When the wheel was first created in Mesopotamia some 5,500 years ago, did anyone imagine how often others would claim to have re-invented the concept? In development, we face a daunting amount of re-creating and well-funded silos that are not required to collaborate much. This triggers a cycle of missed opportunities and a lot of unfortunate waste.
I am pleased to acknowledge several of our partner organizations that consistently demonstrate the dynamic, collaborative approach to build collective impact. As we say at COSA, they cultivate “group genius.” By bridging diverse points of view, they ignite dialogue and cooperation. These valued partners include the InterAmerican Development Bank MIF, the Swiss Government (SECO), the Sustainable Food Lab, and a surprising number of major corporations.
Context is king in measuring sustainability.
Partnering with great organizations is a valuable part of that. Recent collaborations (see below) gave us indispensable perspectives on what’s really going on in agricultural communities around the world.
If we can be smart about sharing, we gain more insight than any single entity alone can. As the innovations below demonstrate, collective investments can improve our wheels rather than re-invent them.
Engaging Local Youth in Agriculture
COSA Research Associate Vivek Voora is helping to build the capacity of local civil engineering students from the Bheema Institute of Technology and Science (India). The students will learn how to conduct professional household surveys in Andhra Pradesh province (cotton farmers) and will come away with marketable training and a valuable direct experience with an international NGO.
COSA will use the opportunity to refine a number of its survey tools as well. We will pilot the indicators specific to cotton and also community tools to understand resilience and the important roles of producer organizations. Together, these approaches will help us, local communities, and the institutions we partner with to more effectively measure the sustainability of cotton production systems. The project’s results will be shared with the communities to help them improve their water, food, and energy security.
Landscape Work with Conservation International Fuels Coalition
This unique challenge comes from a group of leading firms that include Starbucks, Keurig, S&D Coffee & Tea, and Farmer Brothers, who with the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), formed The Coalition for Coffee Communities (CCC) to address the big sectoral issues that are commonly viewed as beyond the scope of any single firm. The mandate is to newly conceptualize the limited, siloed perspective of most development interventions to understand the interrelated factors that can leverage change. Part of the novel approach is to gain a sense of the dynamics of the economic landscape in relation to the environmental and social landscapes.
For CCC members and coffee industry stakeholders, this goes beyond any single supply chain or community to offer a clear and shared understanding of the key challenges. The purpose is to enable more enlightened investments and targeted actions that can collectively address critical gaps and avoid redundant and ineffective efforts.
The COSA-CI tools for the CCC guide sectoral or landscape-level investment in ecosystems, agriculture, human well-being, along with local governance and decision making. The landscape indicators function at the household, community, and producer organization levels. Tests are currently being conducted in the field. The coalition itself has already netted some stellar results, including regional producers organizing to protect a river and reduce contamination.
Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) Stimulates Understanding of Sustainable Tea
Choosing what to measure and how is critical to any conscientious discussion on the sustainability aspects of tea. To have a globally comparable set of metrics that are effective and can be used by anyone, it is critical to integrate diverse views and approaches. COSA’s partnership with ETP brings together a select group of leading international experts to participate in our Expert Technical Committee for Tea. This august group will together advance a highly credible set of metrics to better understand sustainability in tea production and processing systems. Committee members include representatives from development agencies (IDH), packers and industry (Starbucks, Taylors of Harrogate), producers (Kenya Tea Development Agency, Zhejiang Tea Group), standards bodies (UTZ, Rainforest Alliance), and NGOs (Solidaridad, Ethical Trading Initiative).
The first tests are starting in the field among suppliers to S&D, one of the top importers of tea to the United States. “Partnering with Solidaridad and S&D is a great opportunity,” notes Matthew Himmel, project manager for COSA. This effort promises to offer a pragmatic and down-to-earth tool for anyone interested in tea sustainability.
Former Gates Foundation Luminary Joins COSA Board
COSA welcomes the innovative leadership skills of Richard Rogers, former Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Managing Director of the CSR consulting firm Rogers MacJohn.
Our Board Chair notes: “Richard has the seasoned perspective of a major donor who has seen hundreds of projects come and go and we deeply value the especially pragmatic vision he brings to COSA of what really works.”
Richard has over 20 years’ experience guiding companies beyond traditional CSR to become real agents of change, delivering societal and shareholder value. Previously, he advised multinationals such as Coca-Cola and Mars as well as government agencies such as USAID and DFID, among many others. “I’m excited to join the Board of COSA. It is one of only two organizations that I believe are the most advanced in successfully integrating both business and social sector perspectives in ways that balance insight, cost, and the operational realities in the field.”
Issue Brief on Implementation Research Provides Actionable Perspectives
“Sustainability Research That Counts” by Gayatri Ramnath and Keith Child examines best practices from implementation research that can bridge the gap between evidence and practice to enhance the field of agricultural sustainability. Read it in full here.
Conversations with COSA’s Founder and Global Leaders
COSA President Daniele Giovannucci will lead a panel on “The Challenge of Hard Data and Data Comparability – What Does Real Impact Look Like” at the Responsible Business Summit in London, 7-8 June. It features leaders Nicola Robinson (Global Senior Manager Sustainable Sourcing for McDonald’s) and Markus Strangmüeller (VP of Sustainability for Siemens). Daniele will also be speaking solo at the event on “Smarter Measurement Tools to Accelerate Impact in Complex Supply Chains.” Learn how leading organizations apply innovative approaches to collecting and managing data – sometimes collaboratively – to understand ROI and better manage investments and trading practices. Learn more here.
Conversation with Daniele and the Senior Team
Daniele welcomes you to a discussion in Budapest where he will present a TED-style talk at the European ReCo event entitled “Why Companies Stumble Around Sustainability.” He’ll be joined by Director of Partner Relations, Saurin Nanavati, who will lead a workshop with notable SCA Board member Chad Trewick on the pragmatic tools that are now available to companies and organizations to more effectively advance any sustainability agenda (14 June). Meet them at SCA’s World of Coffee conference in Budapest, Hungary.
New Staff with Co-op Expertise Joins COSA
Earlier this year, COSA welcomed Hubert Peri as Technology and Innovation Manager. Hubert has done extraordinarily work with co-ops reaching more than 100,000 farmers around the world. He resides in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico. Read his bio here.