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Have You Ever Seen a Fairy Godmother Riding a Steamroller?

By and - Oct 15 2014

small - Fairy Godmother Riding a Steamroller

Partnerships, of all kinds, are hard work. When introduced to them at the earliest of ages – in the form of fairy tale romances, of course – we see the ever-dependable fairy godmother swoop in, crushing obstacles like a steamroller and ensuring the partnership gets smoothly off the ground. In the development world, partnerships encounter just as many challenges. But could it be that in this context fairy godmothers stand to do our saving just the same? A McKinsey article thinks so. But instead of turning rags to ball gowns and pumpkins to carriages, McKinsey’s fairy godmothers steamroll through partnership obstacles through a dedication to overcoming prejudices, differences, and bureaucratic setbacks for the sake of a greater impact.

The article “Creating Partnerships for Sustainability” holds that “the best approach… [to sustainable development] can be to partner up.” In sharing the seven principles of successful partnerships, third on the list is none other than “Finding a Fairy Godmother,” or a core of dedicated, knowledgeable people who invest more than their share of time and resources to make joint efforts a success.

While all McKinsey’s partnership principles are nearly as crucial – the importance, for instance, of identifying achievable goals or clear reasons for collaboration – the fairy godmother concept is, in our experience, absolutely essential. As we said, partnerships are hard work, and they inevitably encounter an exhausting number of obstacles. Without that dedicated core, these obstacles could easily become deterrents, and deprive beneficiaries from an impact much greater than one that could be achieved by any organization operating alone.

It was this discussion of the core’s role in overcoming obstacles that brought us to reflect on the long-standing PepsiCo and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) partnership. A long and arduous endeavor that has gone through multiple growing pains, the PepsiCo-IDB team has worked tirelessly to deliver a real multi-stakeholder alliance. In the face of differing perspectives, bureaucratic delays, busy schedules and other traditional challenges, it is making a meaningful impact on hundreds of thousands of lives, and paving the way for a public-private partnership culture in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Born of sponsorships and small pilot projects in inclusive recycling, the PepsiCo-IDB alliance grew to encompass interventions along PepsiCo’s supply chain. Finally, it grew strong enough to tackle complex systemic challenges, such as access to water and sanitation and malnutrition. To get there, both partners had to learn to accept each other’s core values and culture, ways of working, limitations and risk aversions, needs, personnel rotations, and external shocks, a process which more than once made each party miss the ease of flying solo. Those days, however, were overcome by strong commitment to partnership, and by relying on dedicated personnel, consistent communication, trust and understanding, and focusing on the tasks at hand.

A six year track record of improving lives together has cemented this shared belief in the power of collaborations. And it is in this spirit that PepsiCo joins the IDB on the eve of World Food Day to launch the Spoon Project, a new initiative that is a true testament to the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder fairy godmother teams. An innovative approach to nutrition unlike our region has seen before, Spoon uses an integrated strategy to tackle twin nutritional problems affecting our region’s children—obesity and undernutrition. Conditions often perceived as unrelated and never, until now, confronted by a single intervention, Spoon was only made possible by the IDB’s technical expertise, PepsiCo’s knack for innovation, executing agencies’ on-the-ground knowledge, the collaboration of health ministries, and most crucially, the fairy godmother-like commitment of all parties.

Once today’s launch ends, the real work in this public-private alliance will begin as we work to implement Spoon. We face good, bad and worse days ahead. But the road we’ve traveled together shows that, with our combined flaws and strengths, we’ll make an impact to benefit the people and governments of Latin America and the Caribbean. And, what’s better, as in any relationship what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. Especially with a fairy godmother on our side.

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