Industry: Management Consulting/CSR
Applicable SDG: SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals
With a strong desire to contribute to our society and have a positive impact on the world, Umalia was created with the conviction that the societal engagement of organizations must go hand in hand with profit. With the growing complexity of the world around us and the societal challenges we face – such as climate change – it is impossible for the solution to come from a single player. The central place and economic weight of companies in our society make them a formidable tool for redrawing the lines of a fairer, more sustainable and more resilient society. This is why one of our core spheres of action revolves around the design and set up of business ecosystems and multisector partnerships that bring together society’s players around common issues and a shared vision.
In order to multiply our impact, embody our vision and be aligned with our own values, Umalia has taken the form of a hybrid organization since its beginning:
– Firstly, we are a consulting firm in strategy and societal engagement for various types of organizations. At Umalia first and foremost we assist leaders seeking to have a greater societal impact by tying their values and ideals to concrete business practices. We help them to develop their strategic planning, envision and strategize their societal engagement, engaging their stakeholders along the way through different mechanisms and business practices. We also accompany them to tie their values and vision to major transformations their organization goes through.
– Secondly, we regularly engage with nonprofit organizations and communities to put our skills and expertise to work for other players in society. Since its creation Umalia has been committed to operating according to the same principles as those taught to its clients, which earned Umalia its B Corp certification in 2020 with a score of 128 points.
Regardless of who we work for and what kind of accompaniment we provide, our methodology is based on strong principles: meaning, anchoring and impact. Through meaning we seek relevance and coherence in relation to the context and the organization. We believe in the richness of consultation and integrate the different stakeholders from the very beginning of any project design. Anchoring allows us to consolidate and concretize a vision by integrating it at the very core of the organization, in its strategies, business practices, investments, etc. It is also a medium for us to systematically question partnership potential with the organization we are working with. Once the internal alignment is reached regarding the organization’s vision, purpose and business strategy, it’s the perfect window for us to address the leverage and benefits the organization may have in a partnership ecosystem. Finally, the last part of our methodology is always focused on the same objective of any reflection on societal engagement: having and measuring a positive impact on the organization, its ecosystem and society.
Over the years, we have developed a specific and sharp expertise in the implementation, governance and activation of multisector partnerships. We have built several multi-stakeholder partnerships, especially in Africa, aimed at contributing to solve targeted issues addressed by several of the Sustainable Development Goals. We chose to address primarily SDG #17 because :
– It is our primary field of expertise
– We are fervent advocates of the exponential potential of multi-stakeholder partnerships
– We trust our ability to promote, mobilize and bring awareness to our clients and whole ecosystem about the still unknown power of partnerships
– It represents the core of what we have accomplished with different organizations of different sectors
In selecting this SDG, we were quite conscious of the potential opportunities it could create as well as the risks inherent to it. In our discussions with our Advisory Board, several recognized the clear alignment with our business model but also feared that given the state of awareness/ readiness of organizations, back in 2012, around multisector partnerships, that it would take a lot of perseverance and dedication to achieve our vision and that we’d have to ‘take our pilgrim’s stick’ to make this happen at the level we envisioned. Not to mention that we’d have to dedicate a lot of our own resources, if we also wanted to make that part of our own corporate societal engagement. The other associated risks were related to the inherent risks of implementing multisector partnerships, ie governance and alignment risks with partners, potential to impact reputation, etc.
Even though we took them into account, the benefits and the potential far outweighed these risks. Aside from enabling us to live our mission fully and concretely, focusing on these partnerships also provided an opportunity for us to demonstrate, in real time, the full extent of our capabilities as an organization and the full continuum of our services as every aspect is typically engaged throughout these projects (purpose, common mission, meaning, strategy development, ecosystem building, impact measurement, ….). Furthermore, in selecting SDG #17, we were also conscious of the tremendous innovation potential that we would benefit from working and leading partnerships with such diverse partners, in several areas of the globe. We would continue to learn and grow as an organization and be able to pass that on to all our clients, partners and stakeholders in order to strengthen our full ecosystem.
Among the various initiatives we conduct relating to our own societal engagement, our core focus relates to SDG#17. In order to concretize our will to have an impact, give back to society, over the years we’ve designed and implemented various multisector partnerships, with an emphasis on targets 17.16 and 17.17. Some examples include:
– Democratic Republic of Congo: partnership between the UNDP and two key private sector players in the banking and telecom sectors: https://www.umalia.ca/case-studies-en/united-nations-development-programme
– Senegal: partnership between a Canadian NGO and two different private sector players (soap industry and leadership development): https://www.umalia.ca/case-studies-en/crossroads-international
– Morocco: partnership between a Canadian private sector biological water treatment player and six other partners from Canada and Morocco (private, public and academic sectors)
We will focus here on one of our most entrenched partnerships we implemented from start to end. In order to go even further in our engagement towards building relevant and sustainable partnerships and because we are convinced that it takes time and perseverance to bring sustainable change, we made a ten-year commitment in 2013 to a Beninese community, Sô-Ava. This collaboration aims at supporting the community’s efforts to develop, build resilience to climate change, build partnerships that create shared value with the private sector and establish a responsible and sustainable collaborative governance.
Through this partnership with the City Hall and the Civil Society (via a collective of more than 60 NGOs) we co-created with them their 20-year vision and their communal development plan, revitalized their multi-stakeholder consultation framework and identified issues as a lever for development. During the process of key issues identification, one challenge was identified as crucial: water quality. Indeed, Sô-Ava is a lakeside community with more than 120,000 inhabitants living either directly on the water in houses on stilts or in villages built on periodically flooded islands. Water is therefore at the heart of the life of the population of Sô-Ava and anything that affects its quantity or quality is a threat to health and the local economy. Its preservation is therefore a major stake in the survival and resilience of this population in the face of climate change.
In 2017 we launched a multi-stakeholder partnership bringing together five partners for a three-year project called Climat’Eau: Umalia & Technologies Ecofixe: private sector; Sô-Ava City Hall: local public authority; COSC (gathering of 60 local NGOs): civil society; Laval University: academic.
The partnership is facilitated and managed by Umalia with a clear governance structure and mechanisms, and is funded in part (60%) by the government of Quebec, in part by the partners (40%). As part of the Climat’Eau project, and realizing the crucial role that capacity building plays in bringing about sustainable change, the project developed its governance on a collaborative approach focused on capacity building at all levels and from all partners (North-South, South-South), on all themes (Target 17.9).
The partnership’s main objective was to increase the resilience of local populations against the effects of climate change and it was set on four pillars:
1/Raising awareness around climate change, its effects and key behaviors;
– Ensuring that the population drives the mobilization dynamics: Climat’Eau decided first to build the capabilities of its local field team in the area of animation and awareness building (Target 17.9)
– Conducting a wide, agile mobilization program adapted to the context, carried by the population, for the population, and involving women and young people
2/Cleaning the water of the Sô River in key villages, improving the full water ecosystem and providing benefits in agriculture;
– Developing a locally adapted water treatment system for the specific geography of Sô-Ava, ensuring it would be replicable and scalable 100% locally, at an affordable cost and would be able to be maintained and operated by local population to ensure its sustainability. Our technological partner, Ecofixe, agreed to transfer the technology (Target 17.7) at no cost and ensure the proper local capacity building of local populations and economic suppliers (Target 17.9).
3/Laying the foundation for a green technology business ecosystem, bringing together key stakeholders (institutional, private sector, public sector, academic) and evaluating next steps for its setup;
– Going beyond the Climat’Eau project and capitalizing on the multisector partnerships by initiating a collective reflection on the business ecosystem approach, seeing its implementation potential and mobilizing potential stakeholders
– Leading multisector forums organized to build capacities, explore collectively and a field research to address our objectives (Target 17.9)
4/Conducting academic doctoral research on participative governance in a decentralized community, identifying key levers for effective development action, with a specific focus on citizen participation
– Thinking about sustainability, Climat’Eau reflected right from the get-go about the necessity to use the project as an inherent way to build local capacity in the community (Target 17.9).
– Conducting research on the following hypothesis: climate change adaptation requires successful decentralization; in this context, the participation of all levels of government in development actions influences successful adaptation to climate change; the more collaborative governance is, the better it strengthens the resilience of local populations in projects to combat the effects of climate change.
The results and key impact of the initiatives are the result of the continuous monitoring of the project, an external audit of the project conducted in September 2020 and the results of the research conducted by the National Institute of Research for Agriculture in Benin (INRAB).
1/ Raising awareness around climate change, their effects and key behaviors:
In order to raise awareness in the three villages targeted, various actions were conducted: global actions targeting the whole community (participatory local radio programs, locally made and broadcasted film, theater of the oppressed, awareness posters by a local artist, etc.) and specific activities targeting targeted groups (awareness sessions, discussions, focus groups, etc.). One of the first impact was the spontaneous creation of three Climate Change committees. Following the mobilization campaign the population took the initiative to structure and settle local citizen committees around 3 main topics: Water Protection, Tree Protection and Sanitation. The 3 committees have a local structure implemented in each village with a coordination team (3 subcommittee leaders, 1 religious leader, 1 young person, 1 woman, Village chief), and an overarching structure with the representatives of all local committees.
– Over 130 sessions; over 7000 direct participants (initial target : 3 000) and 120 000 indirect participants
– Average participation rate: 96% of expectations, ranging from 42% to 200%. Participant satisfaction rates: from 67% to 100%, with an average of 98%
– Improved knowledge of climate change (pre- and post-test) representing an increase of 3.8 out of 10 points over time. Important note : pre-test scores went up year after year, demonstrating that baseline knowledge at the beginning of the awareness sessions is now much higher than at the beginning of the project
– 66% of a representative sample of the population surveyed have benefited from climate change awareness at least once and feel that the awareness messages conveyed have brought about change in the communities; 40% of the surveyed people took individual initiatives to plant trees
– 3 100 trees have been planted by the Tree Protection committees
2/Cleaning the water of the Sô River, improving the full water ecosystem and providing benefits in agriculture. The technology was installed by both the Ecofixe team and local Water Protection committees who are in charge of maintenance after receiving training and manuals.
– 3 water treatment systems have been installed : the first one, from Canada, the second and third ones made locally with 95% of material and services purchased from local businesses
– Entirely powered by solar energy, panels installed on school roofs, providing electricity to children doing their homework at night
– Water treatment capacity (3 installations): 140 to 155 m3 per day
– An additional disinfection system has been installed in one village to conduct research on the reuse of treated water in agriculture together with the INRAB
– Mandated by Climat’Eau, the INRAB has conducted a double blind field research on tomatoes and okra crops with two variables : 1) Water origin: lake, disinfected or treated (via Climat’Eau water treatment system) and 2) Type of agriculture: traditional vs researched based practices.
The results of the analysis conducted on the end products show clearly that regardless of the type of agriculture, the only vegetables with an acceptable hygienic quality for consumption are the products of disinfected and treated water.
– 43% of the population representative sample surveyed noted a clarification of the water; 23% noticed a better fishing yield.
– Innovation: the technology was adapted to the local unique conditions and is operated with ecofriendly processes.
Impact: the impact have to be considered at different levels:
– Environmental: water purification
– Economic: increase of fishing yield, safer vegetable production
– Health: test results from INRAB conducted on the water are encouraging regarding the presence of total coliforms
3/Laying the foundation for a green technology business ecosystem
– 3 business ecosystem forums took place with local authorities, civil society, national authorities, private sector, water quality control laboratories and research institutes. The business ecosystem forums aimed at developing understanding and capacities regarding the first phases of implementing a business ecosystem.
– More than 50 participants from over 30 organizations
– A field research to identify the potential economic, institutional and social actors as well as potential partnership was conducted
4/Conducting academic research on participative governance
– 3 articles to be published in scientific journals
– A doctoral thesis on collaborative governance through a methodology based on literature review, group & one-on-one interviews and field observations of Climat’Eau’s innovative approach on collaborative governance in a context of decentralization and Climate Change
– First conclusions: 1) the project is a success and achieved the intended results, 2) the local elected officials have made this governance theirs as a management approach. From now on, all their projects will focus on this approach and try to respect it, 3) at least 8 out of 10 research participants (stakeholders) acknowledged the effectiveness of the approach, 4)the local population feels that this project has had a direct impact on their lives, hence their involvement, 5) the project made it possible to work on an economic, environmental and social aspect of local development
At Umalia, being a small team allows us to share information and experiences easily and with a management style based on collaboration and learning, we have many opportunities to each be involved in one way or the other on the different multi-stakeholder partnerships. A particularity of such partnerships is the necessity of having a holistic approach and vision. As a matter of fact, everyone regardless of their expertise and background can contribute and bring value to such projects and we make sure that we take every advantage of our team diversity in that regard. In addition to being a great learning opportunity, working on such partnerships allows employees to manifest skills that were not necessarily in their initial assignments. These partnerships, especially when they are as anchored in a societal impact perspective as Climat’Eau is, are a formidable vehicle of meaning and self-realization for employees. We see them as an opportunity for the individual to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
We also have a volunteering program for our employees and encourage them to use this opportunity to part take in partnerships-based project as we know the shared value of such an engagement. The experience and knowledge they acquire on multisector partnerships such as Climat’Eau is of great value for many associations or non-profit organization they could do their volunteering program with. We are also happy to support them in any personal projects they may have, especially when it is about partnerships.
We also encourage the promotion of awareness regarding the amazing potential of multi-stakeholder partnerships amongst our direct network of clients, partners and among the different network groups we belong to. By including the question of ecosystem partnerships’ potential to the core steps of our methodology, we ensure to regularly have opportunities to talk about it and directly connect them to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. It is also a perfect argument to regularly interrogate and survey our ecosystem on their practices and question on this regard. We noticed that the pandemic has prompted and increased the number of discussions we had with our direct network regarding partnerships and their sustainability.
Externally, we conscientiously and voluntarily lend our thought leadership on the topic of multisector partnership. Over the years Umalia developed an expertise in this area and has acquired a certain legitimacy, especially in Québec where we regularly answer invitations to discuss this topic. Some examples of this are interviews, panels, webinars, memberships to impact oriented movements, participation on boards of Directors, and partnerships.
Another partnership worth underlining is our recent partnership with Saint Michael’s College (University of Toronto) for their program: Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Graduate Diploma. Indeed, we joined our expertise to create a learning laboratory on “Brokering Partnerships for Social Impact & Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals” for the ongoing cohort. The objective of the projects are several:
We saw this partnership as an amazing impact opportunity to communicate and promote SDG #17. Especially considering the profile of the 37 students who are all active professionals already occupying key CSR positions in all sectors (private, academic, public and non-profit).
We celebrate all these opportunities as they allow us to address a very diverse audience in addition to publishing our own content, such as investigation dossiers on specific topics. The current investigation we are leading aims at addressing the opportunities, risks and governance of multisector partnerships and business ecosystems, with a focus on Canada.
At the outbreak of the pandemic, our first and foremost concern was to take care of our employees and families, SDG #3. We therefore made sure to ensure flexibility for them to be able to focus on health and family.
We then collectively reflected on what we, as an organization, could bring to society in this time of crisis. The capacity we have to connect our network, mobilize it around societal topic and facilitate dialogue proved to be our greatest strength at that time. With the help of our partners and clients we organized a series of webinars with the objective of collectively bringing solutions to help organizations best leverage their assets, and identify the imponderables of a more sustainable recovery as the pandemic settled in (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8P1hR5fo7D2dc-m53xIqqA).
Apart from specific projects with clients, a lot of this support was given under the umbrella of our “Inspiration initiatives”, a free contribution to the societal impact global reflection.
To go further in this accompaniment, we tracked and reached out to organizations that have pivoted during the pandemic, either out of necessity or will to part take in the collective answer, in order to work with them on the sustainability of their shift (SDG #8), with particular attention put on partnerships. Out of these interviews we came up with interesting data that we are adding to an investigation dossier to be published by the end of the year on business ecosystems and multisector partnerships (SDG #17).
Regarding the Climat’Eau project, we took the time to discuss with all partners to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the project. The activities targeting SDG #17 had to be adapted or postponed but were not questioned. However we realized that the assets of the partnership (human resources, local team network, climate change citizen committees, radio broadcast slots, etc.) could be leveraged in assisting local populations especially regarding SDG#3 on health and well-being.
– 10 sessions initially planned for climate change awareness were repurposed towards either full COVID-19 awareness or extended to cover both topics between April and August. We therefore directly reached 151 persons, all belonging to the Climate Change citizen committees, with the instruction of serving as peer relays to raise peer awareness amongst the whole community regarding social distancing and health protection measures
– We managed to equip the local team and part of the Climate Change citizen committees with additional health protective equipment
– We used our planned broadcasting time on local radio to talk about COVID-19 and protection measures, with a potential reach of 120 000 people
It is interesting to notice that the discussions spontaneously addressed the potential correlation, impact between the global pandemic and climate change.
An important feedback we have received from both local authorities and civil society is the strong correlation between the responsiveness of populations to take health protective measures and the presence of the Climat’Eau project. Indeed the response was way faster in the villages where the Climat’Eau project, Climate Change citizen committees and regular climate change awareness campaigns have been present over the past 3 years than in the rest of the population.