Tom Harrison

Following a number of management roles in NGOs and the tea sector, Tom became an independent consultant focussing on private sector development and cross-sector partnership. He has completed assignments for, among others, DFID, GIZ, the World Bank and UNDP. For a decade Tom had a lead role in management of the Business Innovation Facility (BIF) for which he was Technical Director for which he supporting BIF’s work in Myanmar he was involved in supporting large companies to develop innovative business models that benefit people on low incomes. This year Tom has led new partnership development for the Work and Opportunities For Women (WOW) Programme and has undertaken a review of a market-systems programme in Zambia and an evaluation of a partnership between Oxfam and Unilever.

The rights and wrongs of partnering in the BIF portfolio

South Asia
Sub-Saharan Africa
21. Jun 2013

When we started to implement the Business Innovation Facility, I was among many who thought that supporting companies to partner would be central to what unfolded over the three years of the pilot. The Department for International Development (DFID) thought the same: in the contract notice partnering appeared in two of the three purpose statement for BIF.

As we started to talk to companies and develop our pipeline of projects, we didn’t see partnership emerging as a strong theme. We held a number of workshops on partnership, all of which were well received, both by those from the private sector and also from NGOs and other organisations that were keen to collaborate with companies. Despite this, a feeling developed that perhaps partnership is not as important to the development of inclusive business as we had thought.

Now that we have the luxury of being able to review the whole BIF portfolio, I can see we were right and wrong to have this feeling. Right, because the there are few projects where we were asked to deploy consultants with ‘partnering skills’ as their prime area of expertise. Wrong, because there is a wide variety of different kinds of collaboration in many of the projects. This is particularly evident in our projects in support of large companies. However, it could be the case that companies underestimate the need for specialist skills in partnering to be part of their inclusive business journey.

I am busy writing an ‘Insider’ that will explain the reasons for these conclusions and give examples from the BIF project portfolio. I have also had insights from interactions with a number of project managers from the large companies we have worked with. These provide some valuable and unexpected insights into why large companies pursuing inclusive business opportunities collaborate, and in what circumstances.

Look out for the Insider, coming soon to the Practitioner Hub!