charlotte Kirby, VP, Global Strategic Relations, and Nicholas Davis, Managing Director, SWIFT Partners Sarl

The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting often serves as a bellwether for the year ahead. In the case of the 2020 Annual Meeting, which also marked the Forum’s 50th Anniversary, the fact that almost every session featured the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) suggests that the world is starting to realize what the ‘decade of delivery’ – the ten years left to deliver the goals – will require from all of us.

The decade ahead is all the more important because, as the latest SDG Progress Report pointed out, the world is falling short on almost every one of the 17 global goals. At current rates of progress, the extreme poverty rate is projected to be 6% in 2030, missing the global target, while biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate and greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

Given that no single institution is strong or effective enough to respond adequately to the interrelated and cross-border challenges that the goals seek to address, it seems clear that more focus is required on Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals.

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Attendees at the hosted lunch at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting

Businesses, governments, universities, and civil society organizations are increasingly seeing partnerships as essential to the achievement of the SDGs and to improving the state of the world. The knowledge and expertise required to create impact are distributed across diverse countries, sectors and organizations; sustainable, community-led change requires buy-in from all stakeholders; and governments and civil society alone lack the financial resources needed to achieve the goals. The United Nation estimated that, for countries to meet all 17 SDGs, there would need to be an annual investment of between $5 trillion and $7 trillion dollars.

Yet, the discussions at Davos also indicated that a new sense of urgency and a blurring of roles between sectors is putting pressure on partnerships to change and innovate. Indeed, this was the headline outcome of a dynamic, high-level lunch that hosted during the Annual Meeting, under the theme “The Partnership Economy in the New Era of Capitalism.”

What needs to change about partnerships? Participants at the lunch, which featured senior leaders from across all sectors, offered a myriad of ideas as to how partnerships can be replicated, redesigned or revolutionized to be less transactional and have greater impact. But three in particular seemed to resonate with the group.

Networking at the hosted lunch at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting

Networking at the hosted lunch at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting

First, a number of business leaders pointed out that the majority of globally-engaged firms act in the best interests of employees, customers and communities, rather than shareholders alone. Indeed, for many, acting on behalf of broad sets of stakeholders is seen as a legal requirement, making community-oriented partnerships core to the long-term health of companies. But as partnerships become more important to firms, so too does the need for strategic alignment and systematic measurement – two things not always present in more transactional partnerships. A good example of this approach is YearUp, which places more young adults who have talent and motivation but lack opportunity into Fortune 500 companies than any other program. This opens the door to employable talent that corporate employers would not otherwise meet.

Second, participants noted that there is still a lot to learn from the success of innovative multi-sector partnership models such as those pioneered by Gavi and The Global Fund, and a rising need to apply these lessons in other areas, such as mental health and climate finance. Both Gavi and The Global Fund are built around, governed by, and operate through close collaboration across the public and private sectors by making effective medicine and treatment for preventable diseases affordable and accessible to developing countries. While it was noted that there are signs of ‘donor fatigue’ on the part of bilateral funders, partnership-based financing mechanisms such as Gavi’s private sector matching fund, to which the Gates Foundation made a $750 million commitment during Davos, and mechanisms such as social bonds that leverage capital markets were recognized as useful ways to “crowd in” and amplify contributions from other sectors.

Third, there is scope for a new generation of innovative partnership approaches that embrace and energize entire communities. Formal partnership structures between committed, aligned entities will always remain important and essential – but to achieve impact at scale, how might entire sectors of diverse actors align visions and share resources, taking advantage of the power of social movements? Examples discussed during the lunch included how firms were mobilizing communities of employees, and how new initiatives were engaging even larger groups that share overarching identities, based on a combination of an inspiring vision and new sources of trust. One example of this is the We Are All Human Foundation, which takes innovative, community-driven approach to advocate for girls, for diversity and inclusion, and for a fair chance for all.

Above all, the discussions at Davos underscored that now is the right time to really enhance and harness this collective commitment and new thinking, to better define, design and deliver a new generation of multi-stakeholder partnerships.

What surprised me the most was that this seemed to be a common view – yet one where partnership professionals felt largely alone. Let’s fix that in 2020 by highlighting the opportunity for partnerships to drive the decade of delivery, and bringing our combined energy and insight to bear on innovating partnerships.

To aid in this, will be convening a range of further dialogues on how we can all improve multi-stakeholder partnerships over the course of the coming year. Join the conversation on LinkedIn by following and share your partnership insights with us.

Charlotte Kirby
Charlotte Kirby is Vice President of Global Strategic Relations at where she is responsible for building formal strategic partnerships, international collaborations, and strong strategic relations to holistically support Charlotte is passionate about driving learning-based programming, employee volunteerism, and grant management in areas of STEM education, youth workforce development, and technology innovation. Prior to this role, Charlotte worked in senior management roles in the telecommunications industry, holding senior management positions within Verizon and WorldCom and focusing on business transformation and customer success. She holds a BA (Hons) in Business from Anglia Ruskin and a MSc in Corporate Governance from London South Bank.

Nicholas Davis
Nicholas Davis is the Managing Partner at SWIFT Partners, a Geneva-based consultancy focused on helping companies harness emerging technologies to create sustainable value, and a Professor of Practice at Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. From 2015 to 2019, Nick was Head of Society and Innovation and a member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum. With Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, he is the co-author of Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution, published in January 2018. He is currently a Visiting Professor at UCL’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy and sits on the board of the IMPROVE European Innovation Management Academy. He holds degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Sydney as well as a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Oxford.