Creating High-Impact Coalitions

If you ask CEOs what keeps them up at night, you find that their worries go well beyond beating the competition. Increasingly, they worry about big systemic challenges and what they can do to help fix them.

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Traditionally, responses to crises and societal problems—the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters, racial inequities—are considered the responsibility of the public sector and NGOs. But addressing the world’s most critical problems requires leadership, resources, and skills beyond those of any single organization, industry, sector, or government. What’s needed, the authors argue, is high-impact coalitions—an emerging organizational form that reaches across boundaries of business, governments, and NGOs.

Although public-private partnerships have existed for some time in various forms, large cross-sector, multistakeholder initiatives are newly resurgent and not yet widely understood. They are more voluntary and relationship-based than formal organizations but more task-directed than networks. They connect otherwise disparate spheres of activity that bear on big problems by aligning powerful actors behind a purpose-driven mission. Once underway, they can harness and utilize capabilities quickly and flexibly.

This article describes the features of high-impact coalitions and sets out five principles that make the difference between success and failure

If you ask CEOs what keeps them up at night, you find that their worries go well beyond staying ahead of the competition. Increasingly they worry about big systemic challenges and what they can do to help fix them. That’s because they’re keenly aware of people’s expectations: A high proportion of stakeholders—86% on the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer—believe that business executives must play a lead role in tackling societal issues.


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