“But I also think IDH has learned a lot along the way,” says Joost. “Partnership development is not easy – there’s a skill to it. Change management needs to be better taught in business school. In fact, we have just finalized a book on it, based on our ten years of clumsy solutions: how we’ve learned to orchestrate public private-collaboration. It’s called The Art of Collaboration.”
“A few of the key lessons are, first, that you need a committed coalition, a group of frontrunners from strong organizations that are willing to lead. Second, framing is key: it’s crucial to speak to everyone’s needs in order to get buy-in. This can be incredibly challenging in international partnerships, where interests are fragmented and diverse. And a third lesson is the importance of rules and procedures – all that stuff I’m not so good at, but I’ve learned the hard way. A motivated coalition needs to have rules of the game set at the start. If you don’t, you lose players. Business is all about risk, and to mitigate it you need to create transparency and rules of the game.”
Looking ahead ten years, how do both CEOs see the world, and what keeps them awake at night?
“I’m optimistic about some of the targets we’ve set for ourselves,” Joost explains. “The SDGs have given us a good agenda, and it’s clear that if we want to reach the Paris Agreement targets, the SDGs will help us a lot. However, one of the things that keeps me up at night is that I feel we are underestimating the carbon footprint of our food. If I look at the carbon footprint of my grandmother’s food verses my daughter’s, my daughter goes to the shop and buys something that could be flown in from Ghana in the morning. The carbon footprint has probably gone up 100 times and there will soon be 9 billion people starting to behave like this.”
“I am not without hope”, says Sunny. “As Chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, I only had to look round the room at our Annual Council Meeting in Singapore in October to see the determination to collaborate on solving these major developmental challenges. And this was further underlined at the IDH 10th anniversary conference. Perhaps now that climate change has become tangible, people are galvanized. Certainly, at Olam our new corporate purpose – to “Re-imagine Global Agriculture”, to help produce more food, feed and fiber with fewer resources such that it is better for farmers, communities and our planet – probably has far more resonance with all our employees, not just those in the sustainability teams, than ten years ago.”
And if both CEOs were to ask something of each other?
“I said it before, but partnerships are not easy,” says Joost. We need companies like Olam to keep leading, and challenging the rest to step up. We also need to get the Asian markets on board: we can’t truly make an impact without China and India making big changes. Olam speaks the language of these emerging markets and can continue to help channel investments into the regions that need it most.”