The Innovation Accelerator: Catalysing practical change
Innovation Forum provides a unique environment for practical business debate on the key issues around supply chains and sustainability. We do this in the areas of food, agriculture, forests, plastics, apparel and textiles and human rights / ethical trade. However, some of our partners want to go further; to take these debates forward to effect practical change on the ground. To respond to this need we are launching The Innovation Accelerator.
The Innovation Accelerator is a unit of Innovation Forum designed to help companies do three things:
1) Understand the political context in which sustainability now operates, as well as the social and economic (the first has often been missing from traditional approaches) Here’s an example.
2) Bring together key stakeholders – including government – to agree both the problem, and practical steps to tackle it. (We are doing this with a major food company now.)
3) Catalyse working groups and coalitions of key actors to create projects that can deliver real change, over time, and manage the process, whilst not taking centre stage ourselves.
What is the problem we want to tackle?
Efforts to improve supply chains will never be sustainable unless greater focus is given to understanding and addressing the wider social, political and other factors affecting those supply chains. Doing this properly requires neutral, credible analysis of these issues, and genuine collective action to address them. These are the challenges we want to address with The Innovation Accelerator.
We have the knowledge, experience, credibility and network to make this happen. Between us, we have decades of experience operating in developing economies, on dealing with the policy agenda, and developing sustainable supply chains. The Accelerator will be led by Tobias Webb, founder of Innovation Forum, and Dr Peter Stanbury, who has decades of experience in this area. Innovation Forum’s Ian Welsh, and others, will complement the Accelerator’s core leadership team.
We are able to ask the questions that others cannot, and we are a trusted convenor and honest broker. We have proven intellectual rigour, and we are well-practiced at challenging dogma and lazy thinking no matter from which quarter it comes. We have a track record of getting things done, even in some pretty challenging locations. We are also neutral: our only agenda is to catalyse genuine, positive and sustainable change in emerging economies.
Why this matters now
Recent criticisms of certification schemes and production standards demonstrate that existing models for creating sustainable supply chains have reached the limits of their effectiveness. These efforts need to be continued, but it is clear that more is needed. That ‘more’ is greater engagement and collaborative effort in which the corporate sector is only one of a range of stakeholders involved.
Most importantly, government and policy makers now MUST be engaged in evidence-based approaches to tackling issues like slave labour, human rights, deforestation and food security. The corporate sector has become very adept at working with NGOs and campaign organisations on issues of sustainability. Where collaboration seems to work less well is between companies and government agencies in the countries where they operate. This needs to change.
What we can offer
Building on our previous experience, we are able to offer a range of tools to get things done, including:
- Independent, in-depth, neutral credible analysis of the social, political and other dynamics in countries in which supply chains are located. Last year, for a leading development agency, we undertook a major analysis of agricultural development in northern Bangladesh.
- Effective mechanisms to engage policymakers in evidence-based approaches to getting things done, to generate economic growth for host countries, and to provide companies with genuinely sustainable supply chains. We have worked with a range of governments, including those of Nigeria, Jordan and Egypt, as well as the UK, to help them improve the environment for inward investment and supply chain management.
- Practical dialogues: Private forums of key actors where parties speak openly and break down barriers. We recently hosted workshops for a global food brand company to explore how they might develop new approaches to managing their supply chains.
- Published analysis, open to all, on how we move forward on complex issues, beyond the current approaches. For example, we recently published very well-received articles about how to address the challenges faced by the cocoa sector in west Africa.
- Building, convening and catalysing effective coalitions to tackle specific problems, based on a common understanding of what needs to happen now to drive change. In the past, for instance, we worked with the UK supermarket sector on waste reduction.
Not just another talking shop, nor analysis for its own sake
Our focus is on getting things done: on creating tangible, effective joined up action on-the ground intended to create lasting, positive change. However, this needs proper preparation, but preparation is a precursor to action, not an alternative to it.
Clear, detailed, in-depth analysis is vital to ensure that the problem at hand is properly understood, and the potential ways of dealing with it properly assessed. Key, however, is the ‘so what’ question. We are not interested in analysis for its own sake but rather so we can answer the question: ‘so what should be done?’ Meetings, forums and workshops, when we hold them, are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Proper preparation to get things done is important, to ensure that there is a clear understanding of who does what, and how different sets of actions combine to create a larger impact. Focused, well-structured meetings enable this to happen.
The value of this approach
Much of the current work to improve supply chain sustainability is conducted in silos. As an attendee at a recent IF event put it ‘the current approach is like a non-intersecting venn diagram’. Our approach can create a shared understanding of what needs to change; identify which actors are best placed to do what; and show how collaborative work can deliver results that are not possible working alone. We can move beyond outdated ideology of traditional business, NGO and government approaches, and to re-frame the roles of each in light of the climate crisis and the SDGs.
Moreover, we use the principles of action-learning – that you can only know so much by talking – after which you have to go out and see what works and learn from what does, and what doesn’t. By focusing on practical action, we can develop knowledge of what works; insights that can then be shared to catalyse impact at greater scale.
Next steps: how to take this forward?
Please contact Tobias Webb for more information.