Biz Latin Hub collaborated with the executive director of the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) Katie Taylor to talk about public-private-NGO partnerships, the work of PADF, and the importance of joining forces across different industries.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Could you please give us a brief introduction into the work of the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF)?
Our work focuses on several things, including democracy and human rights. We also work in human development which covers everything from education to nutrition, to economic opportunities like employment and employability. And we work in disaster resilience and the environment. The projects are carried out by country and by need. We try to define the problem and look for which combination of actors can help bring a sustainable solution, and then we try to create that. We do that by bringing different partners to the table. Typically, we work ‘with and through’ local partners, because we aim to build local capacity. Often, we bring international partners and founders to the table to help bring their particular value-added and/or expertise to help solve that problem.
So, essentially what you do is capitalize on all the value-added from different partners and stakeholders in order to create a bigger, and more importantly, a sustainable impact?
Yes, part of it is identifying the problem. So, for instance, we are very worried about the state of the oceans. Oceans and our reefs are dying, and the oceans are the lungs for the planet. We were looking at all the of the reports and the studies that were being done on the blue economy. The blue economy, shortly, is the idea about how you can have sustainable economies overlapping with sustainable oceans. We looked at all that, and we found that there is a piece missing. Most of the studies are looking at the macro side, and that is important, but we believe that the missing piece is the human dimension. So, we said that if you want to do this sustainably, and if you are serious about the blue economy, we need to connect with education, employment, entrepreneurship, and bringing actors to the table who can provide solutions, such like entrepreneurs, funders, civil society. How do we create jobs and solve for some of the environmental problems? That’s the piece we’re focusing on.
You have had an impressive career working in several sectors and industries, such as corporate companies and several NGO’s, which gives you extensive knowledge. What is your insight into the developments of NGO and corporate partnerships, such as the influence of Social Corporate Responsibility?
I’m going to introduce a new term: a trisector athlete. Harvard Business Review did some work on this; many complex development issues require all sectors to be involved. It can be helpful to have leaders, like me, that have actually worked in private sectors, in government, in the non-profit sector, because each of these sectors has a different way of looking at the world and addressing problems. So, that is part one about my background. I think that I was chosen for this role at PADF precisely because I bring that range of experience to the table.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is more of a 20th-century term. I think it still exists today, but I think there is definitely a generational shift as well. I think that people from younger generations are particularly focused on finding meaning in work. One of the things that we’ve seen evolve in the last 15 years or so has been that we do not just talk about CSR. We talk about shared value, impact investing, and investments that serve both an economic and profit motive, and a social impact motive, or an environmental impact motive. Of course, it is hard to measure this trend, but I think it is definitely a 21st-century trend. Part of it how we are trying to address this at PADF is to think differently and more creatively about the kind of partnerships that we bring together.
Could you give an example of such a creative partnership?
To go further on the blue economy; for instance, we’ve been helping some entrepreneurs in Haiti. One of these entrepreneurs that we’ve been helping created a recycling business in Haiti, which is now Haiti’s number one recycling company. We helped him develop his business, and he won investments from the International Development Bank. He created a new business line that generated 6000 jobs and new business in Haiti by collecting ocean-bound plastics and investing in new technology that changes the plastic into synthetic lumber. This product looks like wood, feels like wood, sounds like wood, but is actually made of plastic. You can make tables and chairs out of it. So, this is an example of how we went from private sector ideas to solving environmental problems and a social problem of jobs and communities. The new challenge for us is now that we won, how do we take that and try to approach and bring in other funding and private sector partners to replicate it elsewhere.
What are the benefits of these alliances and partnerships for corporations?
There are multiple advantages for corporations. The general advantage is that employees increasingly want meaningful work. This is also a generational thing like I said before, younger generations have a mission and you want the work that you do to make a difference in the world. Corporations feel and understand that in order to retain the employees, they need to connect the work that people do to meaning. One way of doing that, in addition to the work itself, is through mission-driven activities, whether it is social corporate responsibility or some other expression. That is one.
Two, typically consumer-driven brands look at this from a marketing perspective. Unilever is a company that is doing this extremely well. From a marketing perspective, they talk about the essence of their brand. Unilever has 5000 brands across the globe, which are very diverse and localized. So, they were looking at many of their cosmetic brands and the essence of the brand; it was not about cleaning, but it was about the self-esteem of the people and how they felt while using their product. From a corporate responsibility, they were looking at what’s the heart of the brand. I previously worked with Unilever, focusing on soap. We are teaching handwashing, which is such a basic and fundamental issue, in a number of places including Haiti. Many children under 5 around the world still die of diarrhoea, which is preventable. You can connect affordable soap with handwashing. For them, this was the heart of the brand. I think there is a way of framing what you do, which companies such as Unilever are doing very well, that will appeal to consumers.
The third part is about how we frame partnerships with corporations. What is a win/win? What addresses their core business, what is a pain point for them? For instance, let’s take a company that we work with a lot, which is Royal Caribbean. They are a cruise ship line and are very interested in the wellbeing of the oceans. Additionally, they face a problem with finding employees and connecting both their passengers and their employees to the ports that they stop at. They stop at island communities in the Caribbean, in Puerto Rico and Haiti, some of which have very poor communities and are often burdened with social and economic problems. PADF is working with Royal Caribbean by co-developing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) “For Oceans” curriculum which we are going to pilot in schools in the Bahamas. We are working with local communities to build jobs and employment opportunities which are also of interest to the passengers of the cruise ships when they stop at the ports. Essentially, we are looking for different ways in engaging a company like that and connect that with things that are of fundamental interest for them. It can benefit them, and at the same time, it makes them look good for consumers.
Looking at your example for STEM, there are more partners involved than Royal Caribbean alone. How do you capitalize on the resources of all the different corporations involved while taking care of the different needs and wants of these different companies?
One of the things that PADF is particularly good at is working across the public sector, private sector, and civil society. We promote the idea that each country or each location or each region needs to create a joint roadmap. There is a lot of social science backing this up. What we are saying is that you have to bring different stakeholders together to work on a joint roadmap.
For example for STEM, we have to ask questions like who is going to do what, why is it important, how are we going to coordinate, how do the educators create programs that are of interest to the teachers and the students and also supply what the employers want? These conversations don’t often happen. Every partner has their own questions to ask. Bringing the stakeholders together and leveraging these issues and trying to create a joint roadmap I think is a significant way forward, so you can then align. Royal Caribbean is interested in oceans and Boeing is interested in aerospace. So, you can find different sectors that you can develop very interesting curricula to engage students and teachers, but that still allows the individual sectors to get what is of greatest interest to them.
So essentially you are creating a common value and goal to move forward together?
Right. But bottom line, in Latin America the infrastructure needs are huge, and the help needs are huge. For example, there is a huge environmental challenge, we need this STEM approach to environmental challenges and sustainable energy. Essentially, we need people to be creative about solutions, which is the methodology and thinking around STEM, not just the scientific subjects themselves. We use STEM to prepare the folks that can actually deliver on the needs in Latin America. It is a way that we believe also breaks the gender barrier; we are making sure that woman and girls are prepared for the high-value jobs of the 21st century.
It is amazing that corporate-NGO partnerships can bring about such an important project with a big impact!
We looked on the brighter side of things until now, but we also work on some tough issues, like the Venezuelan Migration Crisis. There are 4.2 million migrants, and many are living in Colombia. It is a significant issue. We have within Venezuela 3 million people who don’t have enough money to pay for food. If the situation doesn’t improve, you will likely see another 2 million migrants by now and the end of 2019. Of course, migrant populations are more vulnerable; woman, children, and LGBT minorities tend to be disproportionally vulnerable and sometimes unaware of their rights. It can lead to other problems like human trafficking and slavery.
Could you give an example of the work that PADF engages in regarding the Venezuelan Migration Crisis?
So, we work with Venezuelan migrants outside of Venezuela. For instance, in Colombia and Peru, we make sure that the migrant populations are aware of their rights, provide psychosocial support, put them in touch with humanitarian institutions or provide that for them, as well as combat the phobia in the hosting countries, reducing the potential for friction, helping the host communities to try and understand the Venezuelan refugees. Typically, if you speak to economists about immigration that is not so sudden, you will hear about the benefits of migration. Migrants bring skills, they start new jobs. Migration can be a positive factor but is hard in countries where there are fewer jobs and less economic stability.
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