Every month the Centre of Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS) will present the research of one scholar on sustainable development related issues. We will ask the researchers for who, what and why they conducted the research. This month, CSDS asks Ans Kolk about her extensive research on partnerships, for this interview specifically regarding (post-)conflict settings.
Who has been conducting the research?
Ans Kolk has been doing extensive research on partnerships, with particular attention for companies engaging with developing countries. Kolk’s areas of expertise are in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, especially in relation to international business firms and their interactions with stakeholders and society. For this specific research on conflict-affected regions, she has been collaborating with François Lenfant, an external PhD student with long experience in the practice of international development. This has resulted in a series of articles, two of which were just published in 2015:
Who has and will benefit from the research?
The research is beneficial for public, private and nonprofit actors interested in partnerships in developing and fragile countries, considering institutional, organizational, community and individual dimensions. It provides insights into cases in which business activities can be channeled into social innovation and transformative partnerships, to co-create a peaceful context, to create harmony in a community, and, as shown in one of the 2015 articles, to lift farmers out of poverty and to unite former enemies. Of course, many academic insights are generated too.
What was the topic of the research?
Kolk and Lenfant studied partnerships in fragile states, which often involve a wide range of unpredictable problems due to poverty, social problems, environmental problems and weak institutions. Some other challenges of partnerships in (post-) conflict settings include lack of functioning governments, lingering fear, high expectations of businesses to do “good”, as well as close scrutiny of companies by NGOs, local communities and the press. Despite the fact that partnerships are not easy in fragile states, they have the potential to be very valuable for both businesses and society. This is especially the case if partnerships are transformative.
What are the lessons that can be learned?
Companies working in fragile contexts can learn to deal with unexpected problems to address pressing social problems. In addition, the researchers show the implications for governmental and non-governmental organizations keen on helping to improve the situation. They present some lessons that are relevant for all partnerships; that patience promotes peace, preparedness promotes partnering, partnerships help business, partnering requires sensitivity and that capacity building addresses crowding out.
Why was there a need for this research?
Overall, we lack insight into how to best promote development, as also noted in the recently adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals. Given the recognition that efforts from all parties are needed, a better understanding of the how and why of ‘partnering’, including conditions and possible effectiveness, are dearly needed. While business research has paid ample to multi-stakeholder partnerships, the firm perspective has been central, and it has focused on relatively stable settings. More research is needed to provide insight into more complex settings, where collecting empirical data is also quite a challenge.