Meeting the Moment: Building Resilience through Collaboration

April 6, 2020
  • Eric Olson

    Former Senior Vice President, BSR

  • Sara Enright

    Former Director, BSR

BSR’s increasing focus on collaboration has long been guided by the belief that no single government, business, or NGO acting alone can address the increasingly complex challenges and opportunities that constitute a new “climate for business.”  

The COVID-19 crisis is shining a spotlight on the fact that collaboration is a critical capability for companies that seek to be more resilient against systemic risks. While collaboration cannot always prevent crisis from arising, companies with strong networks between and agreed action plans with their peers, their stakeholders, and other sectors such as government are better able to act nimbly, to innovate, and to recover at scale.  

As the wave of the coronavirus crisis has landed on our communities, workplaces, and economies, we are finding that our Collaborative Initiatives are becoming even more important—even critical—to our members as a way to maintain momentum on important sustainability issues, especially when new resources are appropriately redirected towards managing the outbreak. We are committed to accelerating our work with members through collaboration as a means to abate this global crisis, and to be better prepared for the next.   

Maintaining Momentum on Current Initiatives

All of our collaborative initiatives—already facilitated primarily online in order to engage global participants—have successfully transitioned to fully virtual meetings and workshops to continue their important work, and we have noticed an uptick in attendance as participants are travelling less. Several groups have noted that our work together is more important than ever, even if not directly related to healthcare. For instance, concerns are growing that there will be a surge in human trafficking as the economy takes a hit, increasing the need for solutions from initiatives like Tech Against Trafficking and Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking. For all initiatives, we continue to ensure that participating companies and stakeholders are accessing the resources and connections they need to achieve their goals together. 

Adapting Priorities and Agendas to Serve the Current Moment 

Several of our initiatives are already rallying relevant companies and their supply chains to address the spread of the coronavirus: In the United States, the Healthy Business Coalition is assessing how members can take action to mitigate impacts on vulnerable communities. HERproject is rolling out virtual trainings for factory workers on proper handwashing techniques and other important healthcare recommendations, a built-in first response for participating brands to keep supply chain workers and their families safe.  Even non-health related initiatives such as the Future of Reporting are working to equip member companies with ideas on how to be transparent with different stakeholder groups regarding the current and potential impacts of COVID-19. We are also reaching out through other collaborative initiatives—and our member base more broadly—to identify opportunities to share both information and scarce resources during this time of significant disruption.  

It is time to reach out wide and deep to build stronger and more resilient organizations, value chains, and communities. 

Keeping Our Eyes on the Longer Term

We also believe it is critical to not be too shortsighted:  companies must respond to the current crisis, while maintaining the course on other critical risk factors and opportunities on the horizon as we enter this decisive decade for sustainability.  The COVID-19 response across countries is revealing how deep the cracks are in our social and political systems, which will require focused attention and collective action to improve well beyond the current crisis. As with any systems-level challenges, these problems cannot be resolved in isolation and will require radical collaboration from many actors across sectors and areas of expertise. We already have an initiative—Value Chain Risk to Resilience—working explicitly to strengthen the long-term resilience of global supply chains and are developing another to facilitate collective corporate and multi-stakeholder action to build local resilience, driven by stakeholders from all sectors in their own cities/regions. These initiatives aim to transform participants into more resilient companies, but also to develop more resilient communities and ecosystems in the face of climate change and inequality. 

As we all try to respond to this daunting moment in history, it is more apparent than ever that we are all responsible for one another.  It is time to reach out wide and deep to build stronger and more resilient organizations, value chains, and communities.  We are constantly assessing how new partnerships and collaborations might meet the needs and ambitions of our members and to ensure that all new efforts are fit for purpose through our CoLab incubator. We invite you—indeed, we need you—to share your ideas with us.  

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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