Knowledge exchange – high level and cross sector insights from DCHI Academy Event

The DCHI Academy had been set up to be a platform through which we can offer our coalition members various learning opportunities. We believe that our coalition members can maximise their learning potential through engagement and interaction with other sectors. With this idea in mind, we organised this hybrid edition about Knowledge Exchange with Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. It was a unique opportunity for representatives from the humanitarian field, private for-profit sector, and academia to share insights, findings, and lessons.  

Opening address – three trends  

Dr Harwin de Vries, Assistant Professor at the Technology and Operations Management department at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), provided the opening address. Dr de Vries highlighted three trends that he claims that we can see in the humanitarian sector and explained how business schools can help humanitarian organisations in adapting to these trends with, for example, strategy research and supply chain management research.  

Knowledge from the humanitarian sector, however, can also help address business challenges. For example, humanitarian organisations are used to be faced with uncertainties. Commercial organisations can learn from the way that humanitarian organisations work with these uncertainties. Dr de Vries concluded his talk by emphasising the importance of assessing all the hidden assumptions behind the tools that are used in both sectors in order to see if they could also be applied in a different sector. There could be important differences between, for example, the organisational culture, the IT capacity, the availability of data, and so on. 

The voluntary failures and conflicting goals of civil society  

Lucas Meijs, professor of Strategic Philanthropy and Volunteering at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), spoke about the differences between civil society and private for-profit organisations. Professor Meijs highlighted the voluntary failures and conflicting goals of civil society. He explained that cross-sector relations can have differentpurposes: non-profits can be supplementing, complementing or working against government/private for-profit policies.  

So, what is civil society? The privatisation of democracy? Safeguarding against dictatorship of the majority? A safe space for diversity? An excuse to discriminate? To help the poor and unrepresented to have a life? To keep the government and business of the hook by keeping the poor and unrepresented silent? Prof Meijs discussed all these different questions and theirperspectives.   

Opportunities for business students in civil society

The panel members were:  

  • Michel Becks, Humanitarian Innovation Lead at The Netherlands Red Cross; 
  • Astrid Coelman, Programme Manager at Achmea Foundation; 
  • Julio Garcia Martz, Change Manager & Innovation Coordinator at ZOA; 
  • Professor Rob van Tulder, Director of the Partnerships Resource Centre and professorof International Business-Society Management at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). 

Michel Becks spoke about a Red Cross pilot for which they joined forces with DCHI. Following the Cyclone Idai in March 2019 that affected Mozambique, the Red Cross wanted to look differently at the recovery period by focusing on resilience building in case another cyclone would hit in the future. DCHI helped the Red Cross to reformulate their challenge and to connect with the private sector and other NGOs. This led to surprising results and commercial options for their pilot in Mozambique.  

Professor Rob van Tulder zoomed in on a success story that involved the Philips Foundation and AMREF Flying Doctors. At first, Philips provided AMREF with funds and this did not lead to the expected result. When they redesigned and restarted the healthcare programme,supported by the Partnerships Resource Centre, they developed the Philips Community Life Centers. Professor van Tulder highlighted the merging of two distinct business models and how the initial failure was a learning moment that helped to eventually restart the programmein an improved way.  

Julio Garcia Martz summed up three success factors that included the importance of experts in helping you get into the right position, the importance of allowing for time to convince others that best practice can be trusted of traditional methods, and the advantage of working with different cultures.   

Astrid Coelman explained the importance of having partners that are aligned with Achmea and complement them where Achmea might be in need of some expertise. The partnerships for Achmea have been proven to be a win-win situation for everyone involved.  

The panellists also discussed some of the key challenges of collaboration, the importance of understanding the nature of different partners, operational complexities, the role of accountability, the requirement of business models to ensure sustainability, and the opportunities for business students in civil society.   

Government failure, market failure, and civic failure

Professor Rob van Tulder discussed the different objectives and nature of private for-profitorganisations and humanitarian organisations. The partnering space comes in between the three different sectors – state, market, civil society – and their own characteristic failures – government failure, market failure, and civic failure. Creating a hybridisation of these two can be a complex problem. However, some useful tools can help in the design processes, such as the PPP canvas. 

Assignment: Energy Access for all and the power of partnerships 

Finally, the accumulated knowledge and information of the session was put into use during the case discussions and reflections. Florian Stark and Marieke van der Wal guided the use of the PPP Canvas from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, to access the impact and the power of partnerships.